‘Sweden should help foreign entrepreneurs’

'Sweden should help foreign entrepreneurs'
Should Sweden help foreign-born entrepreneurs more? Photo: Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se
It is important for immigrants to get on to the Swedish jobs ladder. But too much focus is being placed on traditional employment instead of encouraging entrepreneurship, argues Mariah ben Salem Dynehäll.

Integration is actively being debated in media. Most agree that more needs to be done to welcome people who come to Sweden from other countries into Swedish society.

Jobs are said to be one of the most important keys to integration, but at the same time study upon study show how difficult it is for foreign-born people to break into the Swedish jobs market.

These discussions focus almost exclusively on employment. However, there are more alternatives for getting a foot on to the labour market.

Starting your own business is one way to achieve meaningful occupation and ensure your livelihood. The link between entrepreneurship and integration is not often talked about. Besides creating employment, it creates opportunities for even more jobs because people from other countries have ideas that are of value to Sweden.

Swedish is best learned in the real world

I need hardly explain what an impact this has on self esteem. Language is often highlighted as a key to integration for those who are new to Sweden – but those of us who have read languages in school and at university can testify to the fact that these skills are best trained in the real world rather than by memorizing vocabulary in the classroom. 

Swedish For Immigrants classes are good, but the level of learning increases significantly if language tuition is combined with language training in the real world.

By making it easier for new entrepreneurs in Sweden to get support in a business development process in which they interact with clients and suppliers they don't train their language skills alone. They also build new relationships and network with people already living and working in the country. 

At the same time new business ideas are developed which create value for others, while generating livelihood for the entrepreneur and growth for Sweden.

Foreign-born entrepreneurs are more ambitious

The entrepreneurial drive is higher among people from a foreign background than among native Swedes, according to a survey in 2012 by the Swedish Agency for Economic in Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket).

Foreign-born also have higher ambition than those born in Sweden to start a business with employees, a resource that can be better utilized. There is already support in place for new arrivals trying to find a job in Sweden, but no targeted support for foreign-born entrepreneurs who want to start their own business.

Additionally, the regulatory framework for labour market policies often becomes an obstacle to entrepreneurship.

If you are registered as seeking employment and then start a business, regardless of background, you lose your so-called activity grant (benefits available to job seekers enrolled in a government labour policy programme) because you are by definition no longer unemployed.

Labour market policies need to be developed and coordinated with new economic policies for Swedish entrepreneurs in general – and the country's new arrivals in particular.

Mariah ben Salem Dynehäll is the chief executive of Drivhuset, a Gothenburg organization that helps fresh entrepreneurs put their ideas into action. This is a translated version of a debate article which first appeared in Göteborgs-Posten.