Do the disenfranchised make better entrepreneurs?

There is nothing like an external threat or common cause to unite a group and maybe even encourage enterprise. Just consider for three large disenfranchised groups in particular.

Firstly, the Quakers, a Christian nonconformist movement founded in the 1600’s. They who refused to pay tithes & swear oaths and faced the full wrath of the crown and church – not to mention the local mob. There values developed to include non-violence, working democracy, respect for individual and equality. By 1700 Quakers had widespread interests in small scale trading such as farming, skilled trades & shops. From this strong community emerged many ‘household’ names: Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree (choclolate) and Friends Provident, Barclays and Lloyds (finance). Initially, they were excluded and isolated from society, government, university and professions.

Secondly, the British Asian community, which generates 10% of UK GDP but is only 2.5% of the population. There are many famous names: Lakshmi Mittal (the founder of Mittal Steel the world’s largest steelmaker, is the world’s third richest person) and Lord Tom Singh (who founded New Look, in 1969 with the help of a £5,000 loan from his parents). “The figures are quite staggering. Many on the list [Top 100] arrived on these shores without a penny to their name – and they have built multi-million pound business empires. Entrepreneurship, coupled with a wonderful work ethic – fuelled with a desire to better oneself – is a potent force driving the British Asian community” (Institute of Asian Professionals). Again, initially, they were excluded and isolated from areas of society.

And finally, a much larger disenfranchised community – women. Only 14% of all small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are women-led.

A recent report by the Women’s Enterprise Policy Group highlights the ‘multi billion £ opportunity’ and proposes that women’s enterprise is the ‘secret weapon’ for recovery of UK economy. “Already female-led businesses contribute more than £75 billion to the economy – and their role in growing the economy, and creating and sustaining new jobs, is crucial to recovery and growth. But despite this level of activity, women are too often invisible within the business arena, and at a time when many businesses are struggling to survive and grow, there is a danger that the progress made to date will falter.” They call for government provide to:

  • More business growth support for existing women entrepreneurs
  • A women’s enterprise Government champion within BIS or the Treasury
  • A charter to ensure more women-led businesses are included in public and private sector procurement
  • Support from Local Enterprise Partnerships to promote women’s enterprise in their economic development strategies

Perhaps the main lesson to be learnt from these three disenfranchised groups is the communities need to create role models and take action themselves. If they had simply waited for permission we would have no Barclays, New Look or Body Shop on the UK high street and countless other in less visible enterprises.

Prof Nigel Lockett FRSA