Culture, Heritage and Diversity


Social Entrepreneurship as a Space for Intercultural Communication and Innovation


In a study conducted on intercultural social entrepreneurs in 2006, Lise Bisballe asserts that they create social value, bearing a positive effect on society. The Intercultural cities initiative purports that a city can improve itself by tapping into diverse cultures as a resource. Bisballe asserts that social entrepreneurs provide a way in which to do this, through their intercultural methods and initiatives. Looking at 5 cases from different cultural settings, and discussing the intercultural, social, economic and innovative benefits, she concludes that it is worthwhile for cities to invest in the work of social entrepreneurs.


"Social entrepreneur" is a term which is primarily applied to those who work in the non-profit sector, using skills and tools characteristic of a business entrepreneur to respond to social needs and to make positive social change, rather than to create personal wealth. A prime example of such social entrepreneurship is the transformation of the Jennumparken estate in Denmark, which can be attributed to Kulturkælderen. This institution was set up to respond to the challenge of cultural, social and economic integration of the large influx of Turkish refugees to Jennumparken. There was a fundamental lack of knowledge about the different cultures that the refugees and immigrants represented as well as linguistic and cultural barriers which hindered the integration process. The objectives for Kulturkælderen therefore were to create a positive dialogue between Danes and immigrants and to increase their access to the labour market by offering training schemes and alternative employment. For instance, the establishment of a textile workshop, mirroring the traditional village well as a meeting place, enabled women to meet up, develop their language skills and gain insight into Danish society. Further projects stemmed from this workshop and Jennumparken was transformed into a socially balanced area brimming with activity based on the resident’s own initiatives.


Similarly, Chrissy Townsend transformed her locality, Teviot in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, from a no-go area to forward-looking multi-ethnic area. Disillusioned with the high levels of crime, drugs and unemployment, which had left the area bare of shops and lacking in a public bus route, with the nearest transport links 15 minutes way, Chrissy took it upon herself to mark a bus route on a map, plot it with a roll of wool and gather 7,000 signatures in support of it. After the success of her bus route, she established the Teviot Action Group which aimed to improve the area. As is characteristic of social entrepreneurial schemes, many others got involved and provided resources, and the community began to rebuild itself. The Teviot area has changed remarkably, a feat which was only made possible due to the engagement and drive of an individual social entrepreneur.


It has been argued by the author that social entrepreneurs create value, a claim she analyses from four perspectives; the intercultural perspective, the social perspective, the economic perspective and the innovation perspective. She maintains that culture, although an ineffable and intangible term, needs to be legitimised for a successful integration process. If one’s culture is legitimised, it builds self-esteem and confidence, fundamental to creating a cohesive community. Bisballe witnessed this first hand when working with Tamil refugees who fled to Denmark during the Sri Lankan civil war. She realised that the women had changed their clothing and behaviour in order not to stand out. From wearing traditional, bright, colourful clothing, they had started to wear grey clothes so as to blend in. They also wore white face powder in order to look more "European" and "normal". Their evident loss of self-esteem highlights the importance of legitimising culture, and social entrepreneurs have created avenues by which to do this.


In terms of creating value from a social perspective, the case of aforementioned Chrissy Townsend engaged a lot of people and the success of the Teviot Action Group was largely dependent on the help of volunteers who formed a significant section of the resources. Therefore social enterprises could be said to play a large role in social engagement and could serve as a stepping stones for unemployed volunteers on their path to employment.


Economically, social enterprises boost competence and capacity-building, which result in the creation of jobs and enterprises, thereby contributing to economic wealth. Although profit is not the main motivation of such enterprises, it is clear they can be profitable as well as social, and that their activities have stimulated local economies. This is supported by clear statistics in a survey undertaken by the UK government of social enterprises. It was found that the 15,000 enterprises registered made up 1% of the UK employing businesses, and that they generate £18 billion in annual turnover, providing a wealth of jobs.


Finally, intercultural social enterprise can be said to be highly conducive to innovation, a term which refers to the manoeuvre and move forward in a grey soon between the old and the new. Innovation challenges existing structures, discourses and paradigms, and intercultural social entrepreneurs do just this by breaking down or bridging social barriers.


The research paper concludes that social enterprises identify and establish policy networks and build bridges between sectors while creating social capital at the same time. A large part of the success of social enterprise depends on the entrepreneur and their drive and initiative to set up and follow through with the project. The author suggests that in order to support and encourage social entrepreneurship, there should be a local flexible structure and a fund risk of capital. Public authorities, private enterprises, social enterprises and bank credit unions can contribute to an investment fund which is distributed according to local needs and shared visions. Fundamentally, it is clear that social enterprise is highly beneficial to the communities and individuals it targets, and it is important to take the intercultural lesson that a city can capitalise on cultural diversity. Cities should therefore provide support structures that enable social entrepreneurs and other actors to develop platforms for intercultural communication and exchange.


Read the full study

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Photo: Lise Bisballe