Culture, Heritage and Diversity


The Contribution of Outsiders to Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Cities


In a case study looking at the positive benefits that cultural and ethnic diversity brings to economic growth and innovation, Lia Ghilardi finds that the entrepreneurs studied, are advantaged by their diverse backgrounds. With almost one in four businesses in London (22.6%) being categorised as an ethnic minority business (according to a report by the Competitive Advantage of Diversity initiative), it seems that culture can contribute to the success of business activity. The intercultural abilities of an ethnic minority allow them to access and utilise aspects of different cultures. For instance, ethnic minority businesses may increase their competitive businesses by exploiting their diaspora networks, as is the case with the outsourcing of software development from the Silicon Valley to Bangalore. Ghilardi looks at successful ‘global’ and ‘local’ entrepreneurs, pinpointing the cultural factors that have contributed to their success.


Chai Patel, the founder of the mental health and neuro rehabilitation centres, The Priory, fled Uganda and lived in India until 1969 when his family came to London in search of work. His motivation to start The Priory group had cultural origins; in Hindu culture, caring is a very good and important thing to do, and there is a notion of caring which is seen as almost devotional. A self-proclaimed hybrid, Patel is a prime example of the fusion that the intercultural initiative aims to promote. He believes that his family assimilated into the local culture well, preserving only what they chose to preserve. Arguing that the existence of Asian role models helps to address the barriers to intercultural business, Patel notes that there are very few Afro-Caribbean business role models, as although there are successful business people, they have not yet been given the profile they deserve, an issue that needs to be addressed. He asserts that Asian culture is very competitive, brimming with high achievers, providing motivation to continue achieving, thus overcoming barriers. He believes that perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome is raising capital, where ethnic minorities may find it difficult to access money because they do not look and sound like everyone else. This provides an insight into what government can do to help and encourage business venture. He also places importance on experiencing adversity in spurring newcomers into greater achievement, where the only choice is to keep working harder.


Rudi Page was born in London to a Jamaican father and a Montserrat mother. He created the Afro Hair and Beauty annual show, which is still the biggest of its type in Europe. He initiated the first British Trade Mission to Montserrat, also turning his hands to the economic regeneration sector with TEC and Business Links, devising the Synergy project and Business Link London North in 2001. Further to this, he is a regular columnist for newspapers and a regular speaker at conferences and seminars and has won various awards, including the Award for Contribution to the Black Community from the Voice Newspaper. With his company, Statecraft Consulting, Page works as a cultural intermediary; joining people from different backgrounds. His approach; the Synergy model, based on a strategic communication and development tool, is now widely used by government agencies, academia, private, public and not-for-profit organisations. It provides insight into the needs of diverse communities while building the capacity of ethnic communities to understand the wider political context within which they operate. Page uses his expertise at integrating commerce with areas such as culture, education and health, to reach disadvantaged communities. Page felt that the kind of confidence about selling black beauty he witnessed in the US, was lacking in the UK, leading him to create his own Afro hair and beauty show. Page sees culture, and the bonds which bind people together as a source of economic strength and a competitive advantage, and his success has come from targeting such niche markets. His more recent project, LOJO, the London Joburg initiative, is a prime example of intercultural exchange. This trade mission was set up to begin engaging with a market that has great potential for UK BME entrepreneurs and allow BME enterprises to export their skills. Their skills, acquired through being minorities in the UK, can be applied to various social fields in South Africa to empower people there.


The individuals studied in Ghilardi’s paper break the mould of ethnic business; transcending traditional business categories and cultural models, instead becoming examples of intercultural hybrids. Their state of "inbetween-ness" leads them innovate through borrowing something from, and therefore remaining true to their original culture. Also, interviewed, the Hussein brothers who set up the first Mexican restaurant in Leicester as well as Bar dos Hermanos and Barceloneta, attribute their risk-taking nature to their cultural background which left them little other choice. They never had any resources, and therefore had to make their own luck. Stelios Haji-loannou, the founder of the low-cost airline, Easyjet, believes that immigrants tend to be dynamic people who are willing to take the risk of leaving their homeland for a better, unknown future, and this nature is key to their success. Alan Yau, the creator of the noodle chain, Wagamama, concurs that what has really shaped his life and help to overcome barriers, is being an immigrant and having that newcomer determination. There is a strong case, therefore, for supporting and promoting ‘outsider’ entrepreneurship and innovation.


Read the full study


Gulzaar BARN