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While most studies of migrant entrepreneurship focus on disadvantaged migrants from the ‘global South’, Richard Girling decided to do the opposite and explore the entrepreneurial activities of migrants from economically advanced countries.

According to the UN, over 13 million migrants moved in a North-South direction in 2019 alone, but this demographic has remained largely unexplored. Girling conducted his research through 65 interviews with 41 migrant entrepreneurs from economically advanced countries, like the UK, USA, Italy, France, and 24 from not so economically advanced countries (Ukraine, Belarus, India, Nigeria, and South Africa). The research was executed in an economic ‘middle-ground’ location: Wroclaw, Poland, to be precise.

How do migrants carry out entrepreneurship?

These data offer a rich new way into understanding the way we often see these small entrepreneurs and their successes or lack of it. In contrast to the mainstream narrative of the ‘disadvantaged migrant’, not all migrants can be assumed to be disadvantaged. Migrants from rich countries in particular often demonstrate the exact opposite, namely, privilege.

Also, it cannot be assumed that migrants, when relocating to new countries and starting their own businesses, are always motivated by money alone. Migrant entrepreneurs from rich countries, in particular, are more likely to be motivated by other factors, such as a more relaxed lifestyle or greater independence. Moreover, these migrant entrepreneurs seem more likely to ‘break out’ from local markets and, instead, sell products or services internationally.

Globally embedded

In order to theoretically account for the findings, Girling proposes the concept of ‘global-embeddedness’. Underpinning this concept is the existence of multiple layers (economic, technological, socio-cultural, politico-institutional) of their environment which extends well-beyond the borders of the country they have migrated to. All migrants, he argues, are embedded not only within their local environment, but also within this wider, global environment.

Copyright: Richard Girling
“This research”, Girling comments, “carries wider implications especially for those interested in global inequality. By closely looking at entrepreneurs from some of the world’s wealthiest nations I reveal how an uneven, global environment often privileges these migrants. This study has foregrounded how ideas about inequality based upon nationality and citizenship are much more complex than we know.”

More information

Richard Girling will defend his dissertation at 12pm on the 20th of April. Depending upon the COVID-19 restrictions, the defense will either be open for interested public in-person at the Agnietenkapel in Amsterdam or, alternatively, online.

His supervisors are prof. dr. Jan Rath & dr. Pamela J. Prickett.


Richard Girling