Social enterprises and ethnic minorities: A case study of the East London Olympic Boroughs

The emergence of a great number and variety of social entrepreneurial activities has taken place in the world over recent years (Defourny and Nyssens, 2010; Kerlin, 2010). The social enterprise sector has experienced considerable growth and nowadays this is at the centre of academic and political debate in Britain (Ridley-Duff and Bull, 2011). Yet, there remains only very limited understanding of the emergence of social entrepreneurial activities within ethnic minority communities. There is evidence of much dynamic socially-oriented enterprise activity, both formal and informal in nature, within ethnic minority communities (Afridi and Warmington, 2009; OLMEC, 2007). Yet the lack of research undertaken on the emergence of ethnic minorities’ social entrepreneurial activities has meant that much of the discussion to date has been based on assumptions and anecdotal evidence. There is a limited theoretical understanding of the ethnic minority social enterprise sector and no universally accepted definition of the term ‘ethnic minority social enterprise’. Structuration and Mixed Embeddedness theories are considered in this study as they provide a useful starting point to explain the relationship between ethnic minority social entrepreneurs (agent) and the context (structure) in which they operate (Giddens, 1984; Granovetter, 1985; Kloosterman, 2010). This research uses a broad definition of ‘ethnic minority social enterprise’ activities in order not to close down the arena of study so that the actual/potential social enterprise activity within ethnic minorities across a wide variety of forms can be examined. Therefore, the term ‘social enterprise’ includes community businesses, co-operatives, social businesses and trading voluntary organisations. The term ‘ethnic minorities’ is used in this thesis to refer to different subcategories of population and migratory status including first , second, and third generation (British citizens), refugees and asylum seekers and irregular and undocumented immigrants.

This research is based in London, particularly in the East London Olympic Boroughs (the London Boroughs of Hackney, Greenwich, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest). The East London Olympic Boroughs represent an interesting case study for a number of reasons. First, this area has one of the most ethnically diverse population mixes in Britain, with 42% of the population from non-white ethnic groups (ODA, 2007). Second, it is among the most deprived areas within the UK suffering considerable social and economic disadvantage despite their location close to the financial centre of London (ODA, 2007). Third, the area has a strong presence of economic regeneration and social policy activity, not least because it comprises the five so-called ‘Olympic Boroughs’ which, as the main site of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, is the area intended to be the principal beneficiary of the associated regeneration activity (Smallbone et al; 2008). Therefore, it can be argued that the area provides a very particular socio-economic, ethnic and policy context; one that should provide the conditions to enable the start up and development of ethnic minority social enterprises.

The research findings based upon two hundred telephone interviews with leaders of ethnic minority social enterprises, a series of key informants interviews, a follow up case study analysis of ten organisations and secondary sources, provide information concerning the nature and extent of ethnic minority social entrepreneurial activities in the East London Olympic Boroughs. The findings also identify important issues shaping the emergence and development of social enterprise activity within ethnic minorities and question the extent to which past/current policies provide a basis for effective engagement.

This thesis, therefore, makes a number of contributions.  Firstly, this study contributes to the development of theoretical thinking through the development of a definition of the term ‘ethnic minority social enterprise’ and a conceptual framework for understanding ethnic minority social enterprise development.

Secondly, the study produces new insights into the nature and extent of ethnic minority involvement in social enterprise activity to describe and better understand how and where ethnic minority social enterprises operate, as well as the processes shaping the development of these organisations in London, particularly in the East London Olympic Boroughs. Thirdly, this thesis has a fundamental contribution to the development of policy thinking though the analysis of the role of past/current policy and identification of future policy directions.


 Afridi A, Warmington J (2009). “The Pied Pipe: The BME third sector and UK race relations policy”. Brap, Birmingham.

Defourny J, Nyssens M (2010) “Conceptions of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship in Europe and the United States: Convergences and Differences” Journal of Social Entrepreneurship1(1) 32-53.

Giddens, A (1984). The Constitution of Society.Policy Press, Cambridge.

Granovetter, M (1985). Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness. The American Journal of Sociology, V.91, No.3, p.481-510.

Kloosterman, R. C. (2010) Matching opportunities with resources: A framework for analysing (migrant) entrepreneurship from a mixed embeddedness perspective, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 22(1), pp. 25-45.

Kerlin, J. (ed) (2010) Social enterprise: a global comparison, Medford: Tuffs University Press.

OLMEC (2007). Mapping London’s Minority Ethnic Social Enterprises (OLMEC, London).

Olympic Delivery Authority (2007).Equality and diversity strategy: draft for consultation (ODA, London).

Ridley-Duff, R. J. and Bull, M. (2011) Understanding Social Enterprise, London: Sage Publications.

Smallbone, D., Kitching, J., Athayde, R. and Xheneti, M. (2008). Procurement and Supplier Diversity in the 2012 Olympics, Report for Equality and Human Rights Commission, report 6, London.

Sara Calvo is a final year PhD student at the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development (CEEDR) at Middlesex University, UK.She gained her B.A. in Psychology at Salamanca University in Spain, and a MA in Sociology focused on migration and gender studies at the University of Brighton, UK. Sara is a certified social enterprise advisor and is currently working as a part-time lecturer teaching leadership and management at Middlesex University. Her PhD research examines ethnic minority social entrepreneurial activities in the five East London Boroughs of Hackney, Greenwich, Newham, Tower Hamlets, and Waltham Forest, which will host the 2012 Olympics Games. Email contact:


3 thoughts on “Social enterprises and ethnic minorities: A case study of the East London Olympic Boroughs

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