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Project Summary

The Rainbow Economy project aims at promoting entrepreneurship among asylum seekers and 'newcomers' in Brussels. Initiated by De Overmolen, an NGO in Brussels, it comprises a partnership of eight national organisations and is an Equal project funded by the European Social Fund, with additional public and private funding.

Source: Examination and evaluation of good practices in the promotion of ethnic minority entrepreneurs

The Partnership[]

The NGO De Overmolen works in close cooperation with several partner organisations. These organisations are:

  • The European High School of Brussels (EHSAL), an academic institution offering post-graduate economic training and management degrees.
  • The Fiscal and Juridical Study Office (FJS), an advisory office specialising in fiscal and corporate law. In the Rainbow Economy project it provides support in legal, fiscal and social matters and organises initiation courses for the target group.
  • The Hefboom, an independent enterprise that provides advice and finance (micro-credits) to the target group.
  • The Beursschouwburg, an arts centre in Brussels, providing technical assistance to set up a trade fair at the popular summer festival, Klinkende Munt.
  • The RICFB, Regional Integration Centre Foyer, a public institution in the area of ethnic minority policy for the Flemish Community Commission in Brussels.
  • Syntra Brussels, an umbrella organisation of centres for training the self-employed, one of which is located in Brussels.
  • OOTB, currently called Trace Brussel, (Consultation Training and Employment Brussels).

The first five signed the original partner agreement. The last two joined the consortium at a later stage.

Funders and funding[]

The Rainbow Economy project ran from July 2005 to December 2007. A previous phase of the project under the same name started in November 2004, financed by the Urban Fund of the Flemish Community Commission (Vlaamse Gemeenschaps Commissie). In July 2005 it received additional funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) as an Equal project. The total budget for 2005-2007 amounts to €620,380. This budget is composed of several sources of funding:

Half of the budget is financed through the Equal Programme. 40% is financed from (national) public sources: the Urban Fund of the Flemish Community Commission, EHSAL and De Overmolen (through wage subsidies for so-called GESCO-employees - granted by the Flemish Regional Government to vulnerable groups on the labour market, such as long-term unemployed). The remaining 10% is financed from private sources: Beursschouwburg; Hefboom and De Overmolen.

Policy context[]

De Overmolen was first set up to address social problems in Brussels. Its first project focused on youngsters and prostitution, and this was followed by housing issues. Since 2004, it has focussed on asylum seekers and newcomers. The first half of the 1990s saw a dramatic increase in asylum applications in Belgium. A great number of asylum seekers and migrants in general live in Brussels, and so the population in Brussels was a logical target group.

De Overmolen's first project [CHECK] focused on providing training to asylum seekers pending their application. During this period, De Overmolen offered courses on technical skills and professional attitudes and behaviour, in order to help asylum seekers to find jobs either in Belgium or in their country of origin (if their asylum request were rejected). This project led to the development of the Rainbow Economy project. The Rainbow Economy project is financed by the Equal Programme through the ESF agency in Flanders, set up in 2002 to manage and co-ordinate Equal projects, initiated by Flemish organisations. ESF Flanders follows the general mission of the Equal Programme in developing new ideas or tools to combat discrimination and inequalities on the labour market. The programme aims to promote trans-national co-operation. Other core principles are: employability, adaptability, entrepreneurship, equal opportunities and asylum seekers.


The overarching objective of the project is to assist recent migrants to Belgium to set up their own business in Brussels. Its aims are twofold: 1) to provide asylum seekers and 'newcomers' with the opportunity to develop any entrepreneurial skills acquired in the country of origin and to adapt these skills to the Belgian social and economic context; and 2) to combat financial, administrative and legal obstacles for aspiring entrepreneurs among asylum seekers and 'newcomers'.

Target groups[]

This project is designed in particular to meet the needs of a specific target group within the larger group of 'migrants': 'newcomers', defined as foreigners who have arrived in Belgium less than a year ago. In practice, the programme allows asylum seekers to take part in the programme as well. There is a healthy degree of entrepreneurial spirit among this group, which does not however automatically lead to a high number of start-ups. The educational level of this group is mixed, but overall quite low. The project also targets highly skilled migrants in cooperation with NT2, an organisation that provides Dutch language training for all 'newcomers'.

How Rainbow Economy works[]

The project consists of five phases: research, training, experimentation (trial), trans-national and dissemination. Acknowledging the entrepreneurial spirit of the newcomers, the project takes the initiative of the migrant as its starting point, taking into account the aspirations and skills that asylum seekers and newcomers already have. The following services are provided:

  • Training

Introductory training for aspiring entrepreneurs to provide the basic skills for successful entrepreneurship: marketing, selling techniques, communication, accounting and administration, how to write a business plan, and development of a personal business project. Different modules form part of a comprehensive module, coordinated by Syntra. The objective of the introductory course is to facilitate access to the business training courses that most of the newcomers need to follow when they want to set up a business.

  • Context-specific experiments (test or trial phase)

Participation in local markets at music festivals, or during Christmas. Participants can practice their selling skills and test the appeal of their products and services at trade fairs during the popular music festival Klinkende Munt, organised in the centre of Brussels every summer. Migrants also set up a market called Micro Marche Midi (MMM), every Sunday at the train station Gare de Midi, where they sell their products.

  • Counselling and Business Advice

This assistance consists of three parts: (1) assistance to candidate participants in catering initiatives; (2) individual assistance; and (3) group assistance. For example, in May 2006 nine entrepreneurs in the catering sector decided to form a co-operative. The co-op scheme is attractive to start-up entrepreneurs because under this set-up they can continue to receive social welfare benefits, as part-time employees of the co-op. The migrant entrepreneur is thus guaranteed a minimum income.

  • Financing

Participants are supported in overcoming financial and administrative obstacles. They have access to microfinancing, and the organisation lobbies to remove legal obstacles such as the sales permit, which is only granted to Belgians and foreigners who have lived in Belgium for at least ten years.

There are no financial costs for participants in these activities. The languages used are mostly English and French. The greatest challenge is to identify the 'newcomers'. For this purpose a network of intermediaries, including teachers/trainers in civic integration programmes like OOTB, trade unions, the RICFB, local social welfare agencies and refugee organisations such as Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen (Refugee Aid Flanders), was set up. Most of these organisations have signed up as partners in the project.

Accessibility to target groups[]

As stated above, the programme has two objectives. Firstly it aims to support potential entrepreneurs to develop their skills. At the same time it aims to ensure their access to institutions and to overcome legal and administrative obstacles, thus enabling and empowering them to become entrepreneurs. Its success can therefore be measured not only by the number of start-ups, but also by the number of participants in the different programmes and support services of various public and other institutions. However, the initial results of this programme may be summarized as follows:

Intensive assistance was provided to 38 migrant entrepreneurs in the nine-month period from July 2005 to April 2006. Four entrepreneurs received individual assistance, while nine aspiring entrepreneurs were assisted as a group (these were in the catering sector, and they later organised themselves in a coop, six of them for the Brussels Christmas market; the catering co-op has since actually started operating as a business). Three experimental markets linked to the Music festival Klinkende Munt have taken place since the start of the programme in July 2005.


Since the project is still ongoing, full results and evaluations are not yet available. Nevertheless, internal evaluations take place regularly and the training programme has been evaluated by the participants. The most frequent comment to come out of these evaluations is: 'more focus on practice, and less on theory'. Participants wish particularly to meet successful migrant entrepreneurs to learn from their experiences. They also want to meet representatives of the different public and private organisations that provide support to newcomers or entrepreneurs. On the practical side, participants in the training programme prefer evening courses to daytime training. During the daytime some of them take language classes and are involved in other activities.

Assessment of Rainbow Economy[]

The success of the Rainbow Economy project can be assessed by the following criteria.

  • Relevance

The project is tailor-made for its target group, since it is based on a systematic, scientific investigation of the actual needs and demands in terms of entrepreneurship among asylum seekers: CHECK Refugee entrepreneurship in Belgium: Potential and practice (Wauters & Lambrecht, 2006). In Belgium, entrepreneurship is not generally promoted in civic integration programmes for newcomers. CHECK The abovementioned study, carried out by one of the partners in the project, EHSAL, confirmed the high share of candidate entrepreneurs among asylum seekers and newcomers.

  • Effectiveness and/or efficiency

The project may not expect quick results given its pioneering nature and the problem of reaching the target group. The idea that entrepreneurship may be a viable avenue that works for integration into society, given the propensity of newcomers to become self-employed, is still quite new in Belgium. Nevertheless, the project has succeeded in interesting candidate-entrepreneurs to follow training and/or to try to sell their products at festivals and other types of markets.

The project has also changed the mindset of trainers. Prior to the project, few trainers were aware of the entrepreneurial potential of newcomers - they did not believe in their chances for success, and put no effort into encouraging them. Currently, thanks to the programme, they are much more open towards this idea. A similar change may be expected in the minds of civil servants.

  • Innovativeness

This project is highly innovative in two respects. (1) It targets a group that most integration officials do not see as potential entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship may be a highly powerful tool for integrating newcomers into society and thus overcoming the obstacles they face when looking for a job in the regular employment market. (2) It is innovative in its approach. The project consists of several phases in which the individual entrepreneur can learn how to do business in the classroom from a theoretical perspective, and also has the occasion to put this knowledge into practice and test the business idea by selling his/her products at festival fairs.

  • Replicability

Although the project has not yet been replicated, its underlying idea of promoting migrant entrepreneurship, especially in the provision of food products at festivals, is being put in practice in numerous places. In Antwerp North, for instance, where a wide range of ethnic minorities live, many activities are being developed: bazaar markets, an African Film Festival, Chinese New Year events, Chinese Moon Festival events, Celebration of the Birthday of the Buddha, etc. All these provide an occasion for migrant entrepreneurs to sell their products or services. In Brussels, local organisations are lobbying for a night market on Rogier Square, which is otherwise completely deserted after working hours. Setting up a multicultural market open at night would make the neighbourhood a vibrant and interesting place to walk around, to shop and/or to eat.

For the project to be replicated successfully elsewhere, the coordinating organization should have a large network with different actors such as refugee and migrant organisations, NGOs, public institutions at the local and national level, the research community, and the arts sector. Good relations with public institutions are necessary in order to lobby for simplification and removal of discriminatory practices, and legislation that might help migrant candidate entrepreneurs. Social workers and trainers in integration programmes should also be sensitised to the idea that newcomers are highly entrepreneurial, and they should cater to the needs and aspirations of their clients.

Key learning points[]

  • It is important to acknowledge the entrepreneurial potential of newcomers as a viable route to integration into the receiving society. This entrepreneurial potential should also be taken into account in the context of integration programmes for newly arrived migrants.
  • The promotion of migrant entrepreneurship should focus not only on individual assistance to entrepreneurs, but also on uncovering and combating institutional obstacles preventing enterprising newcomers from setting up their own business.
  • An experimental phase, in which aspiring entrepreneurs have the opportunity to train their knowledge and skills in practice without the normal risks involved or losing other sources of income, seems to be a promising approach.
  • The practical training of potential migrant entrepreneurs in various cultural markets and events has a two-way positive effect: it gives the entrepreneurs the opportunity to train their skills in practice, while at the same time contributing to the cultural diversity of metropolitan cities.

Contact address[]

De Overmolen Cellebroersstraat 16 B-1000 Brussels E: F: +32 2 503.32.22 T: +32 2 513.09.99 W:

Contact: Mark D'Hondt E:

Notes and references[]

Websites: Official project-site of Rainbow Economy:

ESF agency Flanders: (reports will be put on this site after the completion of the project Dec. 2007)

Documents Wauters, B. & Lambrecht, J. (2006), Zelfstandig ondernemerschap bij asielzoekers en vluchtelingen. Brussels: EHSAL. [Entrepreneurship among asylum seekers and refugees]

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(5)Examination and evaluation of good practices in the promotion of ethnic minority entrepreneurs

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