In Finland, there are entrepreneurs from about 130 countries. A reason to become an entrepreneur as a person with a foreign background living in Finland may be the difficulties in the job market, however, there is also a genuine draw towards entrepreneurship. In this blog post, we introduce foreign-background female entrepreneurship in Finland and describe the wellbeing groups for female entrepreneurs as a venue to integrate Finnish and foreign-background entrepreneurs.
Based on our experiences, group activities can be conducted bilingually, which provides an opportunity for mutual learning, encouragement, and support. Entrepreneurship is a key part of social and economic sustainability.
Female entrepreneurs in Finnish statistics
The rate of entrepreneurship among the foreign background population is the same among the native Finnish population (1). The portion of foreign-background female entrepreneurs is steadily increasing (2). For example, in 2021 almost 43 percent of foreign-background clients in Business Helsinki (formerly Helsinki NewCo) were women, in 2019, 36 percent (3). In general, Finland has the highest share of female entrepreneurs in the Nordic countries at almost 34 percent (4).
The perception of their own skills, as well as education, age, and income influence the way women (and men) interact with others around them. Women tend to become entrepreneurs if they have female role models and female networks. Unfortunately, female entrepreneurs have smaller networks than male entrepreneurs do, leaving women at a disadvantage (4). Hence, the importance of providing opportunities to form relationships and network widely. Female entrepreneurs coming from foreign backgrounds, are often equipped with a language barrier, presenting them with even more challenges.
Entrepreneur’s wellbeing is vital for business success
Wellbeing is divided into two parts, individual’s physical and psychological health and wellbeing as well as social wellbeing. For an entrepreneur the promotion of their business is directly tied to their personal wellbeing, as it is a foundation for work ability and capacity (5).
The survivability of a business and produced income is directly correlated with the entrepreneur’s personal wellbeing, and any decline causes immediate problems with the functions of a business. For which reason, the promotion of wellbeing for entrepreneurs is vital.
Wellbeing groups offered for female entrepreneurs
The personal and business wellbeing of female entrepreneurs can be strengthened in organised group functions. These wellbeing groups for female entrepreneurs should aim to provide a positive and psychologically safe environment to
- make connections with other female entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds
- form long-lasting business and personal relationships
- provide reciprocal support and coaching in their business endeavours
The atmosphere is as important as the content of the meetings.
The purpose of the group setting, and providing activities is to offer an opportunity to build bridges between female entrepreneurs across the cultural and language lines.
Repeatedly, female entrepreneurs with foreign background have expressed difficulties to connect with Finnish female entrepreneurs.
Since most female entrepreneurs are solo or small business entrepreneurs, there is a need for a supportive network. When you are living in another country without your usual family and social network, the need is even greater.
Supporting sustainability in wellbeing groups for female entrepreneurs
Sustainability is also supported in wellbeing groups. Sustainable development is divided into social, economic, and environmental sustainability. The social foundation consists of education, employment and income, social equality, gender equality, networks, issues related to health, food, housing, and energy. Without social foundation, people are not well (6).
The economy makes it possible for the society and services to function. Economic sustainability aims to promote development-driven practices to support production, creativity and innovation, entrepreneurship, creation of decent jobs, and to enable the creation and success of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (6,7).
Entrepreneurship education and events bilingually
Foreign-background entrepreneurs are offered education regarding starting and conducting business in Finland. This education is often provided in English, but especially in the Metropolitan area, the courses are provided in multiple languages.
Considering that many people with a foreign background do not speak English promoting integration and learning Finnish, having education and materials in so called selkosuomi, plain Finnish, would be beneficial. In almost all fields of business Finnish skills are beneficial and knowing the needed terminology in Finnish helps business activities.
Usually, business education and events are organised in English or another single language. This keeps certain language and cultural barriers present.
Female entrepreneurs with foreign background often express that they would like to make more connections with their female counterparts. Events and education organised bilingually, for example English-Finnish, promote connections between female entrepreneurs across the language and cultural lines. Both, native Finnish speakers and entrepreneurs with another native language, would benefit.
- Foreign-background females would be able to use English and express themselves whilst immersing themselves in Finnish words, having a safe environment to try to speak Finnish as well as encourage others to use their English skills.
- Native Finnish speakers would have an opportunity to use English while encouraging their counterparts to use Finnish.
This kind of interaction would encourage the creation of new connections and sharing of experiences. Female entrepreneurs from various backgrounds can offer each other fresh, even unexpected, points of views and suggestions.
Wellbeing groups offered for Female Entrepreneurs
Wellbeing groups for female entrepreneurs were provided as a part of ESF funded project Oona 2.0 – Strengthening Women’s Entrepreneurship through Digitalisation and Partnership. The purpose was to provide a small group environment to extend and strengthen the participants’ networks, make connections as well as strengthen personal and business wellbeing.
The group meetings were conducted in an inclusive manner and in selected groups bilingually, in English and Finnish. The participants were both foreign-background and native Finnish female entrepreneurs. This is an unusual approach not to divide by a language. The participants made genuine connections and relationships with the colleagues with diverse cultural and language backgrounds. The participants’ personal knowhow and their multitude of experiences were present while mentoring each other.
Heini Maisala-McDonnell, MHC, is a vocational teacher with a physiotherapy and entrepreneur background. She works at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences as a senior lecturer with Finnish and international students and as an expert in the Oona 2.0, SDG4BIZ and Wellbeing by Hybrid Services projects.
Outi Pyrhönen, who has an entrepreneurial background, is M.Sc. (Health), a vocational teacher and psychotherapist. She works at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences as a senior lecturer, as an expert in the Oona 2.0 project, and in a wide range of guidance and development tasks.
- Fornaro, Paolo.2018. Immigrant Entrepreneurship in Finland (etla.fi).
- Luhtala, T. 2018. Tilastokeskus. Tieto ja trendit. Trendit.
- YLE.2022. Women with immigrant backgrounds increasingly becoming entrepreneurs. Yle news 10.6.2022.
- Grünfeld,L., Hernes S.M. & Karttinen, E. 2020. Female Entrepreneurship in the Nordics 2020 (PDF, menon.no). Menon Economics.
- Gould, R., Ilmarinen, J., Järvisalo, J. & Koskinen, S. 2008. Dimensions of Work Ability – Summary and Conclusions. Teoksessa Gould, R., Ilmarinen, J., Järvisalo, J. & Koskinen, S. (ed.). Dimensions of Work Ability. Results of the Health 2000 Survey. 2008, s. 165 (researchgate.net).
- Kestävä kehitys. 2023. What is sustainable Development? (kestavakehitys.fi)
- United Nations. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2023. Goal. (un.org)
Oona 2.0 – Strengthening Women’s Entrepreneurship through Digitalisation and Partnership Networks is a project co-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and implemented by Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in the Uusimaa region. The duration of the project is 1.4.2020-28.2.2023.