Conference

Roma entrepreneurship: a possible solution to labour market discrimination and exclusion?

8 June 2017, Brussels
Event hashtag: #RomaEntrepreneur
On 8 June 2017 the European Roma Information Office (ERIO), in cooperation with the European Economic Social Committee and with the support of DG Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality of the European Commission, organised a conference “Roma entrepreneurship: a possible solution to labour market discrimination and exclusion?”.

Roma encounter various forms of discrimination in Europe and many continue to face a higher risk of unemployment compared to non-Roma. As the FRA studies[1] reveal, Roma unemployment rates are three times higher than non-Roma. Employment rates among Roma women are even lower and the young Roma, in particular find themselves in dire circumstance. Rampant unemployment breeds a cycle of poverty and ultimately represents a terrible waste of human potential. The current economic situation adds additional obstacles to Roma’s equal access to employment, including an increase in racism and discrimination in Europe.

The current context calls for innovative approaches to guarantee Roma’s right to equally participate in the labour market. This can be achieved by means of entrepreneurship. Although Roma entrepreneurship has received insufficient attention, it would help reach some of the Europe 2020 Strategy targets by combatting unemployment by creating new jobs. It could also provide an avenue to circumvent discrimination in the labour market, and empower Roma by allowing them to no longer depend on discriminatory employment structures and employers, and on short-term projects and initiatives that aim to facilitate their social inclusion. As stated in the 2013 Council Recommendation, member states should take measures “supporting self-employment and entrepreneurship” within Roma communities. This recognises the potential of such measures to promote the equal participation of Roma in the labour market.

The aims of the conference were to:
  • Explore the potential of Roma entrepreneurship as a tool for Roma’s empowerment and equal access to employment
  • Provide a platform for participants to exchange information and ideas about good practices and to discuss possible challenges and solutions concerning Roma entrepreneurship
  • Enhance a multi-sectorial and multi-dimensional approach to Roma inclusion by involving more key stakeholders, such as businesses and the financial sector

Opening the conference were Georges Dassis, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, Ivan Ivanov, Executive Director of ERIO, and Jana Balazova, Policy Officer from the European Commission’s DG Justice. They stressed the importance of the Roma minority in Europe, due to its size and youth, and also emphasized that although prejudice keeps Roma on the margins of society, employment should be seen as fundamental for Roma integration and that measures taken for this purpose should be targeted to Roma specifically. The first panel was made up of entrepreneur and member of the EESC Permanent study group on Roma inclusion Madi Sharma, Policy Officer from the European Commission’s DG Employment, Dominique Bé, and representative from the Embassy of Hungary, Gabriella Nagy. They discussed the potential of Roma entrepreneurship as a tool for Roma’s empowerment and equal access to employment. The second panel brought together two entrepreneurs – one Roma, José Heredia, and one Syrian, Obada Otabashi, – to share their experiences with entrepreneurship. The panelists of the third and final panel, Ákos Topolánszky, President of the EESC Permanent study group on Roma inclusion, Lens Lapauw, microcredit advisor at Microstart, and Ronald Lucardie, ERIO’s Board President, explored potential ways for moving forward. They discussed different visions, strategies and solutions for achieving Roma inclusion.
 
This conference emphasized the potential of such measures as self-employment and entrepreneurship to promote the equal participation of Roma in the labour market and urged for a multi-sectorial and multi-dimensional approach to Roma inclusion.

[1] FRA (2014) Poverty and employment: the situation of Roma in 11 EU Member States; FRA EU-MIDIS II (2016)
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