Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2003


Gabriella Lazaridis and Maria Koumandraki (2003) 'Survival Ethnic Entrepreneuers in Greece: A Mosaic of Informal and Formal Business Activities '
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 2, <>

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Received: 14/11/2002      Accepted: 30/5/2003      Published: 31/05/2003


This paper explores the phenomenon of ethnic entrepreneurship in Greece. Greece has been transformed from an emigration to an immigration country. Since the 1990s the majority of migrant workers occupy low paid, unskilled jobs in the informal economy. However, some set up (in) formal businesses. Ethnic entrepreneurs of our study have been excluded from social and economic opportunities. By running a business they struggle against exclusion, have control over their work situation (work hours, income) and gain emotional satisfaction and self-fulfilment. As we will show, self-employment is viewed as an 'alternative income-generating activity, a strategy towards inclusion, a feasible 'survival strategy' for escaping discrimination and exclusion given the lack of other employment options. In this context, entrepreneurship is not viewed as an economic behaviour structured by the existing economic and socio-political structures only, but also, as having an important subjective meaning for the self-employed migrant. We will demonstrate that ethnic businesses comprise a mosaic of formal and informal activities. Opportunities for participation of migrants in informal activities occur because of the high demand for informal provision of services and goods at competitive prices. The entrance barriers are lower than in the informal sector since one usually does not have to meet costs associated with running of a business. Although the development of ethnic business activities will be viewed as the outcome of interaction on one's legal status, economic resources, access to informal networks of support, individual aspirations and structures of opportunity (e.g. informal economy) available to migrants in the Greek case migrants are faced with structural disadvantages that push them into what is marginal self-employment. It is the peculiarities of the Greek case (large informal economy and high rates of self-employment and the multiple forms of exclusion they experience as they were in Greece) that encourage them to become ' survival' entrepreneurs, to strive to create a business of their own in the 'twilight zone' of the Greek economy where they often carry out extra-legal activities in order to 'survive'.

Enterpreneurhip; Greece; Informal Economy; Migrants; Self-employment; Southern Europe


Ethnic entrepreneurship has attracted considerable interest in North America and Western European countries (e.g. Barrett et al., 1996; Wilson, 1983; Waldinger et al., 1990a; Rath and Kloosterman, 2000; Uneke, 1996; Boissevain and Gretenberg, 1986; Schrover, 2001; Srinivasan, 1992). Whereas Greece in particular has attracted an increasing number of migrants since the late 1970s and especially in the 1990s, research has focused on the socio- economic position and employment experiences of migrant waged workers in the construction industry, agriculture, the domestic sphere and the sex industry (Lazaridis and Romaniszyn, 1998; Lazaridis, 2001; Psimmenos, 2000; Iosifidis, 1997; King, Lazaridis, and Tsardanidis 2000; King 2001) but not on ethnic entrepreneurship; this is despite the fact that ethnic business ventures emerged in the 1980s, comprising a mosaic of formal and informal activities .

Whether a migrant will engage in a formal or informal business activity depends largely on one's legal status but also, on one's economic resources and access to ethnic networks. Opportunities in participation in the informal activities occur because of the high demand of informal economic provision of services and goods at competitive prices. As we will show, 'strategies of survival and success involve contesting and transgressing boundaries of various kinds...[such as] contesting the boundaries of the law by evading taxes, licensing requirements and other commercial regulations' (MacGaffey and Bazenguissa-Ganga, 2000:7). We particularly emphasise human agency as we observe the efforts of individuals who strive against the structural conditions that present them with, on the one hand formidable obstacles to inclusion in the formal economy, and on the other exclusion from the opportunity to better their lives in the host country. We argue that the multiple forms of exclusion they experience as they move to Greece have been a reason for their strive to create a business of their own in the 'twilight zone' of the Greek economy, where they carry out extra-legal activities in order to 'survive'.

This paper aims at filling the above mentioned gap in the literature and provide answers to the following questions: why do migrants become entrepreneurs? What kind of business (formal/ informal) do they set up and why? What is the effect of racialised labour market structures and of the Greek informal economy in shaping ethnic entrepreneurship careers? What are the positive and negative aspects of entrepreneurship for the migrants themselves? As we will show, self-employment is viewed by our interviewees as an 'alternative income-generating activity, a strategy towards inclusion or a 'reaction to blocked opportunities in the labour market' (Barrett et al., 1996: 789), a feasible 'survival strategy' for escaping discrimination and exclusion given the lack of other employment options. In this context, entrepreneurship is not viewed as an economic behaviour structured by the existing economic and socio-political structures only, but also, as having an important subjective meaning for the self-employed migrant.

II. Theoretical Framework: Impact of Structure and Agency on Ethnic Entrepreneurship

A variety of approaches have been used in explaining ethnic entrepreneurship. Some put emphasis on the effect of ethno-cultural factors (such as, cultural predisposition to self-employment, work ethic, saving attitude). Following this approach, certain ethnic groups possess unique cultural characteristics, which predispose them towards entrepreneurship (Uneke, 1996: 530; Valenzuela, 2001: 338) that is, business is in their blood (Barrett et al., 1996). Other cultural approaches stress the importance of ethnic solidarity and participation in ethnic social networks on business ownership and success. Ethnic and cultural resources include access to co-ethnic labour at low prices; start-up capital (loans from family members or other coethnics); ethnic credit associations; trading experiences; and cultural attributes (Rafiq, 1992: 44). The importance of social relations and their impact on economic actions is being referred to in the literature also in the terms of possession of 'social capital' or 'social embeddedness' (Portes and Sensembrenner, 1993; Granovetter, 1985). Main critics note that the ethno-cultural approach does not take into consideration the fact that different ethnic groups and moreover migrants within the same group, have differential access to economic resources, education, experience and this affects their involvement in business or the type of business venture chosen (Rafiq, 1992: 44)

Increasingly some scholars stress the interaction between cultural and structural elements and its impact on self-employment careers. For example, Uneke (1996: 530) argues that ethnic business is the result of interaction between 'individual and group attributes and dimensions of opportunity structures provided by the social environment', such as economic structures of opportunity, government policies , time and place . As we will show below, 'market opportunity structures' have a great impact on the development or not of ethnic business and on type of the ethnic businesses because they 'may favour products or services oriented towards co-ethnics' or they may offer opportunities to cater for a 'wider, non-ethnic market' (Waldinger et al., 1990b: 21). But, these opportunity structures do not influence on their own ethnic minority entrepreneurship, but interact with individual and ethnic group characteristics.

Structural approaches, following the 'disadvantage theory' argument (Aurand, 1983), state that migrants become entrepreneurs because they are disadvantaged in the labour market. Disadvantage emanates from unemployment , underemployment, illegal status, lack of proficiency in the host country's language, unrecognised or low educational qualifications (Valenzuela, 2001: 349), racism and discrimination.

Valenzuela (2001: 339) identifies two types of survivalist entrepreneurs: the value entrepreneurs and the disadvantaged entrepreneurs. Value entrepreneurs choose self- employment rather than low-wage jobs because, inter alia they value flexibility, independence or autonomy, and being one's own boss. Disadvantaged entrepreneurs opt for self- employment either because they are likely to earn more or because they do not have any other employment options (Valenzuela, 2001: 339). However a clear-cut distinction between the two types of survivalist entrepreneurs cannot always be made, because as we will show later on in the paper, in many cases, entrepreneurs may acknowledge both financial and other gains relating to autonomy, independence, work schedule flexibility. Thus, a variety of prospective benefits associated with enterpreneurship may have a cumulative effect on the migrant's decision to become self- employed. In Greece, as we will see, the majority of ethnic entrepreneurs are survival entrepreneurs; nevertheless, a clear-cut distinction between value and disadvantage entrepreneurs cannot be drawn.

Other structural factors affect ethnic business, such as access to capital. Certain business ventures may not be opted for by prospective entrepreneurs if a large capital is required (e.g.: manufacturing) or it maybe difficult for a migrant to issue a self-employment permit because specific qualifications and documents are requested by national institutions (Kloosterman and Rath, 2001:195). In this case, migrants maybe discouraged from setting up a business. As we will see in the Greek case, one has to have a residence and work permit in order to obtain authorisation for setting up a business. As a result, undocumented migrants have no choice but to engage in informal business activities. Depending on their economic and ethnic resources, migrants cluster in particular business niches, which usually require small capital, little skill and low education levels. In addition, sometimes they undertake 'unconventional' entrepreneurial activities, which do not necessitate the renting of business premises and maybe casual and temporary. 'Shop-less and temporary self-employed such as street-vendors, domestic workers, home-based workers, and day-labourers are usually neglected in the mainstream elititistic entrepreneurial discourse which puts emphasis on innovation, small business, capital development, risk-taking, and other characteristics that define standard accounts of entrepreneurship (Valenzuela, 2001: 335).

In this section, we briefly discussed the various theoretical approaches on why migrants become entrepreneurs. What follows is evidence that strongly suggest that migrants in Greece are faced with structural disadvantages (lack of employment opportunities and lack of documents, such as work and residence permit) that push them into what is marginal self-employment.

III. Methodology

There are no available data on the self-employability of ethnic groups in Greece- there are no national estimates of migrant business rates. The statistics provided by ESYE (Greek National Statistical Service) on the employment activities of migrants are rather crude: information is provided only on the type of employment activities, such as manufacturing, construction services. No differentiation is being made between employment and self-employment status. In addition, some business activities are not registered and operate in the informal economy, thus remaining 'invisible' in official statistics. We therefore opted for a qualitative approach.

Ethnic entrepreneurs were not identified through local street directories, local organisations or the local chamber of commerce as in other studies (for example in Britain, Wilson 1983), but mainly through the snowballing technique and contacts with migrants' associations. This is because it was difficult to locate and interview people operating at the margins of the law. Our sample consists of third country migrants who have never participated in any self-employment programmes and is representative of the range of migrant business activities in Greece.

A total of 20 interviews were conducted in Greece (Athens) during 1999 with self-employed migrants originating from East European and African countries (Albania , Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Egypt), 16 men and 4 women between 24 and 50 years of age who were engaged in various business activities (e.g., restaurants, electronics, decorators, hairdressers, street-hawking). The vast majority had completed secondary education (8 cases), some had university degrees (four cases), and a few had postgraduate degrees (two cases). With regard to marital status the majority were married (with children) and only three interviewees were single.

We chose to employ the biographical interviewing technique because of its advantages compared to a semi-structured or open interview schedule. The non-directiveness of the biographical interview gave the opportunity to our interviewees to reconstruct their life , or parts of it, which they wished to share with us. Adopting the biographical interviewing technique allowed us to: (a) appreciate the complexity of entrepreneurial motives; (b) to record the impact of opportunity structures and individual factors on self-employment careers; and (c) to demonstrate that ethnic entrepreneurs are social actors who reflect on the employment options available to them in the host country; they 'are not just responding to static opportunity structures, but are able to change and mould them through innovative behaviour and thereby create opportunities that up till then did not exist' (Kloosterman and Rath, 2001: 192). The subjective-interpretative accounts of the entrepreneurs were considered putting emphasis on the meaning of business ownership to the owner himself and thus shedding light onto the complex issue of motivation. We considered the owner as an actor who is able to interpret the social world and take action.

IV. Survival Entrepreneurs: From Exclusion to Inclusion

The narration of migrants' work-histories reveals the complexity of entrepreneurial motivation in the case of ethnic business owners in Greece. In particular, we will show how structural factors interact with ethno-cultural features and individual aspirations and lead to the emergence of self-employment careers. The analysis of the work histories will demonstrate that motivation for setting up a business lies on structural factors (relating with restricted employment opportunities, racism and discrimination in the labour market, and/or demand for certain services and products at cheap rates in the informal sector.

The characteristics and features of the Greek labour market, in particular the existence of a large informal economy- the informal economy is estimated to contribute in the Greek case around 40% of the GDP (Petmesidou, 1996)- small-family based businesses and the tertiarisation of the economy prescribed an increasing demand for flexible, cheap labour. Labour intensive enterprises due to increasing competition in the world market can only survive and meet the challenges posed by European economic integration by reducing labour costs; these, therefore, opt for unpaid family members or, if this option is not available, for cheap migrant workers and thus save in wage and social security costs, maintenance of health and safety standards costs (Lazaridis and Romaniszyn, 1998). In addition, the seasonal nature of some sectors (e.g.: intensive agriculture, tourism, fishing farms and construction industry) and the expansion of demand for labour in domestic and care work (both part-time and full-time), led to a demand for flexible labour hands. As a result, a structural demand arose for the recruitment of a flexible, mobile labour force willing to undertake casual, seasonal, insecure jobs at low payment rates and no insurance coverage (Fakiolas and King, 1996, 183; Lazaridis, 1999). Migrant labour has therefore assumed a growing importance in the Greek socio-economic setting.

Albanians have migrated illegally to Greece since the beginning of the 1990s, whereas Africans started arriving clandestinely or with student visas in the late 1970s and some of them overstayed after the completion of their studies. Prior to the first regularisation programme, which took place in 1997, the majority of migrants in Greece were undocumented with the exception of those coming with student visas or those married to Greeks or other EU citizens. During this time, both East European and African migrants worked mainly as waged workers in the informal economy (see Fakiolas, 2000) or they provided hairdressing services, decorating services or were engaged in petty-trade. In particular, Albanian men worked clandestinely as manual workers in the construction and tourist industries or performed other unskilled jobs (e.g. cleaners, employees in coffee shops) (Lazaridis, 1999; Lazaridis and Wickens, 1999; Lazaridis and Psimmenos, 2000). They chose to capitalize on skills acquired in Greece while working as decorators, builders, plumbers, and cleaners and become self-employed.

For example, Anestis, a 37 year old Albanian man got tired of undertaking low-paid unskilled, manual jobs in the Greek informal economy and decided to become self-employed so as to move away from being trapped into conditions of inferiority. He gained valuable work experience as a decorator and decided to work on his own when he was denied social insurance coverage. He narrates:

I was working as a decorator with emulsion. I learnt alongside a skilled worker in a big company where I was working. Very hard work. I was not responsible for skilful tasks because these were carried out by the skilled workers. And then I left because I asked for IKA [National Insurance Fund] he did not provide me IKA. And I decided to work alone. I asked for more money because we were paid not at all well. I worked very many hours and he was paying me just 17.68 Euro a day including Saturdays and Sundays and holidays and he asked me to work all day long. Not to stop for half an hour you know to [go to the toilet]. There was a lot of dust [by this he means that the job was unhygienic] I had to do very hard jobs. Without a break, without nothing, without bonus. I brought here the family, I was a dad with kids, and things did not turn out the way I expected, I had to work alone. I took the brush and I looked for work amongst friends, and acquaintances in the beginning.

When they arrived in Greece, Africans faced discrimination in the job market. Some of them were qualified professionals but were unable to get a job in par with their qualifications. Others, holding a degree from a Greek university decided to overstay in Greece and get a job, but were encountered with racial discrimination in the Greek labour market (Lazaridis and Koumandraki 2000). They decided to set up businesses to improve their socio-economic position and take control over the work situation. Only a few, who had obtained Greek citizenship or had access to informal networks of support were able to set up formal business activities; these were mainly restaurants, candy shops, bar/clubs, electronics, shops for clothes; hairdressing and beauty salons. For example, Francis, a Ghanaian man, registered his business in a co-ethnic's name. He explains:

I didn't have a working permit. And they never give you permission to open a shop when you don't have a working permit. So I had a front person. This person was working in an embassy, so he had a working permit. So I used his papers to set up the business.

The establishment of formal ethnic businesses or the engagement in 'unconventional' informal self-employment activities (e.g. street-hawking) is mainly a 'survival strategy' which promises higher economic gains compared to low-paid casual work jobs available to migrants in the Greek informal economy.

Restricted employment opportunities resulted in the development of certain niches amongst African migrants in Greece, in particular hairdressing, petty-trading and ethnic restaurants and food stores. African women capitalised on an ethnic resource (hair combing) in order to make a living. They introduced Afro-Caribbean hairdressing to the local population. The women we interviewed, prior to becoming self-employed were mainly employed as domestic workers responding to the growing demand for child-care and support for the elderly - with the exception of one woman who held a permanent post as a midwife in a public hospital. Self- employment allowed them to escape from exploitative working conditions as domestics and from racial and/or sexual harassment. Adamse, a 39 year old Sierra Leonine woman who runs a beauty/ hairdressing shop in Athens narrated in detail her work experiences with various Greek employers and how she decided to provide Afro-Caribbean hairdressing services at home, as follows:

Wherever I was working --- the men, the women [she refers to her employers] didn't treat me nice. And I worked for one employer who didn't pay me. I worked for the whole month. He employed me to look after his father-in-law. I was staying with the old man. I was cleaning. There was a lot of work to be done. I worked for them and at the end of the month. I asked him: "where is my payment?" He answered "I don't have any money to give you". And he wanted to fuck me. I said, "no, I don't want". I said, "I'm not doing this kind of job. I am doing house cleaning. I am not a whore". I told him that I am going to report him to the police, but I was afraid to do such thing because I didn't have any legal documents at the time...Then I got another job. I was looking after the grandfather and grandmother. One day, they told her husband: "Giannis your house looks like a salad. A black woman is coming to your house and your house looks like a salad. There are various colours. You should get a white woman to work for you". She said to me, "I don't want you to work for me anymore". And my sister suggested, "why don't you stay at home with me to provide Afro- Caribbean hairdressing services?" From then on I started to provide hairdressing services with my sister at home and slowly I saved some little money and I set up this business.

Nigerians are involved mainly in street hawking. The emergence of street hawking illustrates the point made above on the dynamic interaction between labour market opportunity structures and social actors' aspirations for a better life. For example, Tounde, a 33 year-old man from Nigeria 'decided' to become a street-hawker when he realised that he could not get a job with his experiences and qualifications as a civil engineer in Greece. His case illustrates the impact of racialised labour market structures on involvement in a certain type of business activity. He explained:

When I came into the country, I knew just a girl who was a cousin of mine...I stayed with them for three months. I was wondering, "what are these people doing here?" And I asked her, "what are they doing?" And she said, "they are selling. That's what everybody does". And I said, "OK, I am not going to do that"(laugh). I stayed for a month, they bought food, I ate, I drank and whatever, but I couldn't continue to do that. I told the husband "OK, you have to take me now and show me where to buy these things and I think I have to sell". So, he showed me where to buy these things, he took me to the bus stop and he said, " OK you take this bus, you stop where the bus stops and you just start working". I didn't understand shit about the language. He taught me one, two, three, all this shit and that was it. I started selling watches, radios and all that. Eh - this is what I've been doing up till now, I've been selling watches.

Another Nigerian, Patrick, said:
Well, there is no alternative. But at least I have my pride. I would have preferred working in the factory, I would have preferred working in an office, I would have preferred working in a restaurant, but there is not that work, except farm work. And farm work has seasons. So I met my fellow Nigerians and I said, "what else can we do?" They said: " the only thing you can do now is to hawk. Buy and sell".

Street hawking is a survival strategy imposed by lack of alternative opportunities. Vendors/street-hawkers are petty-traders, sell a variety of cheap electronic products such as CD's, watches, radios, cheap jewellery, car radios, cassette players, hair dryers etc. in open markets, squares, streets. This kind of business activity entails mobility. Migrants walk on foot or drive to different locations to sell their goods. It also, involves risk. As Kennedy said, I am not satisfied. It's slow now. Maybe in winter it will be OK. It's slow now. I don't have many customers. If they were around I wouldn't have had time for this interview.

It seems that these activities are largely tolerated by the police. As Patrick, a 34-year-old Nigerian man said:
the police, they know we are buying from Omonoia [central square in Athens] and they know we are selling. So [it is OK] except when you meet the bad ones, who can arrest you because they don't like you.

But even after the first regularisation process was completed and migrants were granted a white or green card , it wasn't easy for them to obtain a self- employment license. The procedure a migrant needs to follow in order to become self-employed is rather complicated. A number of prerequisites, such as, the requirement to produce certain certificates necessary for the recognition of qualifications, to have a 'white or green card', to be a member of an insurance scheme (TEVE, a social insurance fund for professionals and the self-employed) or to have proof of ethnic Greek origin, make it difficult, if not impossible, for an undocumented migrant to set up a registered business. After registering the business with the tax office, officials from the Health Office and the Fire Brigade have to certify that the property has been built following the required by law hygienic and safety conditions. As soon as all these documents are submitted, a self-employment license is being issued and one can start running the business.

The main problems encountered by our interviewees are related to delays in getting the license because of the Kafkaesque nature of the Greek bureaucratic system. Also, institutional racism meant difficulties in issuing the necessary documents, while lack of Greek language skills made difficult the communication and contact with Greek officials and rendered bargaining almost impossible. Therefore, some interviewees relied on a Greek spouse to deal with or bypass the Greek bureaucracy. Adamse, a Sierra Leonean woman who runs a beauty shop, narrated to us the difficulties she encountered with obtaining the license and how her Greek husband helped her to overcome these difficulties:

When we wanted to set up the business it was very difficult. People coming from third world countries encounter problems. A lot of trouble. Wherever we go we had to go twice, three times till the job is done. And we went to the Ministry. We were explaining to them that I have residence permit and work permit and that I wanted to work... wherever we go they said "no, no, no", you know it is very difficult. It took us two, three, four months to get the license.

Her husband added:
The tax office wouldn't give us a license. There is a huge bureaucracy. That's in all state agencies. A lot of bureaucracy and wherever we went there was trouble.

After the 1997 regularisation, some of our interviewees who operated businesses in the informal sector decided to set up legal businesses. This is particularly true in the case of African men working as street-hawkers and African women working as hairdressers. Some Nigerian migrants who were illegal petty- traders established electronic shops acting as intermediaries between the Greek wholesalers and the Nigerian street-hawkers. But despite running a registered business, they acknowledge the difficulties and admit that running a shop is not easy, as taxes, rent and other bills need to be met. These people relied on informal networks of support to get access to capital, rent premises and develop a clientele.

A vast majority of undocumented migrants who cannot easily rely on the above networks for support, continue to embark on informal activities . These range from petty-trading (or the so-called 'street-hawking'), to decorating and other construction related activities and hairdressing services. These activities require neither the renting business premises or any special, other than tacit skills.

There are many opportunities for participation of migrants in informal economic activities; there is a high demand for informal provision of services and goods at competitive prices, in particular, in decorating and in the activities relating to the construction industry (e.g. plumbing). The entrance barriers are lower than in the formal sector, since one usually does not have to meet costs associated with the running of a business, for example taxes, social insurance contributions for employees (this was also the case of African traders in France (MacGaffey and Bazenguissa-Ganga, 2000: 42-44). The emergence of the above mentioned activities should be explained by the interaction of the following factors: first, structural economic factors relating to the existence of a large informal economy (which favors informal business activities); second, structural factors relating to restricted labor market opportunities (migrants are excluded from 'privileged positions' in formal labor market); third embeddedness in networks; and finally, tolerance from state agencies .

Cultural approaches have stressed the importance of ethnic solidarity and participation in ethnic social networks on business ownership and success. Ethnic and cultural resources, including access to co-ethnic labour at low prices, start-up capital (loans from family members or other co-ethnics) and trading experiences were important for all our interviewees. The importance of social relations and their impact on economic actions is being referred to in the literature also in the terms of possession of 'social capital' or 'social embeddedness' (Portes and Sensembrenner, 1993; Granovetter, 1985). As we show below, in these cases social embeddedness is important for the success or failure of the business.

The capital was derived not from a bank loan , but from own savings or from savings of the family, friends, community networks. Similar to the Brent survey on Afro-Caribbean and Asian entrepreneurship in Britain (Wilson, 1983: 66-67) personal savings have been the major source of business finance followed by family funds, inheritance money, and partner's funds. Our interviewees couldn't to use a bank loan mainly because they lacked the required collaterals.

Some entrepreneurs encountered problems in renting premises as many Greek property owners were unwilling to rent their property to foreigners. The role of networks in making the initial arrangements with the landlord proved crucial in these cases. For example, Adamse, a Sierra Leonean woman married to a Greek, who wanted to set up a hairdressing salon, commented:
[The owner of the shop said to us]: "You are black, you are foreigners. I want to rent the place to a Greek man". He said: "a Greek person should sign the contract". I said: "why should I put a Greek's person name to rent the place since I put the capital?" He said, "that's the way it is", otherwise he wouldn't let me the shop...And my Greek husband signed up the rental contract.

Ethnic businesses in Greece is concentrated in 'saturated markets' whereby competition is high and prospects for business growth are limited. This is similar to Asian businessmen in Britain who concentrate on 'easy-to-enter activities like food retailing and confectionery e.g. tobacconist newsagent which make comparatively low demands on entrepreneurial resources but which are also highly labour-intensive' (Barrett et al., 1996: 787). Therefore, selling products or services at low/competitive prices is important for the survival of the business. Only a few entrepreneurs employ a small numbers of employees on a permanent, part-time or temporary basis depending on business needs and finances (e.g. restaurants, hairdressing salons and publishing). The vast majority of our interviewees could not afford to employ people . As Kennedy, said:
I don't have an employee my dear because I am very poor.
Many try to save labour costs by relying on other family members and friends for support.

V. Resisting Exclusion: Carving out Spaces of Control

For all our interviewees, entrepreneurial activity, albeit in the form of peripheral business operating in marginal sectors, has been the result of dissatisfaction with the previous work experiences and their inability to get a decent job in the formal economy. It is an opportunity to avoid oppressive constraints. Despite the risks and uncertainty involved in running a business and other shortcomings which include working long hours, self-exploitation and lack of free time to spend with family and friends business ownership provided our interviewees with autonomy, independence and freedom. According to them, the advantages of being one's boss are twofold: economic and psychological (relating to self-worth, autonomy, freedom).

Patrick, a Nigerian man who runs an electronics shop said: One of the advantages [is that] you have your free time, you are your own boss, you decide for yourself, and you do things the way you want.

Tounde, a Nigerian petty-trader added:
I can decide not to go to work for weeks, which I have done. Nobody asked me, "why you didn't come to the office?" So there is this freedom, it is going to be very hard for me now to go back to work for anyone, because I love the freedom, the fact that I can work when I want to work - choose anytime I want.

Furthermore, for some it is the joy of embarking on a new venture that is important and which provides them with a sense of creativity and self- fulfillment (Kupherberg, 1999) . Entrepreneurship is considered to be creative, innovative, challenging and stimulating experience. Francis for example, a 50 year-old, man from Ghana who trades exotic fruits said to us:
I want challenge...I want to be creative. When you are working on your own you expand your ideas...and then I am free to make my own decisions.

Adama, a Sierra Leonean woman who runs a beauty/hairdressing salon explained that she gets satisfaction and a sense of purpose and self-worth when the customers praise her for her services. In her own words:
the nice people are my customers because they know I am fixing their hair, making them beautiful, so they try to be nice to me, they treat me nice. I am very satisfied.
For Adama pleasure comes from 'doing' not ' having' [Gartner 1995: 85, cited in Kupferberg, 1999: 3]. 'The pleasure of enterpreneurship is the pleasure of learning new things, while being engaged in the social effort of organising, bringing a new enterprise into life' (Kupferberg, 1999: 6).

Another view is presented by Giorgos, a Greek- Ethiopian man running an ethnic restaurant. He narrated to us:
I am the kind of person who is constantly searching. I like to create things, I like to build something and then move on to do something else. I am not interested in making money, but in inner satisfaction. I always wanted to study archaeology and I thought that by setting up a restaurant I would have the opportunity to reveal a lost world, my world. And I believe that Greeks have known Ethiopia during the last six years. Greeks have tried Ethiopian dishes.

Pleasure and satisfaction derived mainly from the activity of entrepreneurship itself and not from economic rewards. However, some of our interviewees stressed the economic rewards involved. Tounde, a Nigerian street- hawker explained:
the employees are not really getting paid that much. I have got friends that work and what they make in a month I can make in three days.

VI. Conclusion

In this paper we explored the phenomenon of ethnic entrepreneurship in Greece. We took into account the dynamic interaction between opportunity structures (e.g. labour market, economic, institutional ones), cultural and other resources available to migrants in the host country, as well as individual factors (relating to psychological, economic or other needs) in order to understand the way in which the seemingly least powerful actors in the economic sphere have nonetheless carved out spaces of control often managing to secure better working conditions, better earnings, independence and autonomy compared to wage work by becoming self- employed.

Ethnic entrepreneurial activities can encompass a combination of small, usually family based registered businesses together with unconventional 'solo projects', such as provision of hairdressing services at home. They often concentrate in 'saturated markets' whereby competition is high and prospects for business growth are limited. The majority of our interviewees exemplify the so-called 'disadvantage theory argument' following which self-employment is viewed as a 'way out' from exploitative working conditions. They decided to become self-employed given the restricted employment opportunities in the Greek labour market and entrapment in positions of inferiority in the informal economy.

Ethnic business in Greece should be seen as 'a poor person's survival strategy' to secure inclusion in the host country's economy (be it formal of informal sector) in sectors which require little skill and small capital; in other words by and large, they are 'survival entrepreneurs', whose past and present relations with the dynamics of the local society and operating principles of the local racialized economic structure are important in explaining the emergence and the success or otherwise of their business endeavours. We particularly emphasised human agency as we observed the efforts of individuals who strove against the structural conditions that presented them with, one the one hand formidable obstacles to social inclusion, inclusion into the formal economy, and on the other hand exclusion from the opportunity to better their lives in the host country.


1Ethnic entrepreneurial activities encompass both small - usually family based registered enterprises (restaurants, food stores, electronics) - as well as 'unconventional' solo projects in the twilight zone such as, petty-trading, street-vendoring, decorating.

2The existence of informal employment activities has been pointed out in Britain by MacDonald (1994, 1996) in relation to the native population and in particular in reference to 'benefit scroungers' and ' dole fiddlers' who undertake waged work in the second economy to supplement welfare benefits. Although many scholars have noted the existence of informal economy in Southern European countries in relation to the native population (see Mingione, 1995) and to the waged-worker migrants (see Mingione and Quassoli, 2000; Fakiolas 2000) the emergence of businesses operating at the margins of the law which serve as survival, inclusionary practices have not gained any attention.

3This paper is an offshoot of a project funded by the EU's TSER (Targeted Socio-Economic Research) initiative. The project is on 'Self-employment practices in relation to women and minorities: their success and failure in relation to social citizenship policies'. Gabriella Lazaridis and Maria Koumandraki are respectively Director and Research Assistant on the Greek part of the project. The authors acknowledge the financial contribution of the European Commission on this project (grant no. CEC: SOE2-CT97-3042).

4For example, Rafiq's (1992: 58) study on Asian entrepreneurship in Bradford, UK, shows that despite the cultural disposition to business ownership shared by both Muslim and non-Muslim Asians, Muslims demonstrated lower self- employment rates because of their lower educational level.

5For example, in the Netherlands a license is required in certain trades and one should demonstrate to national institutions that there is a need for one's business. In Germany, one can set up a business provided that one has a residence permit (Waldinger et al., 1990b: 31).

6Waldinger et al. (1990b: 13-14) argue that market structures are ' historically contingent': in a given period and setting there may arise the demand for certain products or services. This in turn circumscribes certain business ventures. According to the authors 'immigrant economic activity is an interactive consequence of the pursuit of opportunities through the mobilisation of resources through ethnic networks within unique historical conditions'.

7Individual characteristics refer to the economic, social and psychological determinants of migrant entrepreneurship and in particular, to motivation for making money (economic), the wish to escape racial discrimination in the labour market (social) and the need for autonomy and independence (psychological).

8This is for example the case of Afro-Caribbean in Lambeth, London (Brooks, 1983: 43). Also, according to Kloosterman et al. (1998) some Turks and Moroccans in Amsterdam became entrepreneurs because of high unemployment rates.

9A variety of EU initiatives and programmes (such as, HORIZON and INTEGRA) have been implemented to promote the integration of disadvantaged groups, such as migrants, returnees, members of ethnic minorities, refugees in the host country (that is groups which are considered to be at higher risk of social exclusion). Although self- employment has been incorporated into most related programmes, it seems that the issue of self- employment of undocumented migrants has not yet become a primary goal of the national institutions and agencies responsible for operationalising and/or implementing these programmes. Policies are selective and directed mainly towards returnees such as the Pontians and NorthEpirotes, that is groups which are of Greek descent. The Greek state has developed programmes only for the inclusion and integration of Greek repatriates and not of third country migrants.

10Our fieldwork in Athens revealed that there is not a substantial percentage of Albanian migrants-, which is by far the largest group amongst migrants in Greece (500,000) - who are self-employed. Pre-migration group experience which relate to Albania's communist regime and closed economy (Hall, 1995) maybe amongst the factors accounting for the differential degree of ethnic entrepreneurship between Albanian and African migrants and the low representation of Albanian migrants in ethnic business. Research on migrant workers in Greece has shown that the Albanians are engaged in the construction industry, as decorators, builders, in agriculture (Lazaridis and Romaniszyn, 1998). Only a few run small businesses such as a kiosk or an off-license shop. So far, we have not encountered any self-employed Albanian women; they are mainly employed in the tertiary sector as domestic workers, cleaners, and in the entertainment and sex industries (Psimmenos, 2000; Lazaridis, 2001).

11Although the biographical interview aims at covering the whole life story of an individual this 'cannot be taken to mean simply a review of every single event that ever took place in a person's life. It must rather be interpreted in a general pattern of orientation that is selective in separating the relevant from the irrelevant' Rosenthal (1993:62).

12Greece has had the highest self-employment rates amongst the Southern European countries and its self-employment rates are almost three times higher than the EU average. For example, figures for 2000 show that the percentage of self-employment in Greece has is 44%, whereas the EU average was 14,8 percent. Portugal, Spain and Italy were 27.5, 16.6, 26.2 respectively (European Commission, 2001).

13High female employment rates in the host country in conjunction with a rudimentary welfare state (limited child-care facilities or support for the elderly and people with special needs) have created a structural demand for domestic workers (baby-sitters, nurses) (see Anderson and Phizacklea, 1997; Lazaridis, 2000).

14 The white and green card constitute residence permits and were launched with the two presidential decrees of 28 November (358/97 and 359/97). The white card is a temporary stay permit and its possession it is a prerequisite for applying for the green card. The holder of the green card could reside for 1-5 years in Greece (for details see Lazaridis and Poyago-Theotoky 1999).

15Criminal activities (such as, drug smuggling) could be viewed as part of the informal business activities because they escape the formal regulations. This kind of activities is not going to be discussed in this paper.

16Exclusion and racialisation of the labour market confines migrant workers to low-paid, seasonal, precarious occupation (Lazaridis and Koumandraki, 2001).

17 Kloosterman et al. (1998: 253) stress that in Netherlands the state agencies tolerate informal economic activities 'as part of the typical Dutch policy of gedogen, a nighuntranslatable term that means looking the other way when you must'. A similar approach towards informal business activities is being adopted by Greek institutions, such as the police.

18Banks require guarantees, personal assets as collateral security for borrowing money to prospective migrant entrepreneurs.

19The literature on ethnic business demonstrates that migrants run usually small sized, family -based businesses (Wilson, 1983, Sawyeer, 1983). For example, the Lambeth Study showed that in Britain the majority of Afro-Caribbean and Asian enterprises are small, ranging from retailing to services and employ four persons on average (Wilson, 1983: 65). Sawyeer (1983) arrived to the same conclusion with the study in Manchester.


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