Refugees bring entrepreneurial spirit to risk-shy Germany

Mon Feb 1, 2016 8:18am EST
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By Caroline Copley

BERLIN (Reuters) - Syrians Hiba Albassir and her husband Khaled arrived in Germany two years ago with only the bags they could carry. But that didn't stop them from setting up their own business.

For them it was natural to rebuild the company they had left behind, whereas among many Germans this entrepreneurial spirit is in short supply.

"Starting with nothing is not very easy, but just sitting around and doing nothing is much harder," said 48-year-old Albassir whose company "Khashabna" - meaning "Our Wood" in Arabic - sells hand-made garden furniture imported from their former warehouse in Damascus.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor finds that despite a recent start-up boom in certain areas such as Berlin, Germany still has a relatively low level of entrepreneurial activity compared with other industrialized economies.

Statistics show that the overall number of companies founded each year has shrunk by more than 40 percent over the past decade and that the entrepreneurial activity of young people has decreased as a long-term trend.

With good jobs relatively plentiful, many German-born graduates prefer the greater safety of working for an established company rather than taking the risk of setting up on their own, said Rolf Sternberg, professor for economic geography at the University of Hanover.

"In Germany the culture prevails that if you fail, it's not easy to shake off the stigma," said Sternberg.

Michael Huether, head of Germany's IW institute, warns that a lack of high-tech start-ups and a tendency toward risk aversion could hurt economic growth in the medium-term.   Continued...

Hiba Albassir, migrant from Damascus, attends a workshop called "Refugee Entrepreneurship Action Lab" in Berlin, Germany, January 30, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke