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Unveiling the Entrepreneurial Spirit: The Motivations of Refugees Amid Crises

In recent times, there has been a burgeoning interest in deciphering the driving forces behind entrepreneurship and the enduring value created by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on a global scale. Despite the pervasive factors influencing SME internationalisation, scant research has delved into the entrepreneurial aspirations of refugees despite the significant global upheavals, such as the Syrian civil war, which have displaced millions of people. These crises have particularly impacted small businesses, especially those initiated by refugees.

Jordan, renowned for its historical hospitality towards refugees, has witnessed multiple waves of involuntary migration, most recently due to the Syrian conflict. This influx has substantially affected the country’s economy, given its constrained resources and infrastructure. Many refugees have turned to entrepreneurship for economic integration, but the motivations behind their endeavours remain largely unexplored compared to native Jordanians. In contrast to wealthier Gulf states, Jordan lacks comprehensive government support for entrepreneurship, which may incentivise both refugees and locals to start businesses for survival.

Such elements have created a challenging economic landscape, impacting not only businesses but also the intentions and motivations of entrepreneurs. Refugees have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to the lack of support from authorities, rendering them particularly vulnerable. This crisis has compelled governments to make tough choices regarding support for their own citizens versus refugees, significantly affecting economic policies, refugee resettlement, and asylum programs. This predicament leaves many refugees in a precarious situation.

The empirical study contributes to the ongoing discourse on entrepreneurship during crises and the unique challenges faced by refugees, who often find themselves among the most vulnerable in society. A model with three variables is utilised: the desire for self-employment, risk tolerance, and self-efficacy, to understand the factors influencing people’s choice of entrepreneurship.

A strong desire for self-employment is found to be positively related to the intention to become an entrepreneur, aligning with previous research findings. Tolerance for risk also plays a significant role, with a positive relationship to entrepreneurial intention. Individuals who believe in their ability to perform entrepreneurial tasks, known as self-efficacy, are more likely to consider entrepreneurship as a viable option.

However, disparities in risk tolerance and self-efficacy exist between Syrian refugees and Jordanian citizens concerning their entrepreneurial intentions. These differences challenge the common belief that risk tolerance is higher for opportunity-based entrepreneurs compared to necessity-based entrepreneurs. Additionally, gender differences come into play, with men typically displaying a greater willingness to take risks than women. This aspect could be a contributing factor to variations in risk tolerance.

There is a need to develop new approaches that account for the unique challenges refugees face in hostile environments. Gender disparities in developing economies, particularly within the context of refugee startups during crises, should also be explored further. Given the current crisis, social integration has become even more critical for both society and refugees.

In conclusion, self-efficacy, risk tolerance, and the desire for self-employment are crucial factors shaping the entrepreneurial intentions of Syrian refugees in comparison to Jordanian citizens. Practical insights are provided for supporting refugees in their entrepreneurial endeavours and underscore the necessity for further exploration of this topic, given its relevance in the context of global migration and economic uncertainty.

Insights by: Dr Jay Wasim and Parnia Ahmed