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Self-Employed Immigrants Make It Happen

Nadja Baeva (jp)February 28, 2005

Within Germany's immigrant community, many have snapped up the opportunities offered by the "Me Incorporated" self-employment scheme. If successful, they often find themselves boosting cottage industries back home.

Argan fruits come from trees that only grow in southern MoroccoImage: dpa

It's Thursday afternoon and Mouna Beeck is meeting her management consultant. A German-Moroccan, she's trying to convince him that what Germany needs is argan oil -- a luxury product made from the fruit of the argan tree harvested in the wilds of southern Morocco. And she wants to import it.

"It's ideal for cooking," she explains. "And it's also a great product for bons vivants, people who like the good things in life." As well as a treat for gourmets, it has useful medical benefits. "When it's cold-pressed, it's an excellent moisturizer because as a disinfectant, it kills fungi," she says.

"That's why it's called 'Moroccan liquid gold'," she adds, stressing that the rare exotic oil still isn't widely available in Germany despite its growing international popularity.

Making "Me Inc." work

But can she convince her business consultant?

"I plan to do it as straightforwardly as possible," she tells Siegfried Machalla. "I'll rent rooms and invite the sort of client base I want to reach, such as doctors and homeopaths, and give them a presentation."

BA Arbeitslose Arbeitslosengeld II
Jobseekers sit and wait at the German Employment Agency's office in Duisburg, western Germany.Image: AP

A trained digital media designer, Mouna Beeck found herself joining the ranks of Germany's unemployed at the labor office following her graduation.

Aware that the introduction of the government’s controversial "Hartz IV" welfare and labor market reforms in January would entail a reduction in her benefits, she decided to look into the new "Me Incorporated" scheme launched in 2003.

The first step was a two-day seminar for aspiring entrepreneurs.

"The job agency offers workshops for candidates so that they can overcome the first obstacles," says Machalla. "That way they get to find out what to expect when they set up their own company."

Once they've been taught the ropes, the next move is to discuss the business plan with a management consultant, available to the budding Richard Bransons for a total of 16 hours. Once the plan has been fleshed out, all that's needed is an expert recommendation.

"A lot of people have an idea and they're convinced it's going to work," he says. "But often they lack the business know-how. That's why an expert has to assess the plan and say yes or no."

In the case of Mouna Beeck, Machalla didn't need to think twice.

A fair trade

Hundeausstellung in Dortmund eröffnet
Grooming for dogsImage: AP

From customized teddy bears to hairdressers for dogs, there's been no shortage of unusual ideas for "Me Incorporated." According to Machalla, the trend with immigrant entrepreneurs -- such as Mouna Beeck -- is importing products from their country of origin.

If it's successful, the plan can be doubly advantageous -- both to the entrepreneur and to the local industry where the product is made.

The Berber women of the Atlas Mountain region have been producing argan oil for thousands of years and Beeck's business would be a welcome boon to their cottage industry.

"My idea is not just to do something for myself," she stresses, explaining that she'd like "a job which allows me to help others, too. I'd like to set up a women's cooperative for the women who make the oil by hand, so they can finance their families or buy what they need, such as food and clothes."