The Minoritised Enterprise Policy and Action Lab Scotland (MEPALS) initiative recently hosted their launch workshop at the Pollock Estate. Here, Grace Kiruja tells of her attendance and learnings from the experience.
MEPALS event in action. Photograph by Isabel Semer

I recently attended the Minoritised Enterprise Policy and Action Lab Scotland (MEPALS) event hosted by the University of Edinburgh Business School. The day was immensely enlightening. As a member of a minoritised community, I often find myself in discussions about how society can better support people like me. The diversity in the room was immediately noticeable, with participants who both looked like me and those who did not. Everyone was involved in impactful work, and my curiosity led me to speak with many of them.

This sparked my first reflection: the importance of bringing together an interdisciplinary group of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners with a direct impact or interest in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of minoritised individuals in Scotland. The day began with a compelling speech from Professor Gavin Jack, Dean and Head of the University of Edinburgh Business School, who humorously noted that he had brought wonderful weather from Australia.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the policy hackathons. At well-distributed tables, we tackled and shared our opinions on creating awareness and increasing participation among minority ethnic entrepreneurs. What stood out for my table was that we already understood the problems and had existing programs to address them, yet these problems persisted. As a master's student among senior players, it was fascinating to discuss why my peers and I often shy away from programs designed for us.

We employed a systems thinking approach, emphasising the need for bottom-up solutions that include minority ethnic entrepreneurs in the design process. We recognised that those within these communities best understand their challenges. We also discussed the complexities of supporting minority ethnic entrepreneurs, highlighting that a one-size-fits-all approach is ineffective. This led to important conversations about the need for tailored solutions and support for each individual—tedious but crucial work.

A key takeaway was the common mistake of generalising minoritised groups. We explored the unique combinations of entrepreneurs that exist—ethnic, ethnic and queer, plain queer, those with disabilities, and mothers. Finally, we deliberated on how to effectively communicate with the target audience. Despite ongoing advertising of programmes and support interventions, uptake remains lower than expected. We examined the importance of creating trust and using trusted channels and messengers who reflect the community to break down trust and cultural barriers.

Two key things stood out for me:

  1. We were not there to immediately come up with answers and solutions but rather to create a space for multidisciplinary discussion, an essential step toward understanding any issue.
  2. The event created a level playing field where every voice counted. People listened and were listened to, demonstrating that removing hierarchy is crucial for reaching grassroots levels and understanding those closest to the challenges.

A big thank you to Samuel Mwaura for bringing together such a wonderful and diverse group of individuals and sparking this much-needed conversation.