Investing in local territories to achieve integration through employment

Entrepreneurs du Monde in Lyon


Entrepreneurs du Monde is an association reconnue d’intérêt général (organisation with registered charity status in France). Since 1998, it has operated programmes throughout the world to promote social and economic integration for people living in extreme hardship.

These programmes were based in Burma, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, the Philippines, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Vietnam... until the day when the teams at the Entrepreneurs du Monde headquarters in Lyon realised that the same vulnerable target groups from other countries were also living just down the road from them.

This is the story of the organisation’s work in France’s third-largest city.


From Sierra Leone to Lyon

Copyright ICI Entrepreneurs du Monde Lyon

Since it was set up, the organisation has used entrepreneurship as a vehicle to enable vulnerable groups to create their own employment opportunities. Its activities, which also include social micro-financing, access to energy, and “agro-entrepreneurship” (helping farmers to develop through training programmes and other initiatives), have always focussed on countries well-accustomed to humanitarian aid.

In 2015, Entrepreneurs du Monde expanded and moved into new premises in Vaulx-en-Velin, in the suburbs of Lyon.

Our offices neighboured a slum which, unfortunately, did not compare favourably with the worst slums in which we had worked, either in the Philippines or in Sierra Leone

Leslie Gomez, Head of Partnerships at Entrepreneurs du Monde


For the teams at the organisation, it was a shock. Calls for action grew from within.

The staff at Entrepreneurs du Monde were starting to find it difficult to stop themselves from applying their expertise in supporting vulnerable groups locally... because we were finding the same groups that we were used to helping in other countries just outside our door”, remembers Leslie Gomez.

The decision was taken in 2017 and the programme launched in 2018.


Forging local connections

Now present in twelve countries, Entrepreneurs du Monde stands out for its highly local approach in each of its programmes. The organisation adapts to the specific needs of each country to deliver actions which will respond exactly to the issues and the culture on the ground.

The Lyon programme was developed in the same way, starting with a long period of research to determine the scope of the project locally, identify partnerships with stakeholders and adjust the offer to avoid doubling up on what was already in place. In this way, the organisation was able to respond to a need which had not yet been addressed.

There was already an ecosystem in place in Lyon”, Agathe Simon, project leader for the ICI programme, told us. “There’s Adie, Positive Planet, Les Apprentis d’Auteuil with l’Ouvre-boîte, but that is only available to people under the age of 30. Everyone plays their part. That’s how we decided to become a springboard for social and entrepreneurial support aimed at a very specific audience in a particular sector: sustainable catering.”

The Entrepreneurs du Monde programme in Lyon was therefore designed to act as one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of regional social action.

The initiative is connected to others, building on what already exists to maximise its positive impact on those receiving support. Whether the need is related to accommodation, learning French, childcare, or taking a driving test, the local team understands what part of the ecosystem to turn to for support.

If they cannot help someone directly, they direct them to another stakeholder who can.

What’s special about I.C.I programme

ICI stands for Incubation, Creation and Inclusion.

But we are not your usual incubator”, specifies Agathe Simon. “We do not offer support to start-ups. We discovered a strong need, for people who did not have alternative incubators to support them... and we decided to capitalise on our local presence, offering tailored, personal support. That’s the reason why we only support ten entrepreneurs at a time.” 

The programme is aimed at very vulnerable groups: single parents, people on minimum welfare benefits or refugees. The only group not eligible for support is immigrants who do not have refugee status. These individuals are directed towards other organisations which can help them.

Since the start of the year, ICI has focused exclusively on the sustainable catering sector, having identified a high level of demand in the Lyon region.

The programme starts with an assessment of obstacles through a socio-economic diagnosis. The team tries to understand the situation of participants, the capital they have access to for launching their activity and whether they need help with housing, or learning French or IT skills, for example. They try to identify anything which could act as an obstacle to their progress and draw on the support of the partner network to find ways around as many obstacles as possible.

Participants take a two-month collective training course which covers all aspects of entrepreneurship and catering before trialling their business over the four following months.

This period is adapted to participant projects, with the option of access to a shared kitchen, finding a job, or trialling their activity in the learning food truck bought at the start of the year.

A test & learn approach to catering

New to the ICI programme in 2020 is the learning food truck. This project was made possible by a crowdfunding campaign, alongside partner funders such as the Societe Generale Foundation. There was a strong desire to move beyond support and theory; Entrepreneurs du Monde wanted to find a way to let them test their activity.

With the learning food truck, we put our participants in a position which limits their risk while enabling them to test their kitchen and raise their profile, working within the actual conditions of an entrepreneur.

Agathe Simon, ICI programme project leader

Two Georgian sisters will be the first to test the concept over a two-month period. Entrepreneurs du Monde has already negotiated an agreement with several partner companies to provide a parking space for the food truck in company car parks and to inform their employees about the project so potential customers are in the know.

Use of the truck rotates among programme participants, while the ICI programme continues to manage maintenance, equipment and the till, as well as helping to promote the project and handling parking spaces.

Articulating the social and environmental impact

In 2020, you can’t develop a catering programme without giving proper thought to sustainability. The ICI programme promotes healthy and sustainable diets by integrating several modules into the training course to raise participants’ awareness of nutrition, managing unsold goods, putting together a balanced menu, food waste, reducing packaging, composting and more...

Furthermore, sustainable catering represents a growth market in Lyon, where many people are looking to buy organic, seasonal food.

Where next?

The Incubation, Creation and Inclusion programme currently only exists in Lyon. Agathe confirms that Entrepreneurs du Monde has been called upon to replicate the project, in particular in Marseille. But that is not currently a priority.

The ICI programme is still a pilot project”, she explains. “The training programme is 100% free but does not lead to a qualification. It is therefore our aim to become a training provider which can deliver qualifications. We need to build up the project and embed it in a strong network before thinking about trying to replicate it.” 

This programme has enabled Entrepreneurs du Monde to implement its activities in France and to expand its mission to include setting up micro-businesses and achieving integration through employment on a fourth continent.

Leslie Gomez, Director of Partnerships at Entrepreneurs du Monde, adds that the ICI programme makes perfect sense as a continuation of previous initiatives:


Copyright Entrepreneurs du Monde

Entrepreneurship is an integral part of who we are. We want to try things out, to innovate! It’s in our nature to adapt to local needs.

Leslie Gomez

Copyright ICI Entrepreneurs du Monde