Moussa Camara
Ashoka Fellow since 2022   |   France

Moussa Camara

To fight against the disempowerment phenomenon young suburban dwellers are suffering from and help them regain their self-ability to build a better social and economic future, Moussa is growing and…
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This description of Moussa Camara's work was prepared when Moussa Camara was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2022.


To fight against the disempowerment phenomenon young suburban dwellers are suffering from and help them regain their self-ability to build a better social and economic future, Moussa is growing and disseminating alternative values and skills through the promotion of entrepreneurial mindset. By building a vibrant, solidary community of suburban entrepreneurs and agents of change, he is broadening the horizons of a whole generation. He encourages the development of agency and changemaking skills through either entrepreneurship or more traditional employment paths, which increasingly require agility and teamwork.

The New Idea

Coming from a disadvantaged suburb, Moussa noticed that famous sportsmen or artists are often the only personification of success and source of inspiration for young people living there. This eliminates the cultivation of ambitions pertaining to more traditional professional activities which can provide economic independence and an improvement in the quality of life. He has understood that the best way to fight against the hopelessness, disempowerment and lack of horizons is to offer them new representations of success to which they can identify, and to restore their self-confidence and sense of agency in order to help them regain control over their livelihoods. To do so, he has identified and purposely chosen the development of entrepreneurship -lacking in these areas- as a powerful way to trigger social change. This encourages a new kind of entrepreneurial mindset and skillset they normally do not have the opportunity to develop, that is more adapted to what companies value in an increasingly complex world.

Since 2015, through his organization Les Déterminés (literally meaning “The Determined people”), Moussa is growing and supporting a vibrant solidarity community of suburban entrepreneurs all over France, which is far from the traditional entrepreneurship programs that usually provide individual support and focus on the juridical and technical aspects of developing a project. Moussa has developed innovative sourcing and selection methods based mainly on motivation and the ability to work in a team. The pedagogy of his program is based on personal and peer-to-peer development, since he is convinced that once these soft-skills and self-confidence are regained, more technical aspects will follow. Besides creating inclusive local employment and answers to the unmet needs of these areas, these entrepreneurs personify an unprecedented type of role models and extol the values conveyed by entrepreneurship: self-determination, problem-solving, proactivity and empathy.

Moussa is strategically using this community to change the narratives surrounding suburban youths, reconnecting them with employment and companies by showcasing that success is also made for people like them and that entrepreneurial spirit is key, no matter the professional path they may choose. Successfully relying on his sourcing methodology, pedagogy and tapping into members of his bustling community as inspirational speakers/mentors, he is developing short-programs helping young out-of-school or unemployed suburban dwellers develop intrapreneurial skills, regain agency to find their own job trajectory and get back to professional activities.

This original combination between entrepreneurship and employability programs represents a new, efficient way to support this often overlooked group. Through his comprehensive action, Moussa is changing the way society and government look at young suburban dwellers, fighting against stigmatization, and so building bridges between two divided worlds. Already identified by the government as a next generation leader of the working-class suburbs, he uses the knowledge, traction, and credibility that he has gained in entrepreneurship and employability to influence governmental actions to fight more generally against inequalities by adopting more field-based, practical and reliable solutions.

The Problem

Working-class suburbs, often referred to as “banlieues”, were built at the periphery of cities after the second world war and during the 1970’s, to facilitate the integration of immigrants whom France had voluntarily solicited. Huge housing complexes were originally supposed to encourage the mixing of different social classes and functioned (and still are) as centers of solidarity. However, after a few years, inhabitants from the middle-class got access to other property and left the districts. Additionally, the major economic recession that started at the beginning of the 1980’s reduced the job opportunities for immigrants, generating high unemployment rates and political debates about their presence in the country.

This led to a phenomenon of ghettoization with the erosion of public services in these areas (health, education etc.) and the vanishing of the initial rich social diversity of these neighborhoods. Only people experiencing increasing economic and social problems remained, leading to a feeling of abandonment, the adoption of an attitude of withdrawal and negative social reproduction. According to the Ministry of the City, suburban inhabitants, who represent more than 8% of the French population, have an unemployment rate almost 3 times higher than the national average and 40% of them live below the poverty line. Despite social policies and considerable efforts from citizen and social sectors for more than 40 years, health problems, school failure and delinquency are common issues in these areas.

Existing programs that are put in place in terms of school support, employability, entrepreneurship (etc.), are often developed in siloes, do not focus on soft skills, self-development and confidence, and very few are initiated from actors coming directly from these districts. This partly leads to the ineffectiveness of these initiatives, that struggle to reach their target because of trust and misunderstanding issues, but also because of young people’s lack of a feeling of self-worth. Indeed, the divide between the two worlds has widened over the years and has been exacerbated by strong political and media stigmatization, especially in 2005, when riots initiated by immigrant’s children confronted with these inequalities, were seen all over the world.

Suffering from stigmatization, young suburban dwellers started to have no self-confidence or struggle to envisage their future. They have become passive, convinced that success is not made for them, and have developed low or non-existent levels of ambition, engendering systematic situations of failure. Furthermore, this leads to the emergence of a hopeless and disempowered new generation with little determination for societal change, which worsens the current social situation and further deteriorates their employability, as they do not develop 21st century skills.

The Strategy

Moussa has initiated his work by developing a flagship entrepreneurship program dedicated to people living in working-class suburbs to make possible the emergence of a leading and inspiring community of entrepreneur-ambassadors. Already a social and business entrepreneur himself, and seeing that the existing support of the entrepreneurship ecosystem was maladjusted to suburban entrepreneurs’ needs and failed reaching out to them, he realized that he would need to develop a more specific approach. Therefore, he has designed a program to help them overcome their low self-confidence, their lack of general and specific knowledge, and their disconnection from the codes and networks of the business world.

Because he wants to build a pool of strong representative ambassadors able to embark others and bridge the divide, he is not aiming at a high number of accompanied entrepreneurs but is focused on creating a collective to which he provides high-quality support. Les Déterminés has thus developed an innovative and selective sourcing process. When they open candidacies in a new area, they rely on influential community leaders and local associations embedded in the district (no matter their mission- sports clubs for example). These community actors are visible, well trusted by the local community and can detect unsuspected potentials. Les Déterminés identifies the first allies through informal networks and the recommendations of actors from other districts. It leads systematic mapping and meeting efforts for 3 months that prepare the field and raise expectations. Then, Moussa bases his selection criteria principally on the motivation of the candidate, rather than on the nature of his/her project and the maturity or business potential of it. This makes possible the identification of high potential participants that may never have self-identified as entrepreneurs and allows for the support of a large range of entrepreneurs, including social ones and a high representation of women (61%). Moussa also pays close attention to the candidates’ ability to act collectively, as this is key for an entrepreneur and it is his ultimate goal to create a solidary community.

Les Déterminés’ 6-month program (free of charge), is carried out around a creative pedagogy that cleverly combines and balances inward and outward-looking techniques. Indeed, Moussa uses the security provided by “peers” coming from the same background, to create an atmosphere of legitimacy and to enable personal development work. Therefore, the pedagogy is almost entirely based on the strength of the group and Co-Development methodologies. Les Déterminés acts as a community convened around the same objective with supportive members: from giving simple advice or contact, to leading collaborations through a supplier/client relationship, entrepreneurs from the community permanently interact all over the country. Simultaneously, Les Déterminés put a lot of emphasis on the connection to the “external entrepreneurship world” through lecturing and mentoring by highly experienced speakers, who come from national or local well-known companies and incubators. These nurture the participants’ pride, knowledge, and network, which are severely missing. This way, Moussa manages to bridge the gap between two divided worlds and can easily rely on his fulfilled members to play the part of ambassadors, by getting involved in different programs, doing schools workshops and conferences in the neighborhoods, and even speaking to the media.

Having piloted his program in his native neighborhood of Clichy, and refined it with the entrepreneurs of the community and pedagogical experts, Moussa has quickly understood that his movement should go national. Since he has shown how the influence of a role model is particularly efficient at a local level, he needed to ensure that his community would represent a variety of profiles. He created a multitude of financial and operational partnerships from both the public and private sectors across the country, so that he is already operating in 10 major French cities, and is planning to expand to 10 more by 2022. The outcome of the program is positive for 90% of the almost 300 participants supported so far: 57% have initiated or are about to initiate their own venture, and 33% eventually decided to take the employment path and easily found a job, using the entrepreneurship skills developed through the program in their new company.

This last figure is what made Moussa realize that the skillset he was providing to his entrepreneurs-to-be was also particularly useful to change the youth mindset and was even valued in a company’s framework. This is the reason why he has been developing tailor-made, short-term employability programs for young out-of-school or unemployed suburban dwellers. Focused on (re)-establishing trust towards companies and developing the participants’ intrapreneurial spirit, these programs set up a high level of trust and legitimacy among their participants, thanks to the work and interactions with suburban entrepreneurs from Les Déterminés’ community who can understand their difficulties, inspire them and share their network. Trainers also use the group’s dynamics, peer feedback and personal development tools to identify strengths. The level of their self-identification is therefore increased, and they develop the necessary agency to establish a coherent and motivating professional project.

Moussa designs these employability programs in partnership with private companies experiencing talent shortages and who are eager to be more inclusive. These companies provide professional content and commit to hire a certain number of participants at the end. He has also undertaken an initiative with the National Employment Agency, who see his support as a way for job councillors to reconnect with this group who is so often overlooked and difficult to target. The employability programs were launched only a year ago and are still in their pilot stages, but they have already been with 5 different companies and 4 National Employment Agency antennas. To date, 120 out-of-school or unemployed suburban dwellers have been supported, 62% of which got back to work directly, a large proportion of which decided to follow a training. Moussa’s aim is to consolidate this proof of concept and continue the knowledge transfer that has already started towards other organizations, especially with

Moussa has understood that making entrepreneurs physically visible in the devitalized working-class suburbs and facilitating the implementation of their activity in the heart of the neighborhoods is a powerful, symbolic lever to inspire others and a way to guarantee that their success directly benefits the areas. For this reason, he weaves partnerships with social housing organizations looking to enhance their buildings through the occupation of their vacant ground floors. In 2020, in his hometown of Cergy, along with Erigère (a Parisian region social housing organization), he set-up a co-working space he now puts at the Déterminés’ entrepreneurs’ disposal for the 6 to 12 months following the launch of their venture. The ambition of the partnership is to open a dozen places like this in disadvantaged suburbs across Paris, be it in the shape of co-working spaces, kitchen Laboratories, storage spaces etc.

Eventually, Moussa will structure the advocacy and advisory work he has started informally with the Ministry of the City to influence governmental actions to fight more generally against inequalities by adopting more field-based, practical and reliable solutions. This work has already started to come to fruition, for example he has convinced public authorities of Paris to map and identify 30 local influential associations they can work with, on different issues and that were previously not on their radars.

The Person

Moussa grew-up in an immigrant Malian family of eight children, in a popular district of the Parisian suburb, Cergy. The social diversity of his neighborhood allowed him to hang out with friends from very different nationalities with similar immigrant backgrounds, which taught him the value of sharing and solidarity. His family got particularly close to a Chilian family who had escaped the Pinochet dictatorship. Socially engaged, this family contributed to develop Moussa’s social awareness and agency, as from the age of 6, they embarked him and his siblings in different initiatives like neighborhood clean-up operations, caring actions, demonstrations against radical political views etc.

Moussa’s parents always pushed him to succeed at school despite the fact that he was a tumultuous child and that helping him was a challenge for them, as they were illiterate. While many of his classmates stopped school at 16 or even before, he went as far as a professional baccalaureate. In the meantime, already demonstrating entrepreneurial skills at a young age and a need to earn money, he kept inventing his own little jobs. For example, at 15 he managed to earn 50 euros a week when he went to see the owner of the local supermarket and offered to bring back the shopping carts which customers has left all over the neighborhood.

At around 20, in 2006, he got more deeply involved in civic life. When urban projects threatened to destroy part of his district, the fact that the soccer stadium was also concerned pushed him to gather a couple of friends to counter it. Through this experience, he discovered he had the power to take his destiny in hand and that he had ability to change things through dialog and action. One year later, as tensions rose in his neighborhood, following the gunshot wound of a youngster by a policeman, he felt he had a role to play to reestablish dialog and soon funded his own association, “Agir pour Réussir” (literally meaning “Acting to Succeed”). Initially created to improve the dialogue between inhabitants and public authorities pertaining to the demolition project, the association soon increased their scope. Moussa’s first action was to organize what he called “citizen riots” -in opposition to the “banlieues riots” usually highlighted in the media- which encouraged young people of the neighborhood to register on the voters lists all at the same time, to demonstrate symbolically and effectively their willingness to take part in civic life and demand their say in it. Today, Agir pour Réussir plays a major role in Cergy’s functioning and allowed Moussa to develop his ability to talk with the institutional sphere (the prefect, mayor etc.) and to build bridges between two very separate worlds.

Around the same time as he had finished school and was desperately looking for a job, Moussa applied for a telecommunication company as a technician. Unfortunately, the director told him that the company was only working with independent technicians but encouraged him to become one of them, by launching his own business. Disappointed at first, not knowing any entrepreneur to advise him, he decided to try and to create his own company. Having struggled for some time, he finally made a success of it and was even able to hire a couple of employees, which got him traction among people in the neighborhood asking him a lot of questions. This made him understand that young suburban dwellers were inspired by his journey but lacked role models, knowledge, network and even access to existing support for entrepreneurs.

In 2015, he realized that his action through Agir pour Réussir was only solving social issues and did not change the mind-sets of young people to empower and encourage them to take control over their lives. Inspired by his own professional experience, and sensing that entrepreneurship was an attractive and inspiring entry point to get traction and convey values around agency, he launched Les Déterminés.

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