Founder, Les Déterminés
Fellow project website: www.lesdetermines.fr/en/
Moussa Camara advances social and economic justice in France’s ghettoized suburbs and other segregated, underserved communities through democratizing entrepreneurship. By lowering the barriers to entry for out-of-school, out-of-work immigrant youth, he’s not only setting them on the path to starting their own businesses and developing their communities, but also he’s also changing the way they and their communities are viewed, breaking through stereotypes and cycles of neglect that have kept them disadvantaged.
THE NEW IDEA
Moussa Camara combats discrimination and chronic unemployment – especially youth unemployment – – in the ghettoized suburbs and other underserved communities in France by lowering the barriers to entrepreneurship. His programs help thousands of people who would otherwise be jobless, disaffected, and alienated crack the code, learn their way around the entrepreneurial ecosystem and forge their own place in the French economy and society. Moussa’s work transforms longstanding barriers that have effectively excluded these people into new opportunities for them to learn skills, start their own businesses, and become employers themselves.
His organization Les Déterminés (“the determined ones”) exposes people in marginalized immigrant and rural communities in France to entrepreneurship. It’s the only free support program that combines all the keys that participants need to unlock entrepreneurship: Training, mentoring, networking, and incubators. Requiring no prior background or qualifications, Les Déterminés helps participants learn to see themselves as entrepreneurial and enables them to develop their ideas and skills to launch and grow their businesses.
Like entrepreneurs everywhere, participants in Mous-sa’s programs self-select. Given where they are from, they would normally face many subtle and not-so-subtle walls. But unlike the way many other entrepreneurs get started, Les Déterminés has no barriers to entry and no prerequisites other than the desire to learn about entrepreneurship. Race, class, culture, social status, connections, or educational attainment have no bearing on candidates accessing the program. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are fundamental. Anyone from any background can and does apply. Success is determined by motivation, commitment, teamwork, and aptitude. Over 60% of trainees are women (double the percentage of business creation by women nationally), and 64% are under 25. Three-quarters of them go on to found their own ventures, many of which employ others.
Participants’ high success rate not only helps them and their employees, but it also helps shift social attitudes, re-placing the negative mindsets and narratives about these youth—that these out-of-school, unemployed, dis-advantaged immigrants and children of immigrants are a lost cause—with actual evidence that they are in fact self-motivated, proactive, innovative, and determined and able to succeed. That shift itself has broad social and economic implications.
Founded in 2015, Les Déterminés has grown rapidly into a national network, with programs in 17 cities. Moussa has built a vibrant, influential community of entrepreneurs across France, in which alumni of his programs connect with one another and with other business leaders and mentors. Moussa himself has gained wide recognition and credibility as a successful entrepreneur and next-generation leader from France’s working-class suburbs, positioning him as an effective advocate for changing policies that have long left these communities segregated and disadvantaged.
From Cergy-Pontoise (Val-d’Oise), where the entrepreneur grew up, to Marseille, via Paris, Nancy, Lyon, Roubaix, Rouen, Toulouse, and Montpellier, Moussa Camara and his team work on democratization of entrepreneurship. The only selection criteria for the program are the candidate’s determination and motivation to complete his or her project. - LIBERATION
The French word banlieue refers primarily to France’s working-class suburbs. It’s a contraction of the words ban (“to forbid”) and lieue (“league,” a unit measure of about four miles). It originally referred to territory beyond the edge of urban tax collection zones, but today it connotes a sense of enforced removal or exile outside a city center.
The banlieues were built on the outskirts of French cities from the end of World War II though the 1970s. Their original purpose was to help house those left homeless by the War. They were designed as mixed-income neighborhoods with huge housing complexes, intended to maximize interaction among different social classes and encourage solidarity.
That was the theory, but in practice, over time, middle-class families moved out, and immigrants from former French colonies moved in. In the 1980s, a major recession hit, sparking high unemployment. It left many more immigrants jobless and stranded in the banlieues, and generated debate and tension over the presence of immigrants in France. The banlieues increasingly became low-income, predominantly Black and Brown, satellites segregated from their wealthier, whiter urban centers, spatially as well as culturally and socially. As poverty and crime rose in these communities, public health, education, transportation, and other public services declined. Banlieue residents – largely Muslim immigrants of color – found themselves out of school, out of work, and feeling abandoned.
It’s a deep, intractable social and economic rift. Today banlieue residents comprise 8% of France’s population. 40% of them live below the poverty line. Their unemployment rates are three times the national average, with youth unemployment rates hovering around 40%.
Despite decades of work to address the inequities of the banlieues with policy, and through the citizen sector’s social policies, as well as more than 40 years of consider-able efforts from citizen and social sectors, high crime, poor public health, failing schools, and other deep problems persist.
Government and social sector programs intended to ameliorate these problems generally haven’t worked. They are typically siloed and exogenous, looking at the banlieues from the outside, treating its residents as passive recipients of ineffective aid. Not surprisingly, many in the banlieues, especially youth, are disaffected and alienated, unlikely to become or even imagine becoming stakeholders in the larger French economy and society.
Moussa’s organization, Les Déterminés, lowers the barriers to the entrepreneurial world by recruiting candidates from the banlieues and other underserved communities, including rural communities. And the organization raises its success rate by putting these candidates through a rigorous selection process, finding and honing the strengths of those who have the desire to succeed and can benefit from the program most. Community leaders and local associations help identify local young people whom they feel would be strong candidates. Applicants are interviewed in front of a jury and undergo three days of workshops prior to selection.
Successful candidates participate in a free, six-month training and mentoring program. It starts with a three-week intensive course to develop and differentiate these participants’ ideas and to hone their entrepreneurial skills. After that, the training continues two days a week for another five months. Participants learn how to identify their value proposition, conduct market research, write a business plan, attract investment, and be effective at marketing and communications. From inspiring successful business leaders who participate in the training, these participants learn about what it is like to build a business and become a business leader. They are also connected to a network of professionals in the field of their chosen venture, continuing to meet with these professionals one-on-one for mentoring when the formal training ends.
In addition to looking outward and learning about the entrepreneurial world, an important dimension of the training involves looking inward, doing personal development work, learning from one another in a supportive peer environment, and discovering how to function as a strong team.
Demand for Moussa’s programs more than tripled in 2020 due to the pandemic (“During the lockdown, many people discovered their passion or just realized a life of wage labor was not for them,” he said) and continues to grow. To date, thousands have taken the Les Déterminés training, 75% of whom started their own businesses, and some 80% are still in business four years later. Notably, the entrepreneurs behind four hundred of these businesses are women.
Moussa Camara founded Les Déterminés in 2015 to bring out talented entrepreneurs in working-class neighborhoods.... Coming from a modest family in Cergy-Pontoise, he needed extraordinary tenacity to carry out this project from scratch. By focusing on his mission, he has given a leg up to 700, now thousands of young entrepreneurs. 80% of the companies they created are still active four years later. - LES ECHOS ENTREPRENEURS
Many of the ventures are located in the heart of the banlieues and other underserved communities, replacing the stereotype of endemic joblessness and empty store-fronts with bustling entrepreneurial activity. To make sure the activity is highly visible, Moussa works with special housing organizations to obtain ground-floor spaces and set them up for Les Déterminés graduates to use as co-working spaces for the first six to 12 months after launch and as incubators, such as food laboratories for catering ventures. With Erigère, a social housing organization in the Paris region, Moussa is working to open a dozen such partnership spaces in the banlieues and is starting new housing collaborations with the federal ministry for the Paris region. Locating these entrepreneurial ventures in the heart of the banlieue keeps in the community the economic benefits these ventures generate and keeping these ventures visible creates a tangible symbol of banlieue entrepreneurship that surprises some and inspires others – – a powerful way to change mindsets and attitudes toward the banlieue.
Les Déterminés alumni who start their own businesses can join a group of other Les Déterminés entrepreneurs in their region, supporting each other and sharing problems, ideas, and best practices as their ventures develop and access workshops and networking events specially designed for them. A significant minority of Les Déterminés trainees seek jobs rather than start their own businesses, using the skills they learned to become intrapreneurs within their organizations. That outcome has led Moussa to pilot short-term employability programs for out-of-school or unemployed banlieue youth, designed in collaboration with companies that are experiencing talent shortages and are eager to recruit new workers. Trainees work with business leaders and entrepreneurs to develop business skills, and the partner companies commit to hiring a certain number of them. So far, five companies have taken part in the program. 62% of participants have found work upon completion, while others have decided to obtain more training. As a result of the pilot’s success, Moussa is advising France’s National Employment Agency on how to reach unemployed banlieue youth and help them find jobs.
Government officials have recognized Moussa as a powerful next-generation leader and have even suggested that he is a candidate for political office. Moussa is starting to effect policy change, for example convincing the Parisian authorities to identify and map key community-based organizations they can work with to remediate underrecognized problems. Moussa has attracted dozens of corporate partners to Les Déterminés, such as the auditing and consulting firm, Mazars; the software manufacturer, SAP; and the bank, BNP Paribas.
[Moussa Camara] set out to convince university professors, business leaders, chartered accountants and all types of stakeholders to train women and men who feel they are under the radar. He also won over public and private funders, including BPI France, Mazars, BNP Paribas and Engie. Les Déterminés offers over 400 hours of free training over a six-month period, divided into discreet modules dealing with financial, marketing, or sales issues. Since its creation, the group has helped 700, now thousands of people, found some 450 companies - LE FIGARO
One of eight children, Moussa grew up in a diverse, densely populated Croix-Petit district of Cergy-Pontoise, a banlieue outside Paris. There, he forged friendships with kids of different nationalities and learned the values of solidarity, sharing, and community engagement. From the age of six, he and his siblings participated in neighborhood clean-ups and political demonstrations.
Moussa’s parents emigrated from Mali and were illiterate, but always pushed him to succeed at school. Many of his friends dropped out by age 16 or earlier, but Moussa stayed and took a professional baccalaureate degree. To earn money, he invented informal jobs for himself. For example, at age 15 he earned 50 euros a week by convincing the owner of the local supermarket to let him find and return shopping carts from across the neighborhood.
In 2006, when Moussa was 20, an urban renewal project threatened to decimate his neighborhood and destroy the local soccer stadium. That motivated Moussa to organize his friends and found the citizen sector organization, Agir pour Réussir (“Act to Succeed”), which pushed back against the demolition plans. It rallied the community with civic and sports events and facilitated dialog between banlieue residents and public authorities, bridging two normally separate worlds. The next year, riots broke out in Cergy after a police officer shot a local youth. “We felt injustice on a daily basis,” Moussa says. “A young man is shot in the shoulder and nearly dies. After the strong tensions that ensued, we said to ourselves that we had to come up with another solution.” To counter the riots and protest the shooting, Moussa and Agir pour Réussir organized peaceful demonstrations in which banlieue youth registered to vote en masse to show their determination to engage in civic life and demand their say. The demonstration was well publicized and served as a sharp, intentional contrast to the rioting that had dominated French media coverage. When Moussa finished school at 21, he sought work at a telecom company as a technician and was told the company wasn’t hiring, only working with independent contractors. So, he decided to become one. He took a technical training course and launched his own business, and even hired a few employees from the neighborhood. The company failed after five years, but in the process, Moussa learned firsthand the barriers banlieue youth encounter to cracking the codes of entrepreneurship, including lack of knowledge, connections, role models, and access to support programs and funding.
In 2011, Moussa attended a conference at the University of Cergy-Pontoise where he met Thione Niang. Born in Senegal, Niang was an entrepreneur and former leader of the Young Democrats of America. Impressed by Moussa’s accomplishments and leadership potential, Niang invited him to Washington, DC, to join a two-month mentoring program for emerging next-generation leaders.
That proved to be a turning point in Moussa’s career. Agir pour Réussir addressed social issues, but Moussa came to understand that economic empowerment was key to social change in the banlieue. “In the United States I learned two things,” he said. “The importance of communication and the importance of business. If you want to do more socially, you have to do more business. For there to be social justice, you first need economic justice.” Upon returning to France, he developed his idea for empowering banlieue residents through entrepreneurship and launched Les Déterminés.