With Amélia Lakrafi and Roland Lescure, respectively deputies of the 10th and 1st college of French living outside France, and Charles Maridor, general delegate of CCI France International and general manager of French Entrepreneurs Abroad (EFE).
French abroad: Charles Maridor, you have launched an important survey to better understand French entrepreneurs abroad, who are they?
Carlo Maridor: The network I represent brings together all the French Chambers of Commerce and Industry abroad in 95 countries. These same chambers bring together French business communities abroad and thus a number of French entrepreneurs abroad. Taking note of the difficult situation that some of these companies could go through during the crisis, we have taken the initiative, together with foreign trade consultants, to create a site dedicated to EFEs. On this site we host an online survey that will be continuous throughout 2021 to better understand this type of company and better assess its importance and impact, especially for French foreign trade. All these EFEs are, in a sense, our ambassadors, the French “soft power” and contribute directly or indirectly to the development of French foreign trade.
EAF: Does this survey allow you to draw a composite portrait of the EFEs?
CM: It is difficult to draw a composite portrait. These entrepreneurs are like France, in different businesses with a different know-how to propose. They have one thing in common: that of arriving in uncharted territory and starting a new professional adventure.
EAF: Amélia Lakrafi, are they struggling with this crisis?
Amelia Lakrafi: Yes a lot. Since the summer, we’ve had a lot of feedback from the pitch. This allowed me to launch a 4/5 question survey and 400 EFEs answered. They explain to us that they suffer a lot. They need help with small amounts. In Africa, more than 50% of them need only less than 15,000 euros and almost a quarter only less than 5,000 euros to overcome the crisis. But they are dynamic and recover very quickly. More than half of those who responded to this questionnaire said they had created a crisis-related product, solution or service.
Roland Lescure: An EFE is an entrepreneur squared. To be an entrepreneur, in fact, you must want to take risks and also go abroad. They are variegated people who generally resemble the city they land in. In Manhattan there are many bankers and lawyers, in San Francisco there are technology entrepreneurs, in Boston there are researchers and so on. Each city has its own type of entrepreneur. What characterizes them above all is the taste for risk because they often engage in environments they do not know too well. Many French men and women work in catering because this sector is a constant in the world. They suffer from this crisis because restaurants are closed almost everywhere. However, there is a certain creativity that pushes them to want to turn this crisis into an opportunity. They need help even though a lot of help has been given in some states like the United States or Canada. Above all, there is the desire to reinvent oneself in order to continue to exist. Unfortunately, some return to France but many wish to stay, reinvent themselves and take advantage of this crisis to rethink the future.
EAF: Are they expecting something from France and are we doing enough for them?
LR: France has done a lot for the EFEs, for solidarity among those in need and for mobility. I think what they mostly want is to be successful on the spot. If they have left it is because they want to have an adventure. I don’t think there is a general demand from France but, compared to other communities such as the Spanish or the Italians, the French maintain a very strong bond with their homeland. They can therefore ask for a little more help than others, but above all they are people who set out to conquer the world and do it, above all, in an autonomous and very positive way.
TO THE: Some have turned to France. They adapt to their environment but, for those in the tourism sector in Africa in particular, they had to be helped. With 70 parliamentarians we managed to get Bruno Le Maire to agree to help them with the equivalent of a 170 million euro state-guaranteed loan mobilized for them. It is unprecedented. Our French entrepreneurs who have a local business can therefore apply for a loan from a local bank and be guaranteed almost 80% by the French state.
EAF: Is used?
TO THE: It starts to be launched slowly. Ten priority countries have been launched such as Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Benin, Togo etc. The companies that have managed to get it are very happy.
EAF: Charles Maridor, you are the director of EFE International. This device has been implemented for a few weeks and allows EFEs to access the International Volunteer in Business (VIE). How does it work?
CM: In our association of the CCI and foreign trade consultants, we have tried to form a united company. It associates with the VIEs the EFEs that carry the France brand and carry out an activity closely linked to France. This wasn’t the case before because they didn’t have the necessary legal connection. There is a lot of interest from EFEs around the world for this device. This solution does not meet the needs of some who are short of cash, but it is an opportunity to shift the lines and get the support of the French public authorities to support this initiative. The VIEs in these companies will have as their main mission to develop the bond of the EFEs that welcome them with France. We will further help companies that do not yet have this link but wish to develop it.
FAE : EFEs have less of this gregarious reflex of pack hunting than some of their Italian or German counterparts in particular. Have tech start-ups changed this?
LR: Yes, “French Tech” has completely changed the image and reality of collaboration between French companies. In my run in North America, these companies get together a lot, guide and help each other. Historically, the French abroad were less used to this. They would leave and fend for themselves. Thanks to the French pride that has returned from 2017, France is once again attractive and people are happy to be French. In Tech there is this will. But we need to think of other ways to do this, especially for the French food brand. It is a paradox because it is not very well known internationally. Comté wine and cheese are, for example, but compared to Italians or Spaniards, we see that they are much stronger in exporting their food brand. Let’s talk about “French Tech”, we could also talk about “French Food”.
EAF: Amélia Lakrafi, what is the French Development Agency (AFD)?
TO THE: It is the development bank of the French state. It has done a lot since the start of the crisis, in particular by creating different tools to help businesses in Africa, for example, because it is in these countries that there is the greatest need. In these tools we have the € 15 million Digital Africa Fund which supports 6 programs to guide and support business creators. There is also the “Choose Africa” initiative with 2.4 billion euros for 10 thousand African start-ups. In Africa, 97% of start-ups do not have access to finance. The financing of 10,000 African start-ups is therefore very ambitious. We can also congratulate ourselves on the creation of another instrument: that of a bill approved in the National Assembly on development aid. It aims to create strategic local development aid councils chaired by ambassadors into which we can integrate EFEs. This project also encourages the AFD, in financing projects for bridges and roads in particular, to favor EFE as much as possible. We must therefore ensure that our companies can benefit from what AFD can offer.
EAF: Do you have a message that you would like to send to the EFEs who read us?
CM: They should rely as much as possible on all existing networks in the countries. The French have an individual dimension and this period made it possible to strengthen ties. I also want to tell them that they must keep flying the colors of France abroad.
LR: They should be congratulated on the difficult year they have had. It was also difficult to make the team because you are an entrepreneur and abroad. We will make it collectively thanks to people like you. You create jobs and make France shine so thank you, courage and carry on!
TO THE: I want to thank them and congratulate them. I agree with Charles: gather around the KICs and associations. There are many actors abroad who are not necessarily solicited. EFEs are incredibly creative. In my college they are also the most generous and serious, ethical employers who, for the most part, went out of their way to keep their employees even though there was no more work. This is great and thank you for being an example.