Global Entrepreneurship
and Transnationalism
Ivan Light
Professor of Sociology
University of California, Los Angeles
My research concerns the role of migrants in
international business, now and in the
I begin with the past.
Once diasporas were . . .
Ethno-national communities scattered
around the globe in continuous, long-term
contact with one another.
Hub and spokes organization with the
homeland as hub
Rare even then
Diasporas are communicating international
settlements organized around a putative or
real homeland on a hub and spoke basis.
1 2
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7 -- Homeland -- 3
/ | \
6 5 4
Middleman minorities
Historic trading peoples who undertook
commercial functions wherever they
Middleman minorities were organized into
Six Examples
Exemplary middleman minorities:
Chinese in SE Asia
Parsees of India
Sikhs of East Africa
Armenians of the Levant
Jews of Europe and North Africa
Hausa of Nigeria
Resisting Assimilation
Immigrants assimilated. Middleman
minorities successfully resisted
assimilation often for centuries. Result:
they were bi-cultural or multi-cultural in
mono-cultural civilizations.
Retention of their ethnic culture enabled
them to retain the diasporic structure for
Trading Diasporas
Middleman minorities exploited the commercial
resources that their diasporic communities
afforded them.
Quickly perceived business opportunities
International social networks
Enforceable Trust
Business skills
Speaking their ethnic language as well as
the vernacular of their country of
residence, middleman minorities could
communicate across linguistic barriers that
stymied others.
In Turkey
In Peru
Turkish > Armenian > Armenian > Spanish
weaver merchant merchant customer
Perception of opportunities
Living simultaneously in two or more
societies, middlemen minorities readily
perceived entrepreneurial opportunities for
moving goods or services from one to the
Benson Honig called it, “Dual habitus.”
Popcorn in Chinese movie theaters
Introduced by returned students
International Social Networks
Thanks to the hub and spoke organization of
their diasporas, middleman minorities
could readily find co-ethnic trading
partners abroad.
Diaspora and Homeland
d6 - d7 - d8
/ \ | / \
d5 --- HL --- d1
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d4 d3 d2
Enforceable Trust
The international social networks produced
an international system of enforceable
trust that subjected to sanctions any who
violated the presumption of honesty.
Jewish diamond merchants in Amsterdam.
Social Isolation
Exclusion from the ethnic economy
Legal penalties
“The ethnic economy”
Sector of independent business owned and
operated by co-ethnics, their unpaid family
workers, and co-ethnic employees.
Business Skills
Middleman minorities acquired advanced
business skills and passed them along to
younger generations in hands-on
There weren’t any business schools then!
Resisting assimilation
When immigrants or ethnic minorities
assimilate, they lose their former
commercial advantages:
Bi- or multi-lingualism
international social networks with enforceable trust
Network – wide repository of business skills
advantageous perception of market opportunity
Assimilation brings:
No international social connections
No enforceable international trust
Reduced access to ethnic business skills
What’s transnationalism?
It’s the modern term currently given to the
people who live abroad and in their
homelands more or less simultaneously.
A recent product of: jet airplanes, electronic
communications, globalization
Transnationalism Now
Transnationalism provides today’s migrants
with most of the same diasporic
advantages that were once in the past
reserved to middleman minorities.
international networks based on
enforceable trust
advantageous perception of opportunity
Transnationalism does not
Centuries – old repertoire of business skills
that can be accessed from co-ethnic
Multi-generation access to these resources.
Transnationals assimilate.
Transnationalism’s effect
Transnationalism increases the number of
people in the world who have access to
the diasporic advantages that were in the
past restricted to middleman minorities.
Transnationalism weakens but does not
suppress or replace middleman minorities.
Transnationalism, defined
. . . persistent, multi-cultural diasporas that
link a an ethnic homeland with multiple
countries of settlement.
Transmigrants are resident in at least two
societies, and active participants in all at
the same time.
What is Encouraging
Instantaneous electronic communications
skype, email, web
Jet airplanes and low fares
Host country multiculturalism
Sending country retentionism
dual citizenship, voting privileges for expatriates
Entrepreneur visas
skip immigration queues
Transnational Diasporas
Hub and spokes structure
International social networks
Enforceable trust
But transnationals lack a cultural heritage of
business skills that middlemen had!
From above and below
“Transnationalism from below” refers to
social conditions that result in wholesale
production of transnationals among
immigrant minorities.
“Transnationalism from above” refers to
state policies that encourage
transnationalism among migratory elites
esp. jumping the immigration queue
Is transnationalism eternal?
Will transnationals resist assimilation for
centuries? Probably not. Middlemen did.
However, possibly globalization creates a
new transnational for every one who finally
If so, transnationals assimilate, but
transnationalism persists!
In the past, European immigrants to the
USA became monolingual in English in the
third generation. It now takes somewhat
longer for immigrants today but the
direction of change is the same.
Monolingualism is a litmus test of
Globalization means the accelerated
economic integration of previously less
integrated national economies.
Globalization and Transnationalism
Transnationals are well endowed to do the
work of linking and integrating economies.
bi-cultural, spoke and hub organization, international
networks, enforceable trust, prompt perception of
opportunity conditions
Who’s in charge?
Globalization is much bigger than
Transnationalism is globalization’s helper; it
did not singly cause globalization.
Transnationalism accelerates globalization.
The dominance of English
English has become the dominant language
of the world in science, business, and
English is the second largest language
group in the world if we count only native
World’s largest language groups
# 1 Chinese
# 2 English
# 3 Spanish
But English passes Chinese if non-native
speakers are included.
Consequences of English
English-speaking business people in Turkey
and Peru no longer need the intermediary
help of resident Armenians in order to do
This intermediary service was an important prop of
middleman minorities’ commercial advantage and its
loss undermines (but does not extinguish) the
commercial advantage of transnational entrepreneurs.
Asymmetrical Effects of English
In the 1990s, immigration increased the
exports of both Canada and the United
States without increasing their imports.
That is, after a lag, increased immigrants
from country A increased Canadian and
US exports to country A without increasing
imports from A.
A possible explanation
Foreigners now speak English so they need
no help from transnational immigrants
from the USA or from Canada in order to
export to Canada or the USA.
Speaking English, Swedes don’t need transnational
Americans in Sweden in order to export to the United
True, Swedes made some
Vacuum cleaner advertising slogan:
“Nothing sucks like Electrolux.”
If you don’t understand this joke, you are not a native speaker of
American English.
Jens and the “pirate ship” to Copenhagen
But conversely
Mono-lingual English-speakers need the
help of resident transnationals in order to
export to the immigrants’ homelands.
Speaking only English, Americans need the help of
Swedish transnationals in the US in order to export to
Sweden. Swedes already speak English; they don’t need
American helpers to export to the USA.
My friend, Sharon C
Sharon C. speaks no Spanish. She could
not export American cheese to Mexico
until she hired a Mexican American
salesman. Now he’s her partner.
And they are exporting cheese to Mexico in
Transnational Entrepreneurs
Transnational entrepreneurs in Englishspeaking countries enjoy enhanced
opportunities in the export trade thanks to
their bi-cultural competence.
It’s better to be a transnational Polish entrepreneur in
Canada than a transnational Canadian entrepreneur in
Poland because Poles speak English, but Canadians do
not speak Polish.
“The merchant speaks the customers'
This ancient adage of international
commerce is still true, and it implies that
mono-lingual Anglophone entrepreneurs
need bi-lingual helpers in order to
find/build markets abroad.
Lost in translation
Chevrolet Nova = Chevrolet no va =
“Chevrolet doesn’t go” in Spanish
Chevrolet sales plunged in Latin America!
Global English
English dominance is now a structure, not a
friction. A friction would impose the same
transaction cost in either direction.
However, the effects of global English
dominance are asymmetrical.
One asymmetrical advantage
Native speakers of English enjoy an
asymmetrical commercial advantage in
that their foreign trade negotiations are
carried on in their native language.
This situation confers an asymmetrical
advantage too.
A disadvantage
The English-speaking countries must rely on
transnational business migrants who
increase their exports without increasing
their imports.
Immigration provides the linguistic skills and
foreign social networks that enable their
Who benefits?
Transnational entrepreneurship does not
have identical economic consequences or
bestow equal benefits everywhere in the
Conclusion 1
Transnational entrepreneurs
enhance the international trade of
all countries.
bi-cultural, spoke and hub organization,
international networks, enforceable trust, prompt
perception of opportunity conditions
Conclusion 2
However, the English-speaking
world obtains the most benefit
from immigrant transnationalism,
which confers linguistic skills the
English-speaking countries lack.
Looking out of the goldfish bowl is their unique challenge.
The case for the advantageousness of
transnational entrepreneurship is
somewhat weaker in non-Englishspeaking countries than in Anglophone
Conclusion 3
Country A’s expatriates are Country B’s
Expatriates promote a source country’s
international trade.
What about emigrants?
Ireland is an English – speaking country with
many expatriates abroad, and immigrants
at home.
Other English-speaking countries have
immigrants, but Ireland also has many
The Irish Diaspora
expats ---IRELAND ---- expats
expats expats
Irish Expatriates
Speak English and foreign languages
Understand Irish society and foreign society
Enjoy enforceable trust in two locations
“Dual habitus” improves perception of
business opportunities
Transnationals, not middleman minority
Immigrants in Ireland
The same advantages as Irish expats
Speak English and foreign languages
Understand Irish society and foreign society
Enjoy enforceable trust in two locations
“Dual habitus” improves perception of business
Ireland’s International Trade
Ireland’s immigrants and expats offer a
possibility for expanding merchandise and
service exports of small & medium
business sector that is usually
underperforming big business in
international trade.
Ivan Light. “Transnational Entrepreneurs in an
English-Speaking World.” Die Erde 141 nos.
1-2 (2010): 1 – 16.
Ivan Light. “Foreword.” Pp. ix – xvi in
Transnational and Immigrant
Entrepreneurship in a Globalized World,
edited byBenson Honig, Israel Drori, and
Barbara Carmichael. Toronto: University of
Toronto, 2010.
Thanks for your attention.
Gracias para su atención
Спасибо/до свидания

Globalization, Transnationalism and Trade