Patience and perseverance on the journey to entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs with Pakistani, Indian and Afghan roots are at the centre of Muhammad Zubair’s research efforts. He studies the socio-economic impact of entrepreneurs from migrant backgrounds. To this end, he set off from Pakistan to pursue his research and to work in this country.

Muhammad Zubair was working for the United Bank of Pakistan when a customer approached him with the request to open an account in Euro. An interesting conversation took place between bank advisor and customer: The customer mentioned that he was studying for a doctoral degree in the Austrian City of Graz, and that he was very content with the overall conditions there. Zubair, who is outgoing and open to new experiences, took this as a starting point to develop a new personal perspective. Four years ago, he undertook the journey to Graz, where he initially learned German for a period of three semesters. Ultimately, endowed with a solid knowledge of German, his path led him to Klagenfurt, to Dieter Bögenhold at the Department of Sociology. “Professor Bögenhold is a very passionate, enthusiastic and selfless professor and he deserves to be recognized for it”, according to Zubair.

In his studies, Zubair addresses the socio-economic impact of individuals, who set off – in a similar manner – to gain a foothold in another culture. He examines the underlying circumstances and the effects of entrepreneurship carried out by immigrants, focusing particularly on individuals from Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. “The dynamics among immigrants are quite different. The move to another country is often seen as a long-term investment: You don’t learn German in a day, it takes time. This process is frequently accompanied by the worry that finding employment may prove very challenging. Many immigrants regard self-employment as an attempt to provide for themselves and thus to counter this fear. At a later stage, they might employ family members and friends in their companies”, Muhammad Zubair explains. His long-term investment in Austria has paid off so far: He works full-time as a carer for refugees who are unaccompanied minors in  St. Stefan in the Lavanttal. At the same time, he is also devoting his full attention to his doctoral studies. Zubair’s academic achievements have earned him international recognition: One of his papers has recently been accepted for presentation at the “2017 Contemporary Issues Summit in Harvard“, an event that applies a highly competitive selection process. He will present his results there in mid-March, and hopes to complete the separate components of his doctoral thesis by the end of 2018.

Zubair’s research so far has yielded some astonishing results: While the Austrian entrepreneurial scene tends to bemoan the extensive bureaucracy, many immigrants appear to have gained quite a different impression. Zubair reports: “To give one example: The owner of a shop in Klagenfurt, who came here as a refugee from Afghanistan, told me that the process of founding the business was very uncomplicated. Certainly, a few forms had to be filled in, but he regarded the process overall as simple, even though he had arrived here as refugee without documents.” Here, Muhammad Zubair has also determined a significant difference between his country of origin and the Austrian entrepreneurship landscape: “In Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, there is currently very little in the way of support for young entrepreneurs or incubators. In most cases, my interview partners have not received any training in the sphere of business administration. However, here in Austria, the Chamber of Commerce and other service organisations provide excellent assistance in terms of training, courses, advice and guidance. Unlike my home country, it is easier to set up a business here, even if one comes from a humble background.” Zubair recently completed his second paper, which examines entrepreneurs in Klagenfurt. In a third planned paper he will compare entrepreneurship among immigrants in Klagenfurt and in Krakow, contrasting a small city and a large city, and will cast a glance at the overall situation in Austria.

The businesses Muhammad Zubair investigates in the scope of his studies frequently have a significant socio-economic impact on the economic landscape in Austria. Simultaneously, they also often contribute to a more colourful Austrian world: In restaurants, grocery stores, or through their activities as social entrepreneurs; whichever sector immigrants choose for their business activities, they always provide the local market with additional cultural diversity. “I am a citizen of the world”, Muhammad Zubair says when he describes himself. His plans are still open. One option might be the opportunity to work as a Post-Doc researcher in academia. On the other hand, he might decide to work as social entrepreneur, dedicated to water treatment in Pakistan, “which is in desperate need of expansion, in order to curb the spread of many diseases.” He continues: “I am not interested in investing money, but I do want to help people to become active themselves”. This is his dream.


A few words with … Muhammad Zubair

What career would you have chosen, if you had not become a scientist?

There are so many professions that attracted me, but if I would not have become a scientist, I would have become a social entrepreneur and the area of focus would have been education and health reforms.

Do your parents understand what it is you are working on?

Yes they do, it is actually they who gave me the vision and motivation to become who I am today.

What is the first thing you do when you arrive at the office in the morning?

Take my coffee. Among researchers, it is a very common saying that the number of publications is directly proportional to the number of coffees one consumes.

Do you have proper holidays? Without thinking about your work?

Not really, research is a hard job, your mind is always looking for unsolved problems, seeking solutions which sometimes come when least expected. So it has become part of our everyday life. We, as researchers, embrace it which keeps us on our toes, where we need to be.

What makes you furious?

Negative attitude. When I see people complaining and blaming others for their lazy and irresponsible attitude.

What calms you down?

Motivational talks and the company of positive people.

Who do you regard as the greatest scientist in history, and why?

Considering the fact that there have been several scientists who have made great contributions, I regard Albert Einstein as the greatest among them all, since he has set examples also towards the betterment of our society. Personally, I like this saying of his the most: “Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.”

What are you afraid of?

I always aim high and sometimes it makes me afraid.

What are you looking forward to?

The infinite opportunities that await me in the life ahead.