Stories We Tell Plant Seeds of Success

Immigrant stories to inspire economic development

In The Achieving Society, David McClelland examined the many factors for why some societies produced a great number of scientists, and entrepreneurs. He drew evidence, drawn from history and some 40 contemporary nations. His conclusion was that one human motive, the need for Achievement (n Achievement)- a desire to excel for its own sake, was a precursor for the development of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship in turn led to rapid economic growth.

One powerful source of developing n Achievement was the folk tales and stories that were told to the children. The future economic prosperity of any community depends on the stories we tell, especially to our young.

One promising resource that can contribute to the rapid expansion of the economic conditions in Minnesota is the immigrant community, in our midst.

A high proportion of immigrants are driven by this need for achievement to excel, succeed and control their own destiny. Inc. magazine reported that “despite accounting for only about 13 percent of the population, immigrants now start more than a quarter of new businesses in this country”. They embrace this more difficult path over the more traditional route of becoming an employee because they may feel that they simply don’t fit in or their background is not conducive with the norms of corporate life. Becoming an entrepreneur might seem a bit scary but pales when compared to the high-risk journey they have already taken by choice or circumstance. The unpredictable adventure of business, one that can completely change their circumstances, is considered an acceptable risk.

Immigrants often see opportunities everywhere they look in the new land of opportunity. They are fully prepared to work really hard and really long. They are willing to live a few years of their life like most people won’t so that their future generations can spend the rest of the life like most people can’t. It is hard work but with that comes a total change in the trajectory for their family. Immigrant entrepreneur Des Deshpande attributes immigrants’ entrepreneurial propensity to “out-of-the-box” thinking, which he says is natural from someone who is “out-of-the-box.”

A Minnesota Chamber of Commerce report captures the ways in which immigrants serve as assets and concluded that “Minnesota’s immigrant communities are critical to the state’s economic success.” They have transformed commercial corridors such as University Avenue in Saint Paul and Lake Street in Minneapolis, and are an established presence in smaller cities including Willmar, Austin, Worthington, and Faribault-Northfield.

How can this immigrant energy of n Achievement be channeled as an even greater resource for the development of our state? Stories!

Dr. Tea Rozman Clark, for her doctoral dissertation, gathered personal testimonies from Bosniak survivors and Dutch peacekeepers during the Bosnian genocide. That opened her eyes to the power and impact of first-person digital story sharing. She served refugees and immigrant populations in twenty-five projects in three post-conflict countries. Tea has become a storyteller of authentic, first-person, un-biased, brave and more complete stories of immigrants. She co-founded Green Card Voices that has recorded and shared stories of 350 immigrants and refugees coming from 120 countries and six continents many of whom live in Minnesota.

Lately as the most negative rhetoric about immigrants has increased, Green Card Voices has shared the variety of stories of immigrants with the goal of shrinking the divide between immigrant and nonimmigrant communities. Tea said, ““We want to change the narrative, often in the immigrants heads as well as the community around them, to a more intentional and impactful way of contributing to their new home.”

Green Card Entrepreneur Voices: How-to Stories from Minnesota Immigrants is the latest collection of 20 personal essays, videos, and podcasts from immigrant entrepreneurs, from around the world, now living in Minnesota. This project lifts up immigrant voices and offers insights into their contributions. We have a view into the lives of people such as: Tashitaa Tufaa of Metropolitan Transportation Network originally from Ethiopia who is now the owner of more than 300 school buses; Julliard-educated Dario Mejia from Ecuador who founded Curio Dance in Stillwater; Ruhel Islam from Bangladesh who owns Gandhi Mahal Restaurant and boasts the first ever aquaponics restaurant in the Twin Cities; Batul Walji of Star Banners who was born in Democratic Republic of Congo and sewed the advertising banners for the Superbowl right in the middle of US Bank Stadium; and Italian Caterina Cenaro who owns and operates Alterations by Caterina, mastering a trade that is dying out. The entrepreneurs tell their own stories that include who inspired them and what drives them. They also outline particular hardships and opportunities of being an immigrant entrepreneur, and share the greatest lessons of their entrepreneurial journeys. Many aspirants, especially the young, would find these to be very motivating.

We hope this book, of Minnesota immigrants, adds the valuable ingredient of stories that energizes others to act beyond any self-imposed limitation and emulate these pioneers. It will accelerate the much needed pace of planting new seeds at home.

A version of this article first appeared in Twin City Business Magazine July, 2018.

See other opinion columns go to “Planting Seeds”.

Dr. Rajiv Tandon is Executive Director of the Institute for Innovators and Entrepreneurs and an advocate for the future of entrepreneurship in Minnesota. He facilitates peer groups of Minnesota CEOs. He can be reached at