Germinal: inspiring entrepreneurship, and providing the means to create


An association within the Groupe SOS, Germinal was created in 1995, in the Hauts-de-France region of France. Its mission: to develop entrepreneurship as a lever for inclusion and territorial development. Interview with Samia Darani, director of the association.


How was the Germinal association born?

After the film Germinal, based on the novel by Zola, its director, Claude Berri, wished to donate part of the profits to the local social and economic development of this disaster-stricken area that was the mining basin. A loan fund was thus launched to finance project leaders up to 8,000 euros each, without interest or securities.


Who are these project leaders?

They are business creators, experiencing social difficulties, who have a strong drive to create their own jobs and thereby revitalise their territory and bring their villages back to life. To make their project a reality, these entrepreneurs need help in removing employment barriers. Some don’t speak French, others have experienced misfortunes such as illness, and still others are raising their children alone. Their profiles are highly diverse, but they all share one thing in common: they all have tremendous motivation.


Do you have any entrepreneurial stories to share?

One example I have in mind is Mélanie, who travels around the region’s markets, behind the wheel of her travelling wooden grocery store, selling organic products in bulk. Or Ludovic, the son of a farmer who, at the age of 21, started his own business and built a henhouse for laying hens, using organic farming methods. Céline, who opened the first independent bookstore in Valenciennes. Or Vivien, who decided to take over the last café in her village after the former boss retired, to name but a few.


Since 1995, the association has financed some one hundred projects a year. It has contributed to the creation or safeguarding of 2,600 jobs since its creation and has lent 6.2 million euros, invested in local projects.


How is the link forged between project leaders and Germinal?

One of the challenges of the association is working in the field, becoming part of a local network of prescribers, associations, public employment services (Pôle Emploi, the French employment agency, local missions, organisations that support disabled people, etc.). This diligent and detailed work allows us to identify entrepreneurs whose profile matches the criteria for accessing the loan fund, as well as to identify promising initiatives and emerging needs within the territory.

In addition to the loan fund, the association has recently embarked on a new experiment. Tell us about it.

In 2020, we decided to expand our services and launch an EITI (companies helping people stabilise their situation through self-employment) in the mining basin, whose core business is to put entrepreneurs in touch with clients. This may include anything from assistance in developing turnover to support for a positive ecological impact on the territory, or the implementation of participatory fundraising campaigns, etc. We will soon go even further, with the implementation of training courses, co-working services, and more.


Is Germinal’s goal is to extend these actions to other territories than the mining basin?

Yes. And today the stakes are all the higher as many people have been affected by the economic crisis we are currently experiencing. We have already invested in territories that have the same problems as the Hauts-de-France, such as Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Normandy, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region, etc. And we don’t intend to stop there!