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04 Nov 2015


From the CEO: refugees starting businesses in Australia

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis at the Ignite report launch.

Through SSI’s Ignite initiative, which supports people from a refugee background to establish or grow their businesses, Maria found a mentor. Through this mentor, Maria found work photographing community events in Sydney to build her portfolio. Then Maria launched her business website, under the name Flytrap Photography, and she is now steadily building her business in Australia.    

In the coming months and year, we know that more than 25,000 refugees will come to Australia to start their lives afresh. Among them will be more than 12,000 people from Syria and Iraq, and another 13,750 refugees from around the world.

Like so many others who have come before them, they will have endured circumstances unimaginable to most of us. They will be ready to put their past behind them and grab with both hands the opportunities that life in Australia has to offer.

Many of them will, like Maria, be professionals and educated but will need some support to use their skills in Australia. There is much research that shows that refugees and humanitarian entrants to Australia are the most entrepreneurial of migrants to the country. One study found that more than a fifth of all humanitarian entrants make their living from their own small to medium sized businesses (source). And the 2006 Census showed that 18.8 per cent of humanitarian arrivals operated a business, compared to 15.9 per cent of the general population (source).  This is where we see such value and potential in the Ignite initiative.

We want to give these people, who are obviously self-determined and entrepreneurial, the greatest opportunity for success that we can. SSI will be ready to support them, and Ignite is certainly an avenue through which we can do this. By starting a business these new arrivals become self-sufficient, grow in confidence and contribute to Australian society.  

Many refugees will go on to develop successful businesses that in turn will provide services and employment to others.

Ignite was officially launched a little over 12 months ago, and last month we celebrated the release of an independent assessment of the initiative by Professor Jock Collins of the University of Technology Sydney’s Business School and Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre.

We were thrilled and proud that these findings in the evaluation report verified and validated the wonderful work of Ignite.

Ignite entrepreneurs don’t graduate from the initiative with a certificate and hand shake. They leave as registered and trading businesses — quite a phenomenal and unique feature of Ignite. Some businesses start up quite quickly, in just a matter of weeks. Others are a little more complex and take longer to achieve.

SSI’s enterprise facilitators support the fledgling entrepreneurs throughout their journeys to overcome the challenges of limited English, lack of transport, a lack of knowledge about the Australian regulatory environment and our local market.

In part, the success of Ignite has been achieved through building close, trusting relationships with the entrepreneurs and strong relationships with community and commercial partners. Ignite would not succeed without these strong partnerships and collaborations.

This includes a wonderful group of volunteers who make up the Ignite Resource Team. The practical support, advice and warmth that this group gives to our Ignite entrepreneurs is invaluable and greatly appreciated.

During the past 18 months there are many people who have contributed to the Ignite initiative.

Sandy Haig from the University of Wollongong Business School has provided Ignite with remarkable graduate students who helped our entrepreneurs complete their marketing plans.

The not-for-profit organisation Many Rivers, which supports aspiring business owners, has provided micro loans to our most enterprising start-ups.

I’d like to acknowledge SSI case managers who first recognised the entrepreneurial spark in the people they support, and referred them to Ignite.

SSI Manager of Business Development Joseph Ferrer provided the leadership to steer the initiative and Ignite program manager Dina Petrakis has been the heart and soul of Ignite.

I’d also like to acknowledge the contribution of Dr Ernesto Sirolli, who developed the model of Enterprise Facilitation that Ignite has used to such success.

Ignite will only grow from here and the benefit will be for all of Australia.

Violet Roumeliotis

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