Budding entrepreneurs are challenging stereotypes about migrant and refugee women, with a helping hand from award-winning social entrepreneur Violet Roumeliotis.
This week marks the end of Ms Roumeliotis’ time as Telstra Business Woman of the Year ― a unique accolade for a non-profit CEO that she has used to create opportunities for other business women from diverse backgrounds.
“I’m the daughter of Greek migrants. I grew up working weekends in my family’s corner store. I haven’t just seen the incredible entrepreneurial potential in Australia’s migrant and refugee community ― I’ve lived it,” she said.
“I want to use my own success to show other women from diverse backgrounds that there is no limit to what we can achieve. We are wives, mothers and daughters, but we also have potential that extends beyond that facet of our identities.
“Migrant and refugee women are strong, they’re resilient and they’re resourceful business women. They just need a hand navigating the complex Australian regulatory environment.”
As the CEO of community organisation and social business Settlement Services International (SSI), Ms Roumeliotis has been able to offer that support by establishing the Ignite® Multicultural Women’s Business Scholarships — a 12-month package of specialised support valued at $20,000 to help women from diverse backgrounds get their business idea up off the ground.
Recipients of scholarships to date include:
- Merlyn Hernandez: After migrating to Australia in 2003, Merlyn was unable to find employment in her field of graphic design due to low English levels. Instead, she began studying hospitality and in 2013, launched Dulce Trio Boutique Cakes, which sells creative cakes and sweets. Despite Merlyn’s innovation, talent and the passion, her business was not making money, so she applied for an SSI scholarship. With support from a team of experts, Dulce Trio has refocused its sales and marketing efforts. Merlyn has also been linked with food and beverage industry experts and is in the process of pursuing a micro-loan to supercharge her business’s growth trajectory.
- Parastoo Brahimi: Originally from Afghanistan, Parastoo spent 11 years living as a refugee in Indonesia. To calm her mind during that uncertain period, Parastoo learned beading and began holding workshops to teach other refugees how to use beadwork to create small handicrafts and jewellery. After being resettled in Australia, Parastoo wanted to share her love of therapeutic craft work and came to SSI looking to turn her idea into a business. With support from a team of experts, her business ― Anissa ― was born. Currently in the product development stage, Anissa specialises in the creation of jewellery inspired by feminine concepts from the Quran.
Ms Roumeliotis said there is huge untapped potential in Australia’s new and emerging communities, which have much higher rates of entrepreneurialism than their Australian-born peers.
“This is particularly true of people from refugee background, who are nearly twice as likely to start their own business than the Australian population as a whole. Of those refugee entrepreneurs, women are more likely than men to actually earn an income from their own business,” she said.
“Budding entrepreneurs like Parastoo and Merlyn already have the skills, courage and work ethic to succeed in business ― all they need is a helping hand to level the playing field. What is often missing for migrant and refugee women is the opportunity to participate and share their knowledge and skills.
“I am incredibly grateful for the chance to lift up other women and use my own success to pave the way forward for other budding entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds.”
Violet Roumeliotis is a social entrepreneur who has extensive experience working with refugee, asylum seeker and migrant communities. Violet is the current Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year, and sits on the Federal Government’s Settlement Services Advisory Council, the board of national migrant and refugee women’s coalition, the Harmony Alliance. Violet was named one of AFR’s Top 100 Women of Influence for 2018 in the category of Diversity & Inclusion and has twice been named on Pro Bono Australia’s list of the 25 most influential people in the not-for-profit sector. She was awarded the title of Community Fellow from Western Sydney University for outstanding service to the community in 2017.
Settlement Services International is a community organisation and social business that supports newcomers and other Australians to achieve their full potential. We work with all people who have experienced vulnerability, including refugees, people seeking asylum and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, to build capacity and enable them to overcome inequality.