Small business entrepreneurs of refugee background were celebrated on Monday November 17 at the launch event of Ignite Small Business Start-ups (Ignite) in Sydney.
Attended by almost 100 people, the event featured catering, photography, and film by some of the entrepreneurs supported by the Ignite initiative.
Ignite was established by Settlement Services International (SSI) 18 months ago to support fledgling entrepreneurs from a refugee background to overcome the challenges of limited English, lack of transport, a lack of knowledge about the Australian regulatory environment and the local market.
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis explained that recently arrived refugees and humanitarian entrants faced significant barriers to employment.
“At SSI we recognise these barriers but we also know that many humanitarian refugees bring a wealth of skill and experience in business, and are keen to put their past behind them and grab with both hands the opportunities that life in Australia offers,” said Ms Roumeliotis.
“Monday’s event celebrated the determination and passion of a special group of people who, with the proper support, now call themselves business operators who will contribute their know-how and skills, paying dividends to the economy,” she said.
Representing the Bing Lee family, Dr Doug Lee officially launched Ignite and shared his own family’s experiences and shared some words of wisdom.
Particularly moving was his acknowledgment of the journey that many of the entrepreneurs have travelled.
In his speech, Dr Lee assured the new entrepreneurs that the low periods of business would not last long and that they were minor obstacles compared to some of the experiences they may have already been through.
“It was important for me to share with them the realities of business, the perseverance required and the importance of asking for help if you need it,” he said.
“Modern Australia has been built by the passion of migrant entrepreneurs who have been determined to improve the lives of their families,” said Dr Lee.
Representing the NSW Premier, Minister for Small Business, the Hon. John Barilaro MP, himself also the son of a migrant who started in small business, reiterated the contribution made to the economy by enterprising refugees and migrants, and the importance of self employment for new arrivals..
The Ignite success stories include a leather goods enterprise, fashion designer, photographer and catering businesses.
“Ignite is currently supporting three brothers from Iraq who want to continue their film making business they had in Iraq, the business their father started in 1964,” said Ms Roumeliotis.
“Can you imagine what this will mean to them and their family to be able to continue that tradition and become financially independent and secure here is Australia where they have sought refuge?”
"It is a powerful thing to witness the successful transformation and empowerment of another human being.”