An evaluation report of SSI’s Ignite Small Business Start-ups initiative has found that, with the right support, Australia’s refugees have significant entrepreneurial potential and the ability to contribute to the economy.
Ignite facilitator Ben Benazzouz, Professor Jock Collins, Yateender Gupta of Forbes Consultants Accounting, SSI General Manager Peter Zographakis and SSI Partnerships and Fundraising Manager Naushin Rahman.
In his report, Prof Collins said the “innovative” and “unique” Ignite initiative shows the significant entrepreneurial potential of refugees and the contribution they can make when they have support to overcome settlement challenges.
Funded by SSI, Ignite facilitates business creation for people of refugee background who are keen to set up a small business or expand an existing one. SSI was the first port of call for 12,000 refugees and asylum last year. Its case managers refer suitable candidates to the Ignite program and, so far, 30 have established a business, with another 5 in the planning stages.
Ms Forsythe said that well over half of all employment in Australia is generated by small business. “SSI has further developed a unique and innovative program that has demonstrated the great entrepreneurial potential of humanitarian migrants,” Ms Forsythe said. “It reminds us of the important economic contribution refugees can make as entrepreneurs and small business people, given the right support.”
The report found there is a strong argument for a larger humanitarian intake not for just humanitarian reasons but also for an economic one.
“With the help of initiatives such as Ignite, refugees overcome the most incredible hurdles imaginable to start a small business and create income for themselves, their family and employment for others over time,” Professor Collins said.
“The report has shown that the Ignite concept works and, with the support of philanthropists and other sponsors, I’d like to see it rolled out nationally, across urban and regional areas.”
With Australia to receive 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees over the coming year, the success of Ignite suggests a program to assist some of them to establish businesses in Australia would generate significant results, he said.
Having worked in settlement for more 30 years, SSI CEO and founder of the Ignite initiative Violet Roumeliotis recognised the barriers faced by newly arrived refugees and migrants but also the wealth of skill and experience many bring with them.
“I had been carrying around this knowledge with me for a long time and I’d been on the lookout for an opportunity to create something for business-minded refugees,” Ms Roumeliotis said. Then in 2013 she met Dr Ernesto Sirolli of the Sirolli Institute, who piloted his model of Enterprise Facilitation in Esperance in Western Australia over 30 years ago. Ignite took up the Sirolli model and, for the first time anywhere in the world, applied it to a refugee community.
Ms Roumeliotis said: “We are thrilled and so proud this report has proven what many of us in the settlement sector already know: that refugees are keen to put their past behind them and grab with both hands the opportunities that life in Australia has to offer.”