Like many Australians, Natalie Tsirimokos watched the global refugee crisis gain momentum in 2015 and felt compelled to act.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could help, so I began researching local not for profits,” she said.
SSI volunteer Natalie Tsirimokos.
Ms Tsirimokos, who has spent the past 11 years in media and advertising, decided to trade in her job as the Head of Yahoo7 Studio: Branded Content & Special Projects for a volunteering role with Settlement Services International (SSI).
“I made the bold decision to hit pause on my career and spend the summer contributing my skills to supporting refugees and people seeking asylum in my community,” she said.
Ms Tsirimokos’ interest was piqued when she heard about the Ignite Small Business Start-up program – an SSI-funded initiative that helps entrepreneurs from refugee backgrounds create and grow small businesses.
She now spends two days a week using her marketing and digital expertise to help budding entrepreneurs find new ways to market and promote their products.
“Identifying and growing entrepreneurial spirit in new arrivals was a wild concept to me,” Ms Tsirimokos said. “I had no idea that such a program existed, and I’m so glad it does. We work directly with talented new arrivals, supporting them to achieve meaningful economic and social participation.”
One Ignite entrepreneur with a flooring business has received a stream of enquiries since Ms Tsirimokos helped him set up Google Ads, while another entrepreneur who owns a café has found targeted Facebook advertising much more effective than a local letterbox drop.
“Working on marketing strategies and a digital identity for a cafe in Merrylands, for example, is incredibly different to working on a big digital project for a My Kitchen Rules major sponsor. I’ve had to really change gears,” Ms Tsirimokos said.
The thing Ms Tsirimokos has enjoyed the most about working with Ignite is the diversity that each day brings.
“Working in media and advertising, I used to say, ‘every day is so different’, but here, every hour looks different. As soon as a client comes in, I’m focused and immersed in a new story, new culture, and new challenges and ideas. It’s humbling,” she said.
“If it’s not an existing business, sometimes it can feel a bit like the entrepreneurship TV show Shark Tank in here, because people are pitching their ideas to you. It’s incredibly diverse and crazy sometimes, but also very inspiring.”
One of Ms Tsirimokos’ big tips for other volunteers is to do their research before deciding which organisation they will dedicate their time to.
“I did a lot of research into different organisations and specific projects that were aiding refugees and asylum seekers, and SSI really stood out to me because it was doing the most grass roots, hands on work,” she said.