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28 Mar 2017

Media releases

Refugee entrepreneurship making million-dollar economic contribution

 The study found that 68% of refugee graduates of the Ignite Small Business Start-ups Program had moved off Centrelink payments, with some also paying company tax and generating jobs for others.

  • In-depth interviews with 35 of the refugee entrepreneurs identified savings of $880,000 a year in Centrelink benefits – or a potential $4.4 million over five years – among this group alone.
  • More than 60 new refugee enterprises emerged from the program, generating company tax revenue for the government
  • At the time of the study, 20 staff had been taken on by the program’s entrepreneurs
  • The entrepreneurs were also contributing to innovation in Australia

The Ignite Small Business Start-ups Program, an initiative of humanitarian organisation Settlement Services International (SSI), was launched in 2013 to assist newly arrived humanitarian migrants or refugees to set up businesses.

Now at the end of its three-year pilot, the program has helped to establish 66 new refugee businesses – the majority in retail trade, followed by cultural and recreational services and construction.

“The stand-out finding is the diversity of business types set up by the refugee graduates of the Ignite program,” Professor Collins says. “There is no typical refugee business enterprise. Businesses established by successful Ignite clients cover many different industry classifications.”

Overall, of the 240 SSI refugee clients accepted into the Ignite program 25 per cent were running their own enterprise, the study found.

“This success rate must be set against the substantial barriers that these refugees faced in order to appreciate its significance,” Professor Collins says.

“At first glance refugees are the most unlikely entrepreneurs. They lack capital to start up a business, they have no credit history, no assets or security. In many instances their educational qualifications are not recognised and they have no social networks.”

The report also found that newly arrived refugees who are women are equally passionate about entrepreneurship and have the potential to succeed as new entrepreneurs in Australia. “One in five Ignite clients are women and one in four of the Ignite clients who succeeded in setting up a business are women,” Professor Collins says. “This is an important finding because many refugee families who arrive in Australia are single-parent families headed by a woman.”

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis noted it was not because of a lack of passion, a business idea or commitment and ability that other Ignite clients had not set up a business. “Rather, the constraint was the time of the enterprise facilitators. With more resources for the program to hire additional enterprise facilitators the success rate would have been much higher.”

The Ignite program is based on the Sirolli Trinity of Management® model and tailored specifically to newly arrived humanitarian migrants or refugees. “This model has led to an innovation in thinking and tailoring of support to entrepreneurs of refugee background,” Ms Roumeliotis says.

“The report has demonstrated the success of Ignite and suggests it has the potential to be rolled out nationally, with modification and consultation.”

SSI now plans to expand the model to support passionate entrepreneurs with disability, their families and carers through a new pilot program Ignite Ability.

SSI is a finalist in the Settlement Innovation category of the Australian Migration Settlement Awards on Wednesday, March 22, which will be attended by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Ignite program was part of the nomination.

To speak with SSI CEO or for entrepreneur case studies:

Rekha Sanghi
SSI Communications Coordinator
0422 304 578

Professor Jock Collins
Professor of Social Economics
UTS Business School
0425 341 083

Lesley Parker
Media Officer
UTS Business School
0422 000 249

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