Westpac and Thrive Partnership to Help Refugees Start Businesses
30 November 2016 at 11:03 am
Banking giant Westpac and refugee microfinancing charity Thrive have joined forces in a $2 million partnership to support refugees to establish their own businesses in Australia.
Westpac has also seconded a chief operating officer (COO) to develop all elements of Thrive’s operations, from credit policies to loan documents, and help establish it as a stand-alone entity.
Westpac said it would provide funding without cost to Thrive, to ensure that the charity has a secure funding source to support new Australian refugees.
Eligible applicants will be sourced with the assistance of existing refugee settlement service providers, Settlement Services International (NSW) and AMES (Victoria).
Thrive will provide loans to refugees through a business start-up package, as well as assist with further education programs, qualifications and apprenticeships, and business mentoring.
Thrive chairman and co-founder John Curtis told Pro Bono Australia News that the private sector had a role to play in supporting refugee enterprises.
“Thrive will fill a gap in the system for refugees by focusing on a complete support service, providing finance, business support services, assisting with professional accreditation, and mentoring,” Curtis said.
“In the last 12 months my wife [Anna Curtis] and I wanted to start an organisation to help refugees when they came to Australia to be able to start a business and integrate faster into the community and we saw the great benefit that has been in Australia through our multicultural society.
“The fact that we are going to be taking more refugees [meant] we wanted to use our business skills to back something to help refugees integrate faster.”
Curtis has more than 20 years experience in the financial services industry. He is currently chair of Allianz Australia and he is former deputy chairman of Westpac Banking and chairman of St George Bank. Anna Curtis has been on the board of IAG and Country Road as a professional director.
Curtis said Thrive had been set up as a not-for-profit organisation with tax deductible status and expects to announce the appointment of a CEO in the new year. He said the first year of operation did not have a projection for the number of loans it might provide.
“In lending the most important thing is to write good loans and so we will basically slowly build it up into a significant number. We will start in New South Wales and then Victoria and then once we have operations going well in both those states we hope to take it nationally,” Curtis said.
“As a start up the biggest challenges will be in getting to know all the organisations that currently look after refugees and seeing from those organisations how we can get a source of applicants and develop a process to help those applicants get ready for a loan and then having the right business measuring support services for them.”
Westpac group chief executive of consumer bank George Frazis said: “As Australia’s oldest company and first bank, we are committed to supporting our country’s economic future, particularly at a grassroots level.
“Many refugees have the skills and ambition required to start successful and sustainable businesses, and a head start through Thrive will be a life-changing experience for them that will also have a positive flow-on effect to the entire community.
“Our financial support also includes assigning a capable COO to help establish Thrive as a stand-alone entity by developing all elements of the organisation’s operations, from credit policies to loan documents.”
Deputy chairman of Thrive and a Vietnamese refugee Huy Truong said refugees made a vital contribution to Australia’s economic growth and cultural diversity.
“Years of experience have shown that refugees who are economically independent, integrate into their new country more quickly,” Truong said.
“Australia has a burgeoning service-based economy which provides abundant opportunities for self-motivated individuals to start their own business.”
Thrive will launch in the first half of 2017.