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Refugee Entrepreneurship Brings Economic Benefits to Australia

23 March 2017 at 12:01 am
Ellie Cooper
With the right support, refugee entrepreneurs provide significant economic benefits to Australia, a new report has found.

Ellie Cooper | 23 March 2017 at 12:01 am


Refugee Entrepreneurship Brings Economic Benefits to Australia
23 March 2017 at 12:01 am

With the right support, refugee entrepreneurs provide significant economic benefits to Australia, a new report has found.

From Refugee to Entrepreneur in Three Years, to be launched Thursday, investigates the existing and potential contribution of refugee entrepreneurs to Australia’s economy and society.

The author, Professor Jock Collins from UTS Business School, studied the Ignite Small Business and Start-Ups Program, an initiative of humanitarian organisation Settlement Services International (SSI).

Launched in 2013, Ignite assists newly arrived humanitarian migrants and refugees set up businesses.

At the end of its three-year pilot, the program has helped participants establish 66 new businesses, with the majority in retail, followed by culture and recreation, and construction.

“The stand-out finding is the diversity of business types set up by the refugee graduates of the Ignite program,” Collins said.

“There is no typical refugee business enterprise. Businesses established by successful Ignite clients cover many different industry classifications.”

He found 68 per cent of graduates from the program have moved off Centrelink, with some also paying company tax and generating jobs.

In-depth interviews with 35 refugee entrepreneurs also revealed $880,000 savings in Centrelink benefits each year, and a projected $4.4 million savings over five years, among that group alone.

Of the 240 people accepted into Ignite, 25 per cent were running their own enterprise, and 20 staff had been employed by the program’s entrepreneurs.

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

“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.”

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the first 12 months for a refugee in Australia came with additional complex challenges.

“One of the key things for them is to get themselves settled, they need to find somewhere to live, they try to get the kids enrolled and settled into school, they enrol in English classes,” Roumeliotis told Pro Bono News.

“And of course just the trauma of the experiences that they’d had in the countries that they’re fleeing and also adjusting to a very different environment here in Australia.

“There’s multiple things happening for them… so,that’s why it’s quite extraordinary… to have over 60 businesses set up by people who’ve only been in the country for a very short period of time.

“It just shows [their] passion and how enterprising they are.”

She said the report’s findings would challenge misconceptions about refugees.

“It’s a very negative narrative that you hear in Australian media and the broader global media around refugees where they conflate a whole range of negative stereotypes around terrorism, around laziness, around very negative themes,” she said.

“And this is a fine example of the fact that refugees, when they arrive, even though they’ve come on protection visas, not on skilled migrant visas, are enterprising. They have strengths and they’ve got experience and they can offer lots to Australia economically, socially and culturally.

“They’re running their own businesses and some of them are paying company tax and they’re employing other Australians, so I think it’s a great example that actually negates those negative stereotypes of refugees.”

Now that the pilot is complete, Roumeliotis said it would be expanded to support a wider range of entrepreneurial refugees.

“There are many entrepreneurs in the pipeline… and there’s people who have gone on and started up their businesses and scaling those business up,” she said.

“There’s a lot of work at a number of different levels that requires ongoing support, and we see there’s a demand.

“We focused on refugees in their first 12 months of arrival, but we also have people who’ve been here for two years or five years who are saying that they are very keen to also start up their own businesses and be supported by Ignite. So we’re looking at supporting them and finding ways to resource the Ignite program.”

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

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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