University of Technology (UTS)

Business School

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The Challenge

The world is facing an unprecedented refugee crisis and many refugees face specific challenges as they settle in their host countries. These challenges limit their ability to engage in economic activity. This in turn constrains their general social integration.

Research Impact Summary

  • Refugees and migrants created more than 100 new businesses across a wide range of industries within three years of arriving in Sydney. Another 174 clients were, with appropriate resources and support, in the pipeline to establish businesses.
  • Participating refugee and migrant entrepreneurs contributed an estimated $1.5 million annually to the federal government in welfare savings and additional tax receipts.
  • The research, and its successful implementation, helped stimulate other policy initiatives related to refugee entrepreneurship. For example, it inspired the Canadian Government to establish a similar program for refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs in Vancouver, BC. The UTS Business School and Professor Collins have also entered into a new research partnership with SSI under a philanthropic gift from the Eden Foundation to continue the Ignite program in Sydney for a further three years.
  • The research led to changes in the approach of government-funded programs that assist enterprise formation. It underpinned the expansion of initiatives to support humanitarian migrants to establish businesses in Australia and sparked new initiatives to support people with a disability who want to be entrepreneurs.

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Needs for More Hands-On Approach

In 2014 Settlement Services International (SSI), a Sydney-based refugee and migrant service provider, established the ‘Ignite Small Business Start-ups’ program. The three-year pilot assisted newly arrived refugees to start a business. However, SSI discerned the need for a more hands-on approach because traditional methods to encouraged refugee economic engagement had proven to be relatively ineffectual. In particular they did not account for the often-traumatic circumstances faced by many refugees, such as family separation, forced displacement and torture.

Consequently, SSI contracted UTS to undertake a research project titled Facilitating New Refugee Enterprise Formation in Sydney. Designed to run between 2014 and 2017, its purpose was to assess the impact of the Ignite program and provide advice on the program’s development.

Assessing Ignite

UTS Professor Jock Collins conducted the research, which helped transform Ignite and conceptualise the initiative for the entrepreneurship literature and so promote the program to policy makers globally.

A cornerstone of the work was Collins’ development of a new ‘social-ecology’ model to support the refugees as they formed their enterprises. The social-ecology approach requires that facilitators understand the cultural landscape within which newly arrived refugees operate, and the ideas, experiences and activities that influence them. In short, the model embeds the journey to entrepreneurship into the fabric of the participant’s everyday life.

Support Through Each Stage

To help steer them on their entrepreneurial path, SSI facilitators accompanied them through each stage of the process. They helped arrange loans, engaged students as mentors, organised web and logo design, arranged accountancy and marketing advice, found supplies, and introduced clients to potential customers. They also acted as counsellors, friends and sounding boards.

Research analysis demonstrated conclusively that refugees – when provided with the kind of support they received under the Ignite program – can successfully establish a business despite the enormous barriers they face. As a result they do not rely on government welfare programs and some even take on additional employees from their own communities, thus forming an ever-expanding virtuous circle.

The analysis also reinforced the argument for better-resourced and targeted programs to assist refugees in all Australian states and territories.

The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS), a program designed to assist unemployed Australians establish a business, also incorporated aspects of the Ignite model in an attempt to increase the number of refugees in the program.

Success Stimulates More Initiatives

Ignite’s success helped stimulate other policy initiatives to improve the viability of businesses started by refugees. For example, the Canadian Government has introduced a program based on the Ignite model to assist refugees and immigrants to set up a business in Vancouver.  In addition, the UTS Business School and Professor Collins secured philanthropic funding from the Eden Foundation to partner with SSI for a new three-year Ignite Western Sydney program to assist refugees to establish a business.

Currently, SSI and Collins are exploring ways that the Ignite Small Business Start-ups model can, with Indigenous consultation and modification, assist Indigenous Australians to establish a business enterprise.

From a wider point of view the successful formation of new enterprises by refugee entrepreneurs strengthens the economy promotes social cohesion.

For further detail, read the Impact Study on the ARC website.

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