Refugees taking on the business world
Growing up in Tehran, Mohammed Reza loved nothing more than to help his father in the family’s confectionary shop. From the age of 14, he was trained in the art of making Persian-flavoured sweets and ice-cream.
So when the Reza family arrived in Australia as refugees three years ago, Mohammed saw an opportunity for the taking, catering to Sydney’s diverse food scene.
“I saw a gap in the market for Persian ice cream and confectionary as there is a large Persian population and from experience, other cultures also enjoy Persian sweets very much,” he says.
His Merrylands store opened in August 2015 serving up traditional Persian favourites such as falloodeh, a cold dessert of vermicelli noodles made from cornstarch mixed in a semi-frozen syrup made from sugar and rose water, and Turkish mastic ice-cream.
Reza has had to learn to adapt to his new market. Sydney’s population is much smaller than Tehran’s, so he had to adjust to the new business landscape as well as his customers’ tastebuds.
“I know that any business that is started needs at least one to two years to grow and build their market share,” he says. “My business is still in the establishment and growth phase so my expectations are not very high yet, but I am making the roots of my business as strong as possible so that I am able to achieve the best that I can.
I saw a gap in the market for Persian ice cream and confectionary as there is a large Persian population and from experience, other cultures also enjoy Persian sweets very much.
“My motto in business has always been that being good is not enough, continuous improvement and striving to be the best is what will lead you to success.”
Some community initiatives are offering new arrivals extra support for setting themselves up with a business. For example, Settlement Services International’s Ignite Small Business Start-Up’s program supports refugees with business dreams.
Ignite helps refugee entrepreneurs with product development, marketing strategy and financial management. This vital support helps them overcome the many difficulties of setting up a business in a new country, says SSI chief executive Violet Roumeliotis.
“Often, English is not their first language, and this is one of the most substantial barriers,” she says.
“Their qualifications from their home countries may not be recognised, and they also have no local workplace knowledge or experience, networks or contacts to call on for references and this makes finding employment quite difficult.
“They are often unfamiliar with local recruitment processes such as writing resumes, answering selection criteria, and interviews.”
Many refugees have owned businesses in their home country and are keen to start over again in Australia. “Owning their own business can allow for smoother integration into the Australian community,” Roumeliotis says.
“They also become contributors to the Australian economy which is important, obviously for Australia, but for their personal sense of achievement and independence.”
Syria’s Nirary Dacho has a Masters in Web Science, was a university lecturer and working in IT for the Syrian Telecom Company before fleeing the war. However when he came to Australia last year he found his qualifications and experience were not as valued.
Seeing new arrivals in under-qualified jobs and struggling to have their skills recognised inspired him to start an intern program for refugees.
“When I arrived to Australia, I didn’t have any plan to start my own business,” he says.
“All I wanted was a permanent job with enough income to build my life again in Australia, but the barriers I faced to achieve this goal made me think to start this business to help myself and other refugees, by creating a platform to match refugees with business offering job opportunities.”
All I wanted was a permanent job with enough income to build my life again in Australia
Dacho says refugeeintern.com, which he has co-founded with Save the Children’s Anna Robson, is more of a social service than a business.
“Our plan is to help as many refugees and asylum seekers to get a job and start their professions in Australia,” he says.
“We started in Sydney and last month expanded in Melbourne and our future plan is to [become] national across Australia.”