Microfinance helping refugees fund their start-up dreams

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Posted

June 12, 2017 18:31:15

Three new Australians with three different business ideas, all needing a hand to get off the ground.

With no credit history in Australia, it would be near impossible for them to get a regular loan from a bank, but a microfinance agency has stepped in.

Microfinance has been around for decades and is regularly used in developing nations to promote economic independence and reduce poverty.

A new local, not-for-profit model called Thrive has kickstarted this new breed of small business owners.

Thrive is supported by a $2 million loan from Westpac and some prominent Australian corporate leaders, including Westpac’s former deputy chair John Curtis and investment banker and philanthropist Simon Mordant.

Dr Caroline Schuster from ANU’s school of Arts and Social Sciences said it works in the same way as a loan.

“Anytime you’re talking about microfinance, you’re really talking about a loan and in that sense it carries all the financial risks that lending entails,” she said.

“One thing that is really quite heartening about the program … is that extra support and mentoring is absolutely crucial to making these programs work and that is something that Thrive has incorporated.”

Ibrar Hussain, grocer

Ibrar Hussain arrived in Australia from Pakistan in 2012 after making a treacherous boat journey.

“More than 210 people were in the boat. And the boat was very small, like a fisher boat,” he said.

He said the boat capsized and he and other asylum seekers were left drifting in the ocean for hours. He survived but more than 100 others drowned.

“We few guys haven’t any jackets and we got like a can, a water can. And we hold the can for 15 or 16 hours,” he said.

Five years later, Mr Hussain is living in Australia and has bought a grocery business in the western Sydney suburb of Auburn, catering to the area’s diverse community.

“We sell different country products, especially African products, Islander and Pakistan, India, Persian and Afghanistan,” he said.

A loan from Thrive turned the high-risk venture into a viable business.

“I tried from the different banks but I don’t know, they were not ready to pass me a loan because this was the new shop,” he said.

“I don’t have that much money to put more and more stock. Thrive helped me in the loan and also they helped me to do a business plan.”

With help from Thrive Mr Hussain has also been able to employ a part-time worker.

A lot is riding on the success of his business.

Mr Hussain’s two brothers were murdered by the Taliban the year he left for Australia.

“Now I am the eldest [then] my brother and sister. All the responsibility is on my shoulders and I have to fulfil to give the children good education,” he said.

Three Sisters Hair and Beauty

The Rajabali sisters arrived in Australia from Iran in 2013 with the dream of starting their own beauty parlour.

“We are three sisters. I am going to do hair and my older sister, she does make-up and beauty and my younger sister, she is going to be in the beauty section as well,” Mojgan Rajabali explained.

They soon realised setting up their business would not be a simple as they first thought.

“It is very hard for people to understand what it takes to start a business here,” Mojgan said.

“Where they come from, they want to start a business they just open a shop.”

“But here, you have to show that it is properly legally registered, ABN and ACN and all that required.”

Thrive chief executive officer Mahir Momand said providing finance to start-ups like Three Sisters had a number of benefits.

“We are getting them to be economically active and involved in the Australian economy by starting their own businesses, so that helps them to become financially self-sustainable,” he said.

“And that also helps them to become part of the Australian society, in a much faster way.”

In January, the Rajabali sisters found a location for their salon and they hope a marketing campaign will give them the boost they need.

“You need to be positive that you are going to be successful. Hopefully we are,” Mojgan Rajabali said.

Hamid Ranjbarian, painter

Hamid Ranjbarian arrived in Australia from Iran in 2013 and lives here with his wife, two children and two sisters in law.

“I’ve been in business in my country for more than 15 years. I had a shop, I had my own business. I came to Australia, I saw a huge opportunity about the business and study as well,” he said.

“I start as labour in a panel-beating shop for a couple of months.”

He also worked as a security guard, but it is painting where he thinks he can make his mark.

“I met my friend, he is a painter and he said we can have a painting company,” he said.

“There is like lots of Iranians in this industry and they are successful. And we decide to have like a painting company.”

But Mr Ranjbarian had a cashflow problem.

“We came to Australia with no money and we need some money to start,” he said.

“With $20,000 you can register your company, you can register your ABN, your business name, you can get your insurance, your public liability and workers compensation and you can start.

“For a start, it is very, very good. That’s very, very low interest. So easy to repay back. That’s 30 months I have to pay back. No problem at all.”

Watch Ginny Stein’s story on Lateline at 9.30pm (AEST) on ABC News or 10.30pm on ABC TV.

Topics:

refugees,

work,

human-interest,

australia



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