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5 Tips for Migrapreneurs Wanting to Make a Social Impact in Australia

by Usman Iftikhar

Moving to Australia from another country, and settling in can take a long time. Migrating and leaving your support systems behind can be a challenging journey, but one that gives you perspective and helps build a lot of personal resilience. It also allows you to spot problems worth solving and opportunities worth addressing

So it is not a surprise that many migrants and refugees who call Australia home, launch their own venture, sometimes because of necessity (where they are unemployed or underemployed) or because of opportunity (where they identify a problem worth solving).

From my experience over the past 8 years working with many of these migrant and refugee entrepreneurs (aka Migrapreneurs), a large majority want to solve a social or environmental problem through their startup and have a positive impact on the world.

This is a great goal. However, many migrapreneurs don’t know where to start!

So here are five of my top tips for migrapreneurs wanting to start a social impact organisation (could be a tech startup with an impact focus, a social enterprise or a not-for-profit) in Australia!

‘Apprenticing’ with the problem

As one of my mentors Jan Owen (who used to run FYA) used to say, social and environmental problems are complex so you should really spend the time apprenticing with the problem. Unlike a regular startup, social problems are hard to unpack and solve with a ‘move fast and break things’ approach. So the first key tip is to spend the time and energy to really understand the problem. Understand the problem from people with a lived experience of the problem, from people and systems who contribute to that problem (without judgement), and really spend the time in understanding and unpacking that system. This will help you to figure out are best places for you to actually intervene and make a positive difference.

Leverage your lived experience

As a migrapreneur, you come with a different lived experience than many others in Australia. That can give you a unique understanding of certain problems and markets, which can be extremely useful when thinking of approaching those problems and trying to solve them. It can also help you step into the role of becoming an authentic and credible voice when you work on solving a problem. For me, it was the problem of underemployment that I faced as a migrant in Australia, that led me to research about and co-found Catalysr, to empower and support others who are going through the same challenges.

Strengthen your core by building deep networks

One of our mentors, Shelli Trung, shared that all of the knowledge that we have in this world can either be learned from reading a book or talking to people. I do recommend you to read books (and loads of them) because they will help you learn immensely about different ideas and perspectives, but not to lose sight of the value of speaking with real humans. Especially as a migrapreneur, you may not have many social and professional networks in Australia, so a good way to build your network and base of supporters, partners and evangelists is to connect with other people and meet with them over a coffee. Many people attend networking events but don’t take the next step and follow up with people they meet, often losing an opportunity to build a deeper network. When you are passionate about solving a social or environmental problem, you often can attract other people who want to help and support you. So use that as a way to meet people, and when you do meet them, prioritise building longer-term relationships over immediate gain, so that you can understand the other person, what their goals and aspirations are, and also share about yourself. It will help you have allies and supporters in the long-term journey for social impact.

Manage your energy and not your time

As a social entrepreneur, some areas of your work will give you energy while other areas will suck out your energy. It is good to notice that over a period of time, figure out how you can manage your energy so that a majority of your work gives you energy, rather than taking away your energy. It is different from traditional ideas of time management and important to consider because you can build a team around you who can complement you. This will enable you to work on important and hard problems without burning out, over the long-term

Play the long game but focus on well-being

As a social impact entrepreneur, you will be tempted to work 24/7 on your idea because of the social need you are trying to address or the positive impact you are trying to create. However, I personally learnt the hard way that over-work can lead to burnout and physical and mental health issues, which will not only affect your ability to continue working on the problem and areas you care about but also can have a negative impact on the team and others around you. Therefore, it is really important to have balance in your life and make time for your well-being. There’s the usual stuff like eating healthy, sleeping well and physical activity/exercise, but a really important part is budgeting time for fun, whether that is time for social activities with friends/family or personal time to do something fun that you love. For me, it is playing cricket with my mates on Sundays. Taking care of your well-being will actually help you be more productive and focused when you are working and can help you and your team have a better chance at solving the social or environmental problem that you are setting out to address.

If you like these tips and want to learn more, join me for 8 weeks of the Migrapreneur Social Impact Fellowship at Catalysr, where you will get a chance to meet and learn from other migrapreneurs passionate about solving social and environmental problems, join a life-long community of passionate migraprenuers, build skills and receive coaching on how to create a positive impact on the world! Learn more and APPLY NOW!


Usman Iftikhar is the co-founder and CEO of Catalysr, an award-winning startup incubator that empowers migrant and refugee entrepreneurs (aka migrapreneurs) to launch their own startups. Since 2016, Catalysr has supported over 950 migrapreneurs. He’s also a 2020 Stanford GSB alumnus, a 2019 Obama Leader, an EHF Fellow, WEF Global Shaper, 2019 Westpac Social Change Fellow, 2018 AMP Tomorrow Maker, Singularity University’s GSP 2017 Fellow, and a Young Social Pioneer alumnus at FYA. In 2018, Usman was named the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year. In 2019, he was named as one of the top 50 on Kochie’s Business Builders Power list with Google, on Smart Company’s 30 under 30 list, and also won the Western Sydney Leadership Award for Entrepreneurial Achievement. In 2020, Usman was declared a winner in the ‘Entrepreneurship’ category, for the 40 under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australian Leadership Awards.
Jay Boolkin
Jay Boolkin

jay@socialchangecentral.com

I'm passionate about positive social change and the power of social entrepreneurship to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems. I believe that for-purpose business models can become part of the mainstream and I am enthusiastic about advocating for business models that are genuinely built around a social or environmental mission.

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