New collective helping former refugees achieve their business dreams

Former refugees who have dreams of creating a financially independent future for themselves here in New Zealand are struggling to overcome barriers into employment and business with only a third in jobs three years after arriving here. 

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Iti Rearea Collective is launching business workshops to help refugees and migrants start their own businesses. Source: 1 NEWS

Meanwhile, more than half are working in temporary jobs in low-waged industries as issues of racism, struggles with English and limited understanding of local business markets impede progress. 

A new collective launching this weekend, the Iti Rearea Collective, is hoping to reverse the statistics and see even more from refugee and migrant backgrounds achieve their dream careers. 

The collective wants to help those like Ah Htam Ding Hkawng who dreams of owning her own restaurant giving Kiwis a chance to taste food from her country of birth - Myanmar.

"My dream is to start my own business, open my own takeaway shop or restaurant," she says. She's been in New Zealand since 2012, raising her three children, while her husband works as a carpenter. 

She has experience in business herself, but says there are challenges here. 

"Not having enough knowledge of the ways to start my own business, how I could rent a shop, how to make it official with the Government, how to file tax, how I could get the capital." 

It's a story shared by many refugees. A recent report released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment tracking refugees progress shows overtime more refugees do end up in work. 

By their third year here, between 30 to 40 per cent are in jobs, but most of these in temporary and low-paid jobs. Many struggling to get work through official avenues, relying on friends, or the Red Cross to get their foot in the door. 

Lisa Lopeti is the project lead for the Iti Rearea Collective. A three-year-pilot funded by charitable organisation Foundation North it will begin running business workshops as a way of helping more refugees and migrants into work, and offer them the skills to create their own financially viable business. 

"Business coaches will work with them individually to work through their goals and what some of their challenges are." 

Learning English can be a barrier, but she says it does not have to be and she says even those with good English sometimes face other systemic barriers. 

"There is also racial discrimination and unconscious biases that are still pretty prevalent in Aotearoa." 

She says former refugees have the resilience and the skill to do so if they get the right support.