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“One young man is helping refugees make a living”
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“One young man is helping refugees make a living”

Helping refugees become entrepreneurs is a passion for a former immigrant and Young Person of the Year who spoke with Sesame O. Mogotsi, 25, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Gaborone in Botswana.

There is something I admire about milliennials; they are relentless in their pursuit to create innovative and sustainable solutions to problems bedeviling them and their communities.

The Commonwealth Young Person of the Year, Usman Iftikhar is one such young person. He told me about his passion for refugee resettlement over coffee at the recently held Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF), organised as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2018 in London. As someone who is equally passionate about migrant resettlement and post conflict reconstruction, I recently reached out to him know more about his response to the refugee crisis. An article was obviously beckoning!

Who is Usman Iftikhar?

“I am a mechanical engineer by training, who likes to look at myself as a systems thinker and a continuous learner. I am originally from Pakistan and have been living in Australia for half a decade. I am very passionate about developing out-of-the-sphere solutions to two wicked problems – global warming and the global refugee crisis – and currently doing that work through my social enterprise Catalysr, which is a startup incubator in Australia helping migrants and refugee entrepreneurs, who we call Migrapreneurs, to start their own startups and create a better future.

Congratulations on the Commonwealth Youth Award! What does this award mean to you?

“The Commonwealth Youth Award is a great validation of the work our team at Catalysr has been doing so far and has provided us a fantastic opportunity to leverage this exposure to build stronger partnerships and scale our impact.

 Tell me more about Catalysr? How did it start and what does it seek to achieve?

“Catalysr is a startup incubator enabling migrants and refugees to create their own startups in Australia. So far, we’ve worked with 66 migrapreneurs and helped launch 15 new businesses. After migrating to Australia, I found it really difficult to get into any meaningful employment, even though I had the credentials and work experience. This frustration led me to explore the problem of large scale unemployment and underemployment amongst migrants and refugees.

According to our research, over 60 per cent of the migrants and refugees in Australia were either unemployed or underemployed after five years of moving to Australia. We are helping to solve this problem by funneling all this underutilised talent to entrepreneurship, where migrants and refugees can not only start their own business but also create jobs for other people in the community.

I know the major concern when it comes to social enterprises is sustainability. Where do you hope to see Catalysr in the next 10 years?

“Our mission is to help create 10,000 new jobs in Australia. Although sustainability is an issue, we are working on diversifying our revenue streams through launching new products to ensure that Catalysr becomes more resilient and able to withstand the test of time.

What’s next for Usman?

“I am going to continue my work at Catalysr, and especially focus on scaling our impact in the next few years. I will also continue to work on helping amplify the voices of other young innovators and social change-makers across the globe through the Foundation for Young Australians, G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

In the next five years, I have a plan to launch a new SpaceTech startup to provide climate data monitoring service and offer real-time analytics on the problem of climate change, identify root causes and further our collective mitigation efforts.”

Usman’s story is that of a young man who seeks to help new populations maximise their potential in Australia by equipping them with requisite business skills and linking them to critical resources. He is one of thousands of young people across the Commonwealth and beyond, who are driving the narrative of young people as stakeholders in the peace and security agenda, and ultimately in the pursuit of sustainable development.

Photo credits: Usman Iftikhar. Inset: Usman receiving the Commonwealth Youth Award from HRH Prince Harry at the Commonwealth Youth Forum in London, UK

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About me: I am the Botswana Country Coordinator for the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN), Member of the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN) and United Nations Women’s Major Group (UN WMG). Additionally, I am an Ashoka Changemakers Scholar 2016, policy enthusiast and social justice activist. My interests are centred around Post-Conflict Development, Education in Emergencies and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR).

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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