Business Advice

“Bring heart to business”: Telstra Business Woman of the Year Violet Roumeliotis on social entrepreneurship

Emma Koehn /

Violet Roumeliotis accepts the 2017 Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award. Source: Supplied.

Violet Roumeliotis accepts the 2017 Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award. Source: Supplied.

Chief executive of Settlement Services International Violet Roumeliotis says when it comes to business growth in Australia, she has one message for entrepreneurs: when growing a successful business, “you can still have heart and values”.

“You can bring heart to a business and still get great results. Everyone is a winner in that context,” she tells SmartCompany.

Roumeliotis is still buzzing after taking out both the social enterprise award and Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award in Melbourne on Tuesday evening. Having worked in the not-for-profit space for 30 years, she was recognised for her work as chief executive of Settlement Services International, an organisation dedicated to promoting the economic value of migrants and fostering entrepreneurship among refugee and migrant communities.

Speaking to the value these communities can bring to the small business and startup space in Australia, she said her number one message for entrepreneurs is to think about all the ways they can lend their experience to others for the growth of the business ecosystem.

“Think outside the box, because business owners have so much to give back in so many ways,” she says.

It can be in terms of expertise – they can be mentors to fledgling business, or young entrepreneurs who are first or second generation immigrants.” 

On stage on Tuesday night, Roumeliotis reflected on the importance of the local business community embracing and fostering the potential of those who have recently arrived in Australia.

Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, she said business owners could often feel overwhelmed upon seeing news stories about challenges for refugees and migrants, but there are plenty of small steps entrepreneurs can take to engage with these communities.

If you break it down into biteable and realistic offerings, a suite of different things that people can do they step up and think ‘I can do that’,” she says. 

“It could be to be a mentor, to provide advice on different things, or introduce [others] to a range of mentorships.” 

Reflecting on her own entrepreneurial journey, Roumeliotis says optimism and a “sense of resilience” have prepared her well for challenges in business.

When faced with a problem, she recommends other entrepreneurs step back and think about whether there are other ways of viewing the situation.

“I look at a challenging situation and try to disrupt myself, asking ‘is this the only way I can look at this?'” she says.

Her Telstra win also sends a message to entrepreneurs, saying they can “value your difference, collaborate and partner” in order to grow a company.

For Roumeliotis, the win is a reflection that it’s possible to succeed as an entrepreneur while holding your values close.

“The message [of the win] is that a woman who grew up in Western Sydney, went to a public school, graduated in the humanities, can successfully run a business.” 

Here are the category winners for the Telstra Women’s Business Awards 2017:

Business Woman of the Year and For Purpose and Social Enterprise Award: Violet Roumeliotis, CEO, Settlement Services International Limited, (NSW)

Entrepreneur Award: Hana-Lia Krawchuck, founder, Love to Dream, (NSW)

Public Sector and Academia Award: Professor Leah Bromfield, Co-Director: The Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia, (SA)

Corporate and Private Award: Jennifer Franceschi, Managing Director, Fresh Produce Alliance, (WA)

Young Business Women’s Award: Elise Apolloni, Managing Partner, Capital Chemist Wanniassa, (ACT)

Business Woman in Asia Award: Saskia Groen-in’t-Woud, COO, Damco (Singapore)

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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