People & Human Resources

Fast Lane: From refugee to entrepreneur

Cara Waters /

“To imagine a better life for you and your family and to make the leap of faith required to leave behind all that is familiar calls for a special kind of courage” – Frank Lowy.

All entrepreneurs require courage but Westfield founder and Rich Lister Frank Lowy highlighted a special kind of courage in a speech to the Australian Multicultural Council two years ago.

Lowy explained how he escaped war-torn Slovakia (formerly Czechoslovakia) in 1944 as a 15-year-old in a boat for 70 which carried 700. 

This self-described “boat person” built a retail empire and employs thousands.

He’s just one of many refugees who through determination, hard work and sheer ingenuity have become successful entrepreneurs in Australia.

The majority of these refugees-turned-entrepreneurs set up their business in the SME space.

They have to battle barriers of lack of financial capital, little human capital, as often their education and qualifications are not relevant to an Australian context, and an absence of social capital, as they have limited networks and connections in the Australian business world.

SmartCompany wants to share these inspirational stories and we’re thrilled to have been long listed for a Walkley Grant for Innovation in Journalism for our project “From refugee to entrepreneur”.

From refugee to entrepreneur is a planned interactive data-driven multimedia site telling the story of the refugees behind Australia’s small businesses through maps, photographs, timelines, videos and text.

“At the moment the debate around refugees in Australia tends to be dominated by legal and moral arguments,” the SmartCompany Walkley application states. 

“This project will set out to uncover the human and economic impact of refugees on the Australian business landscape, while also enhancing the data about refugees that is available to media outlets and reporters. The project also gives a voice to the people behind the two million small business in Australia who are rarely mentioned in the mainstream business press.”

It’s an ambitious project and we need your help.

Were you a refugee or were your parents or grandparents refugees?

We’d love to uncover your story.

Get in touch via [email protected] or [email protected].

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Cara Waters

Cara Waters is a former SmartCompany editor. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter for the Financial Times' website and worked for The Sunday Times in London.

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