Australian who empowers migrants in business takes out Commonwealth Youth Award


An Australian who helps refugees and migrants create their own small businesses has been named Commonwealth Young Person of the Year.

Usman Iftikhar had an engineering degree from his native Pakistan and a masters degree in Australia, but still struggled to find work in his adopted home. 

The challenge he faced gave him the idea for Catalysr, a business incubator he co-founded, which aims to help migrants and refugees develop their own business plans  and make money using the skills they already have. 

Eighteen months after launching the programme, he has been awarded the Commonwealth’s highest honour for young achievers. He was presented with the prize by Prince Harry at London’s QE2 Centre. 

“A lot of people find meaning in their life through their work. Not having access to meaningful work really weighs on you,” he told SBS News. 

“I did not expect that (being awarded). I was literally standing there thinking ‘this is a parallel universe, I’m not here!’” 

Dozens of budding entrepreneurs - or 'migranpreneurs' as Mr Iftikhar calls them - have gone through the program.

“We’ve been running for only 18 months, but so far we’ve helped 66 people,” he said.

“They range all the way from an Egyptian food truck, to someone who is trying to print 3D diamonds.

The four candidates and Prince Harry at the ceremony
The four candidates and Prince Harry at the ceremony
SBS News

“We don’t tell people what to do. We find a problem they’re trying to fix through their business, then help them with mentoring and capital to help it become a reality.”

The 27-year-old said many people who were newly settled in Australia hadn't considered starting their own business.

“A lot of migrants and refugees who come to Australia can’t get into employment for various reasons, cultural barriers, language barriers, helping them say there’s an alternative solution to employment which is entrepreneurship,” he said.

Mr Iftikhar is a delegate at the Commonwealth Youth Forum, part of the CHOGM summit. 

Meet the Commonwealth Games Youth Forum Young Person of the Year.
Meet the Commonwealth Games Youth Forum Young Person of the Year.

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