Mahir Momand has spent two-thirds of his life as a refugee and fled his home country of Afghanistan three times. The first time was when his family was forced to flee to Pakistan following the Soviet Union’s invasion. In 2001, they returned to Afghanistan.
The second time was in 2008 when he was a targeted by the Taliban.
“We were providing financial services to people to start small businesses. As a part of that, we established 365,000 small and medium enterprises. There were about a million people involved in that program,” says Momand.
“The Taliban didn’t like that progressive economy in Afghanistan and was attacking the program. It made me and my colleagues a target and that was the reason I was forced for the second time to flee to Canada.”
He was brave enough to return to Afghanistan for the third time and revive his venture. “When I returned I thought I’d do it in a way that was culturally and religiously compliant with the values of people in Afghanistan.”
After landing on the Taliban hitlist again, and losing 17 of his colleagues to the terrorist organisation, Momand set out for Dubai, where he was transferred to Australia as a refugee.
After finding financial backing from prominent Australian businesspeople, he once again set out to start up microfinancing business in Western Sydney’s Parramatta. Thrive Refugee Enterprise provides loans to refugees and asylum seekers to start up their own small business.
Momand says there are three elements to Thrive: “The first is the help refugees and asylum seekers understand the business environment in Australia.”
This includes talking their clients through registering for an ABN and helping them understand the tax system.
“When they understand that and they have viable businesses, then we lend to them. These are microfinance loans, which are designed in a way that’s friendly for refugees,” he says.
Part three is mentoring and support, “because we believe the actual practical questions come into existence once people are in the operational phase of their business.”
Thrive’s loan policy gives banks and other lenders a run for their money.
“They’re a much cheaper rate, there are no fees involved, there are no deposits involved, there’s no collateral involved. But the basis that we make decisions on is the viability of the businesses. We make sure that these businesses they start are viable businesses and they have any and every ingredient involved to make it successful,” Momand says.
“We give people access to fantastic credit history. A lot of people, when they are here, they want to get a small loan, say for a smartphone or TV. The first thing the person behind the counter does is check their credit history.”
Socially & Economically Active
By encouraging refugees and asylum seekers to become “economically active”, Momand believes it’s a huge boost to the Australian economy.
“Making people self-sustainable and economically active leads to financial independence, which helps people come off the welfare systems,” he says.
As a refugee himself, Momand understands the struggles recently settled migrants encounter when adapting to a new country. His business factors this in too.
“If someone starts a small business, they deal with a range of stakeholders, which means they’re developing those human connections, which are very much needed in anyone’s life, especially refugees who come from a background of being involved a lot in the community. So, through economic integration, it’s faster social integration that we’re also achieving.”