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Australian named Commonwealth Young Person of The Year

Usman Iftikhar, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Catalysr, a social enterprise that helps migrants and refugees start their own businesses, has been named Commonwealth Young Person of the Year.

Highest honour

Eighteen months after launching his start-up incubator, Usman 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 earlier this week. 

Migrant entrepreneurs

In its first 18 months, the Western Sydney-based social enterprise has worked with 66 first generation migrant entrepreneurs and helped create 14 new businesses.

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

Tough start

Born in Pakistan, Usman arrived in Australia in 2013, and despite having an Engineering Degree from the top Pakistan University and a Masters at the University of Wollongong he couldn’t find meaningful employment for more than two years.

“Coming to Australia wasn’t an easy journey for me… it wasn’t until I decided to create my own job, by starting my own business, that things began to change,” he said.

Sparking a revolution

Usman's goal is to create 10,000 jobs in the next 10 years to spark a "migrapreneurial" revolution.

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

“At Catalysr, I see a lot of the hurdles that migrants need to overcome to be successful. These include low self-confidence, a lack of networks and cultural barriers.

At the same time, migrants are very enterprising. They are quite resourceful, demonstrate grit, and build internal resilience to move to a new country and make a life, which makes them great candidates for entrepreneurship.”

CGU is proud support small business’s like Usman’s.

CGU helped fund Catalysr in its first year and were lucky to have Usman’s expertise on the CGU Migrant Small Business Report which found 51% of migrant business owners have a degree or higher, compared to 38% of non-migrant business owners. Usman’s incredible vision is a testament to his work enabling other educated migrants struggling to find meaningful employment.

CGU understands small business and small business owners.

See Usman pick up his award here at SBS News.