Where are they now? Part I: Usman Iftikhar

Where are they now? Part I: Usman Iftikhar

Usman Iftikhar was a participant and finalist from FYA’s 2016 Young Social Pioneers (YSP) cohort. He is the co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of social enterprise, Catalysr, which works to support refugee and migrant entrepreneurs in turning their business ideas into realities, and is the recent recipient of the 2018 Commonwealth Young Person of the Year Award.

A couple of months ago, while on his way to San Francisco to attend the SpaceTech Summit, Usman brought us up to speed on what’s been on his plate since YSP…

When I undertook YSP, Catalysr was in the early stages. We had just conducted the first pilot, but still needed more funding and traction to fully demonstrate the efficacy of the business idea. YSP was a great launching pad in developing a significant presence in the social enterprise ecosystem in Australia. It built our credibility and connected us to a network which enabled us to be where we are.

Since finishing the program, Catalysr has evolved significantly. We now have a lot more backing, with over $300,000 contributed by philanthropists, corporate sponsors, not-for-profit donors and crowdfunding campaigns. We’ve had a chance to run two more programs and support over 40 migrant and refugee entrepreneurs with 10 new businesses. We have also been nominated for various awards and won the FYA Unleashed 2017 Vanguard Award, as well as a Gold Medal from the Governor General of Australia Sir Peter Cosgrove.

We have also added an aspirational element to our work through story-telling. We have coined a new term, ‘Migrapreneur’ which refers to migrant and refugee entrepreneurs who are exceptional, willing to challenge the status quo, and build Australia 2.0.

Part of this has been the launch of a new podcast called Migrapreneur Stories, where we chat with world class Migrapreneurs, who share their journeys, insights and inspire the next generation..

For me personally, I’ve been involved in various projects. My top three have been: YLab, the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance (G20 YEA) and Global Solution Program (GSP) 2017 at Singularity University.

I’ve been involved with projects related to future of democracy and entrepreneurship education for young people at YLab and find the model and the cohort fantastic to work with. I got involved with G20 YEA through my YSP mentor Nathan Murphy, and had the privilege to represent Australia as a part of the official delegation at the G20 YEA 2017 Summit in Berlin. Currently, I am the Australian lead for developing and advocating a G20 wide youth entrepreneurship visa.

For GSP 2017, I was also selected as one of the top 90 people from 47 countries to join the program at NASA to learn about and develop large scale solutions to Climate Change.

I learn something every day due to the nature of this work. My biggest learning, however, has come from truly understanding the power of community and collaboration. I have leaned on other YSP participants and FYA people in time of need and have also tried to support them when they have needed it. This habit of pay-it-forward has really been essential in not just our success but also to develop a much stronger ecosystem of social entrepreneurship for ourselves and Australia more generally. We also stay in touch mostly through Facebook and often catch-up for dinners, social events, as well as to cheer each other on for our work and wins.

For those looking to start a social enterprise, my advice is to just get started. Have a bias towards action and you’ll find a way. You don’t need all the details to execute it, and the best teacher is going to be your personal experience. You need to be grounded in reality, but be optimistic and ready to fail.

To find out more about FYA’s Young Social Pioneers program see here.

Each year, FYA works alongside young Australians from across each state and territory, backing their ideas for social change through initiatives like incubator program, Young Social Pioneers (YSP). With an alumni of over 200, YSP is Australia’s first, and only, national youth entrepreneurship incubator designed exclusively for young people leading initiatives that respond to society’s most pressing challenges.

With our ‘where are they now?’ series, we catch up with a few of our alumni to see what waves they’ve been creating and ground they’ve been shaking.