Usman Iftikhar helps refugee and migrant entrepreneurs establish businesses in Australia. He does this as co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Catalysr. He was also recently awarded 2018 Commonwealth Young Person of the Year.
Usman was also a participant in our 2016 Young Social Pioneers program. It’s our annual incubator program supporting young people who are leading responses to the most pressing social and environmental challenges of our time. To coincide with this year’s program kicking off, we decided to check in with some of our alumni to find out what they’ve been up to since Young Social Pioneers.
Usman told us a bit about what he’s been doing since the program and how the Young Social Pioneers community has influenced his movements since.
Catalysr is an incubator for early stage startups. We run intensive program for high-performing migrant and refugee entrepreneurs, AKA Migrapreneurs, who want to find success in Australia. Essentially we create opportunities for migrant and refugee entrepreneurs who are exceptional, willing to challenge the status quo and build Australia 2.0.
Our incubator is open to people who are a first generation migrant or refugee with permanent residence or citizenship in Australia. We support people with an idea for an Australian-based startup or who are already running an early stage startup that’s less than 2 years old. We’re on a mission to create 10,000 jobs in Australia in the next 10 years.
When I undertook Young Social Pioneers, 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. Young Social Pioneers was a great launchpad for developing a significant presence in the social enterprise ecosystem in Australia. It built our credibility and connected us to a network that enabled us to be where we are.
Since finishing the program, Catalysr has evolved a lot. 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 more programs and support 66 migrant and refugee entrepreneurs with 15 new businesses.
We have also been nominated for a lot of awards. We won the FYA Unleashed 2017 Vanguard Award, as well as a Gold Medal from the Governor General of Australia Sir Peter Cosgrove. Most recently I was awarded the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year award for 2018 for my work on Catalysr.
Another thing that’s changed since I did Young Social Pioneers is that we’ve incorporated a lot of storytelling into the way we talk about our work. It’s added an aspirational element to Catalysr. 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 a lot of projects since I participated in Young Social Pioneers. I’ve worked with YLab, FYA’s youth-led consulting arm, as an Associate. Through YLab I’ve been involved with projects relating to the future of democracy and entrepeneurship education for young people. I also attended the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance (G20 YEA). I got involved with the G20 YEA through my Young Social Pioneers mentor. I had the privilege of representing Australia as part of the official delegation at the 2017 summit in Berlin. At the moment I am the Australian lead for developing and advocating for a youth entrepreneurship visa across the G20 nations. Another top highlight for me since I did Young Social Pioneers was attending the Global Solution Program (GSP) 2017 at Singularity University. 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 Young Social Pioneers participants and the people from FYA in times of need. I’ve 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 in developing 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.
This article was originally published as Where are they now? Part I: Usman Iftikhar.