Entrepreneurship is on the rise within African-Australian communities. Traditionally, African migrants business ventures have been limited to small restaurants, grocery shops, beauty salons and import and export businesses. However, over recent years there appears to be a marked increase in number and type of businesses that Africans are involved in. In Melbourne and many other capital cities of Australia the story is the same, Africans are opening new businesses in different industry including childcare, healthcare , travel agencies, as well as many business consultancies that are engaged in facilitating trade between Australia and Africa, encouraged by the rise of Africa as an increasingly attractive investment destination for many Australian and international investors.
Kamal Sheikdin: a success story in the travel and tourism industry
Eritrean-born Kamal Sheikdin is one successful story for African entrepreneurship in Australia. Trained as a chemist, Kamal quit his job over 10 years ago and decided to venture into the travel and tourism industry. He saw the rise of African immigrants in Australia and the potential growth in the demand of travel services for individuals and families in these communities. He did a short course to get a better understanding of the industry and once qualified he went all around Sydney Street in Brunswick and Coburg, Melbourne, literally begging every travel agent he could find to employ him, even without salary and give him an opportunity to learn the business from a practical perspective. His persistence paid off and he was given an opportunity to work, first without salary and later in a paid employment position and he ended up buying the business he was employed in.
Today, Kamal has developed his business into a multi award winning travel agency that is on a trajectory for even greater success. He has combined hard labour and smart moves to make Tut Travel Ltd a healthy business with four offices across Australia and still growing fast. “Tut Travel is on the path to become one of the biggest and most successful African-run travel agencies in Australia” he says.
Kamal Sheikhdin at his Footscray office
Entrepreneurship: the cure for many of ills in our communities
Kamal says that one thing that he is very proud of is the fact that he has been able to give opportunities to young African graduates to get work experience or paid employment through his business. “There is a very high rate of youth unemployment in our African communities. We don’t always have to beg governments to do things for us; through entrepreneurship we can create opportunities for our young ones and help them develop both professional and business skills. They are the future for us”.
Migrant youth tend to have a much higher rate of unemployment than other population groups in Australia. Whilst the unemployment rate is currently just below 6%, the general youth unemployment rate is estimated to be close to 13%. Official statistics often do not show the true extent of unemployment within migrant youth communities. AMES unemployment services estimate the rate to be around 20%, but many African community leaders will tell you that it probably over 30%.
There is no doubt that government attention is needed to address this critical issue for migrant youth in general and African youth in particular, but there is a limit to what any government can do, especially in challenging economic and budgetary environments.
Kamal says “Business entrepreneurship within our communities can help a lot and create employment for our young people if we are able to work strategically, unite forces and support each other for growth”
“Additionally, we Africans can also lobby other businesses that we work with to employ our people. Tut Travel is taking steps to lobby major airlines companies and because we bring quite a lot of money to them, they are paying attention and starting to take action in this regard. I am sure that other businesses in different industries can also do something similar.”
Networking and partnership in business for better bottom lines
Whilst the rise of entrepreneurship in African communities needs to be applauded, there is still a lot of room for improvement. One the thing that is quite essential for long term success in any business is the ability of the entrepreneur to network and partner with other businesses and develop new opportunities for growth. Kamal says that “Africans need to show more maturity and learn to collaborate and unite forces, where necessary, to achieve better outcomes for all involved”.
Many Africans often acknowledge the need for collaboration and partnership, whether it is in community advocacy, business and charity endeavours or other areas, but only those with sufficient vision, maturity and dexterity will be able to handle the challenges that inevitably arise in working together with other people to achieve common business goals, without necessarily being friends with them.
Tut Travel staff, Footscray office, Melbourne