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Social work academic to help former refugees grow businesses

Thursday 22 April 2021 3:43pm


Social and Community Work lecturer Dr Marissa Kaloga says involvement in the Iti Rearea Collective ties in with her interest in research that benefits communities and helping migrants’ businesses reach their full potential.

Formed in March 2021, the Collective provides business workshops, coaching, microfinance and mentoring to enable aspiring migrant entrepreneurs to achieve financial independence and social inclusion through successful businesses.

Marissa is involved with the Collective because it gels with her applied social work research.

“When people think of social work, they often think of people that work in the areas of child welfare or family violence. There’s actually another half of social work, macro social work, that works to address social issues at their source to make positive changes that support social and economic justice.

“As a macro social work academic, I’m primarily interested in applied research that benefits community development practitioners.”

The Collective includes Nga Tangata Microfinance, Women’s Entrepreneurship Centre, Catalysr, ARCC (Aotearoa Resettled Community Coalition), and the University of Otago.

Marissa says systemic barriers aren’t unique for people who come to Aotearoa New Zealand as refugees, but that “they just tend to be very pronounced in this population.”

“Often forced migrants, as we often refer to them, have skills, experience, or professional licenses in their country of origin, but are not able to work in these fields once they arrive in Aotearoa New Zealand. Business is done differently in different countries, so being comfortable with the business environment in a new place is crucial for success. Understanding both the formal aspects, such as the legal registration of a business, and informal, such as how to make new connections, can be daunting.”

A third factor that limits start-up capital for migrant entrepreneurs is the lack of a large-scale microfinance program for new small businesses. Compounding the problem is that forced migrants often don’t meet the criteria of formal financial institutions due to a lack of documented credit history, collateral or stable income, she says.

“What’s even more interesting to me than barriers, though, is the depth of knowledge, resourcefulness, creativity and grit that I’ve seen working with entrepreneurs from marginalised populations. Supporting their business starts isn’t a charity act – it’s an investment into someone who can make a positive contribution to our shared community.

“I research inclusive entrepreneurship and how entrepreneurial ecosystems can use collective impact and systems change models to work together and create environments that embrace and benefit from diversity in all its forms. The entrepreneurial spirit thrives in all communities, but not everyone has access to the same resources, so their ideas might be great but don’t get the chance to flourish.”

Iti Rearea will launch with its first cohort of participants on 17 April in Auckland. The pilot programme will run for three years. During that time, Marissa will serve on the strategic leadership team, measuring outcomes and designing research to understand the efficacy of the programme and its impacts on family, community, and economy.
Marissa says her work looks beyond specific interventions and instead discusses creating more equitable and inclusive systems that can both “react to and guide what tomorrow will look like.”

“This is why we agreed to use the constellation model, developed by and for the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and the Environment, to organise our work as a collective. We are working to strengthen the system we’re each a part of so that it can be more responsive and creative in helping to build a more positive future that supports wellbeing in forced migrant communities. This programme is a result of that system strengthening – a system that includes academic institutions – and I’m so excited to be part of Iti Rearea on this journey.”

About Dr Kaloga: After completing a Master of Social Work and PhD at The Ohio State University, Marissa worked as Director of Innovation for the Economic and Community Development Institute. This US-based microfinance institution developed comprehensive wraparound business development programs like training, coworking, and incubators.

Marissa was involved with a US Office of Refugee Resettlement-funded refugee microenterprise development programme that succeeded in supporting dozens of financially sustainable small businesses owned by people from refugee backgrounds that provided permanent jobs for hundreds of people.

Read her programme details here.

Watch the TV1 story about the Collective here: