Accounting for the business start-up experiences of Afghan refugees in Christchurch, New Zealand
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Commerce
New Zealand is rapidly becoming a strongly multicultural society with nearly one in four of its citizens born overseas (Statistics New Zealand, 2006). Immigrants enter New Zealand under many different classifications, such as skilled migrants, entrepreneurs, investors, and refugees. Finding employment and a means of survival in their new society is an undeniable challenge for most, if not all, of these immigrants and people from refugee backgrounds. Some of them find employment in established Kiwi organisations while others establish their own businesses and become entrepreneurs. A review of the literature revealed that there has been considerable research on entrepreneurial behaviours of immigrants and refugees in general, but little is known about the experiences of entrepreneurs from refugee backgrounds in New Zealand, specifically Afghan entrepreneurs and how their experiences differ from their counterparts who came to New Zealand from other countries. This qualitative research project studies Afghans (N=23) from Christchurch who established their own businesses and the sense they have made of their experiences, both as refugees and as business owners. It also briefly compares the major findings with those of their refugee counterparts from other countries (N=6) to see if there are any major differences between the two groups’ start-up experiences in New Zealand. Participants were selected from those in the Afghan community in Christchurch who are from a refugee background, using a snowballing technique. The comparison group consisted of six refugees from Zimbabwe, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. The findings of this study have been categorised into two parts. The first part discusses the initial experiences of the participants in New Zealand society, how they settled into New Zealand, what strategies they used to integrate into their new society, how they financed their lives in New Zealand, and eventually how they became economically independent. The second part of the findings discusses the motivators behind the participants’ business start-ups, the types of businesses that they established and how these businesses assisted them as a gateway to other business ventures or activities. This section further investigates the challenges the refugees faced during their business start-up stage and the strategies they adopted to address these challenges. The data indicated that, while the Afghan refugees faced many challenges in establishing their own businesses, three were of particular importance to them. These were (1) financial challenges (2) licensing requirements and (3) English language ability for obtaining business licenses. These were different from the comparison group because of the different industries the two groups of business owners chose to start. This research presents a very important finding. When participants’ experiences were examined to see how they account for personal and business success it was clear it is the social fabric of a collectivist and religious way of life and the associated sense of obligation to support each other that are the most significant factors shaping Afghan refugees’ business start-up behaviour. These factors led them to guide and mentor each other towards economic security and a lifestyle that fitted well with their family and religious obligations and self-identity. In addition to showing how Christchurch Afghan refugees’ business start-ups were used as a means to meet their social objectives, this research and the model that emerged from it offer unique insights into three key drivers: economic security, lifestyle–enterprise fit, and self-identity. These factors, together with age and family circumstances, shaped the decisions associated with starting businesses in New Zealand to determine the pathway chosen. The findings of this research are important as New Zealand is opening its doors to more refugees and very little is known about more recent refugee groups like those from Afghanistan. The findings provide a rich and unique contribution to refugee entrepreneurship and enterprise development literature in New Zealand and a model that could be used as a framework for further studies on the subject by those agencies that support refugees and their business start-up ventures as well as government agencies dealing with refugee resettlement and employment.