Violet Roumeliotis

Violet Roumeliotis

Master of Management in Community Management (2011)

CEO, Settlement Services International

UTS Alumni Award for Excellence 2018 – UTS Business School

When Violet Roumeliotis was appointed CEO of Settlement Services International (SSI) in 2012, it was a very different organisation to the one she heads today. Back then, the asylum seeker and refugee support group had just 60 staff and a budget of $9 million; within five years, it had grown to 700 staff and had an annual turnover of $110 million. In the past 14 months alone, it’s helped almost 2000 new Australians find work.

Roumeliotis came to the organisation with 25 years of leadership experience and had recently completed at a Master of Management (Community Management) at UTS. Under her watch, SSI has taken a more corporate approach to the social sector, which was not without its challenges. “It took a lot of communicating and ensuring that we were taking our staff with us,” she says. “I wanted them to understand that you can still lead with heart, but have a head for business and look for revenue.”

The group receives funds from the federal government’s Humanitarian Settlement Services Program. Under the agreement, it helps refugees in NSW find their feet during their first 18 months in Australia. Support covers everything from registering with Medicare to helping people find work, housing and form friendships. To make this happen, SSI calls on its network of 45 partner organisations.

“I wanted my staff to understand that you can still lead with heart, but have a head for business and look for revenue.”

It supports NSW’s multicultural community in other ways, too, including arranging foster care for children from culturally diverse backgrounds and helping people with disabilities access the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

SSI reinvests revenue from government funding into several social enterprise programs, including Ignite Small Business Start-ups. In just over four years, Ignite has helped launch more than 100 new businesses, from cafes and catering companies to recruitment agencies and security services. The program now has a spin-off, IgniteAbility, which encourages entrepreneurship in people with disabilities.

When SSI contracted UTS Business School’s Professor Jock Collins to review the Ignite model, he concluded: “By all accounts this program should have failed because it’s targeting newly arrived refugees who don’t have English language, don’t know the market, have no capital, have no networks … and yet it worked.”

But Roumeliotis knew it would work because she’d seen that entrepreneurial spirit in her own parents, who migrated to Australia in the aftermath of World War II. “They couldn’t pursue their education or chosen profession so they turned to the salvation of many Greeks at the time – they started their own business, a corner shop,” she says. “Their story is no different to the stories of families that come here today: they want to be part of the community and they’re aspirational. I take those principles to work with me every day.”

Business School Alumni

Are you a graduate from the UTS Business School?

Click here to keep in contact with the UTS Business alumni community.