Putting out the welcome mat

Paul Edwards
August 2, 2006

How to be - Sue Ellson, founder, Newcomers Network.

ANYONE who has moved to a new country, city or region knows how stressful the process can be - I have made a business out of easing the transition.

I started work at Westpac after my final year 12 exam in 1982 and began a business certificate course which I left because I was always falling asleep in boring classes and was receiving only average passes. Ironically, my career accelerated immediately.

I still enjoyed studying, so at 27 I started a bachelor of business in administrative management by correspondence. The following year I moved from Adelaide to Melbourne and in my first year here started a new career, became pregnant, stopped working and hosted regular visitors from interstate. Although I attended a new mothers' group every week, I felt that I had nothing in common with Melburnians and wanted to "belong".

I started reading a lot of books about careers and life purpose while continuing part-time consulting work. It took several years of soul-searching and another baby to help me decide what I wanted: an intellectual challenge, to be constantly learning, flexible hours and meaningful work. It also took a long time to find new compatible friends.

In 1999 I started to research what was available for people who have moved to Melbourne. The final subject of my degree in 2000 was a research project. The University of South Australia agreed that I could investigate the expectations, issues and realities of people who have moved to Melbourne. My research supervisor encouraged me to continue developing the newcomer concept after the degree was completed.

In 2001, I settled on the name Newcomers Network. It was full steam ahead for the launch of newcomersnetwork.com in May 2001. The network was set up as a social enterprise because I wanted both men and women to access the information.

Newcomers Network now has more than 50,000 unique website visitors every month, more than 3000 email newsletter subscribers and our Sydney representative, Dina Zavrski-Makaric, and I host free monthly Welcome to Sydney and Welcome to Melbourne events. Newcomers Network has also hosted and co-ordinated more than 50 professional functions for newcomers and networkers.

My research found the term "not for profit" was associated with charity - by men in particular - and that newcomers would not pay for this information even though they needed it. It could not be funded by government as people from some countries are suspicious of anything to do with government.

So I have relied on my own consulting services, business member fees and Google advertisement revenue to ensure that the service remains free of charge and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Babel Fish provides a free online translation tool and I work up to 70 hours a week.

The network has allowed me to advocate for both skilled migrants and returning Australians, particularly in relation to finding relevant work. I have established many relationships across Australia and internationally to help governments and individuals manage settlement issues more effectively.

The network has supported the Australian Government's Living in Harmony Initiative since 2003, was a finalist in the Corporate Citizenship Category of the Australian HR Awards in 2004, earned a four-star business accreditation from Micronavigator in 2004 and a highly commended award in the emerging business category, Micro Business Awards in 2001.

We have also supported the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women's Coalition from 2004 to 2006, the Australian Institute of Management International Business Group from 2001 to 2002, and the Cultural Tourism Industry Group in 2001 and 2002.

Personally, I have grown in many ways, particularly since February last year, when I separated from my husband of 19 years.

Now, more than ever, I value the friends I have here, so much so that I call them my Melbourne family. I'm thankful that some of the skills I used in moving to a new location can be applied to other life transitions.


Born Adelaide, June 1965

Education Bachelor of business, University of South Australia; Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment.

Memberships Australian Human Resources Institute, Australian Institute of Management, Golden Key National Honour Society, Migrant Information Centre Eastern Melbourne, Relocation Network, Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women's Coalition, Victorian Writers' Centre.

Jobs 1982-1994: Westpac Banking Corporation, Adelaide. 1994-2001: Consulting roles in Melbourne - recruitment, marketing, training, community radio; corporate and not-for-profit organisations. 2001-present: Newcomers Network.

Career low Managing the perception of a home-based business.

Career high I regularly receive emails telling me what a difference the Newcomers Network website has made to their move.

Influences My children, family and friends. I have an 88-year-old mentor in Canada - we have been exchanging emails for two years but have never spoken. And newcomers, modern-day pioneers who inspire me.

Unwinding Walking, cycling, reading, yoga.

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