Auckland, New Zealand

Helping Immigrants Become Kiwi Entrepreneurs

Chinese New Settlers Services Trust

November 12, 2015

Connecting immigrants and aspiring entrepreneurs to community networks, employment and business opportunity

Ris Wu, Gourmet Café owner at Queen’s Road, Panmure

Ris Wu, Gourmet Café owner at Queen’s Road, Panmure

Immigrants face many of the same challenges in starting a new business as entrepreneurs anywhere. Whatever the service, product or market, the checklist is likely to include tricky technical matters of licensing and zoning, local labour laws, tax compliance, audit and financial systems, to name just a few. Additional roadblocks are limited knowledge of local markets or poor access to vital business networks. Excellent business services are available in cities like Auckland to help new start-ups, but cultural differences or language barriers can make it difficult for aspiring entrepreneurs to take that important first step.

Take small business owner Ris Wu. Wu found work with several companies after coming to Auckland from China to study in 1999 but his dream was always to run his own business. Eventually he and his wife purchased a small café in the Auckland suburb of Panmure. Even with business training in China and New Zealand, and Kiwi work experience, Wu soon recognized that the success of his new venture needed systems to facilitate stock management and keep his books straight.

Like many other aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs, Ris turned to a local social enterprise for help, the Chinese New Settlers Services Trust (CNSST). Ris and his wife registered for an accounting software training program delivered by friendly, knowledgeable people who spoke their language and understood their needs, enabling them to get the café up and running smoothly.

Nurturing the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Chinese New Settler’s Services Trust (CNSST) was established in 1998 in an Auckland garage by Jenny Wang and a group of recent migrants with an entrepreneurial spirit. A former high school teacher, university lecturer and government officer in China, Wang struggled to establish herself in New Zealand, overcoming language and cultural barriers and experiencing firsthand the physical and mental isolation of the newly arrived. Her aim at CNSST was to smooth the path for new Kiwis like herself and to improve the quality of life for Asian New Zealanders by equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to gain a foothold in their new home and thrive in New Zealand’s multi-cultural society.

Located in the Auckland suburb of Panmure, CNSST was soon providing employment counselling and settlement services as well as holiday youth programmes, parenting support groups and free Chinese and Korean legal clinics. Of particular interest to a growing number of clients and community partners, however, are the programs offering the fundamentals of business and entrepreneurship.

“Immigrant entrepreneurs know there are lots of excellent business services like Citizens Advice Bureau and Chamber of Commerce,” says CNSST founder, Jenny Chang. “But they need a bridge to help them get there. They need to talk to us in their own language, to gain a clear explanation to make things easy to understand.”

Bamboo Networks

In 1986 New Zealand finally abandoned its discriminatory immigration policy and adopted a points system based on Canadian and Australian models. This rapidly opened New Zealand to new immigrant sources, especially Asian. By 2013, almost one in four residents (23.1%) living in the Auckland region identified with one or more Asian ethnic groups. Within this group the number of Asian-operated businesses in the Auckland area is high and growing, especially among small businesses in the retail and food industries. The success or failure of immigrant businesses in Auckland has a significant impact on the cultural landscape and prosperity of the wider urban community.

Consistent with a 2010 study called Bamboo Networks, where Asian employers reported they relied heavily on their ethnic networks for advice and help to establish themselves during the initial phases of settlement, CNSST has been particularly successful in engaging members of the Asian business community to work with newcomers. Established immigrant business owners are ideally suited to help aspiring entrepreneurs with their business challenges, providing a bridge to specialist expertise and insider knowledge of the local business culture along with the sympathetic perspective of a shared immigrant experience, free of language and cultural barriers.

Social Enterprise and Community Hub

In 2008, Jenny was joined by property entrepreneur Kit Wong who assisted CNSST in putting together the formal structures and legal documentation of a registered social enterprise with a new capacity to generate income to support its services.

Since then, the Trust has grown and become an innovative responsive organization across Auckland, gathering together resources of people, knowledge, skills and money to help entrepreneurs.

One of their key social enterprise projects is MYOB software training for small business accounting. Jenny says: “Lots of small businesses and new immigrants are not familiar with MYOB but this software system is good for managing accounts.” Today CNSST  is NZQA accredited for MYOB training which covers accounting and taxation, a beginner’s guide to payroll management, day to day processes, end of year reconciliation, advanced processing, business reports and analysis, and inventory management.

CNSST also works with business associations to organize special events to promote their business to the community. “If anybody has a request, the Trust will provide the relevant information and refer them to the relevant organization. It offers advice, workshops and forums. We also have informal contact with them as the employment team develops relationship with different employers,” explains Jenny.

In 2009, the CNSST organized the Chinese Entrepreneur Forum at the Auckland University Business School in partnership with the Office of Ethnic Affairs and over 50 entrepreneurs took part. In 2010, and again in 2014, the CNSST Employment & Enterprise Forum held workshops to enhance the capacity building of Chinese business in New Zealand.

Mixing business with a celebration of Asian culture, the CNSST organized the 2012 International Food and Moon festival in conjunction with the Panmure Business Association, bringing together 100 business groups with an investment and taxation workshop, food stalls and cultural performances.

Another key milestone in CNSST’s journey was the granting of funding by the government for a social housing project in 2013.

In recognition of the service they provide, the CNSST was a finalist in the HSBC and New Zealand China Trade Association (NZCTA) Chinese Business Awards in 2015 and commended for their vision, achievements and outstanding contribution to New Zealand-China relationships.

As Berlinda Chin, Director, Office of Ethnic communities says: “CNSST has worked diligently for many years to support the communities they work with. These communities have grown from Chinese to include Korean, Japanese, Indians and even Pasifika. It is therefore heartening to know that their efforts gained them a nomination of a well-known mainstream business award.”


Today CNSST employs 23 full-time staff in 7 locations, engaging nearly 200 contractors, part-time staff and volunteers to provide services to some 15,000 newcomers and community members annually.

CNSST is having a significant positive impact on local Asian communities in Auckland, by enabling Asian migrants to fully participate in and be productive members of society.

In 2013-2014 year alone, the Employment and Enterprise Services handled 4250 phone calls and around 200 drop-in related enquiries. Chinese/Korean newcomers were supported by one-on-one discussions and 23 workshops on the bank system, property sales and purchase, tax for business, the Labour Act, the medical system and the Road Code. With over 400 employers on the database, CNSST also offers a full range of services to a growing business clientele, from providing information to helping them to recruit staff.

The Trust has rapidly gained momentum with services across Auckland. But the immediate Penrose area where the CNSST office is located attracts many Asian immigrants.

“Since we came here, lots of Asian small businesses have come here too. People trust us. They know the area and it’s good for them to set up their business here. Immigrants are a high percentage of the business owners in this area,” says Jenny.

Making it Work for You:

  • Cultivate the talent and expertise in local community and professional networks. Are there people and businesses available to offer assistance to new immigrant entrepreneurs?
  • Evaluate your service offerings to see whether there is potential for a social enterprise model that can help defray your costs
  • Organize networking forums, training and information sessions focused on the specific needs of immigrant entrepreneurs
  • Be innovative!  Bring government agencies and business people together to devise new ways to finance and market your programme