AFTER finishing the first of her three degrees, Anyier Yuol set herself a new challenge: enter a beauty pageant.
"I used to play soccer and it was something that brought out my confidence and got me going into the community, but I was not always very confident in public speaking or engaging with other young women," said Ms Yuol, 26, who was born to South Sudanese parents and raised in a Kenyan refugee camp, before migrating to Australia on a humanitarian visa aged ten.
"I thought 'You have succeeded in something, now go try something to lift your confidence up'."
But the deeper Ms Yuol dove into pageants and modelling, the more she realised the lack of diversity amongst the participants.
"That pumped me up to really want to start a conversation," she said.
"I needed to create something poised and elegant, I wanted to encourage women to, if they wanted to participate in beauty pageants or modelling, support them, give them a hand, train them, build their confidence and provide them opportunities to go into the mainstream."
Ms Yuol held the first Miss Sahara beauty pageant for African women in 2018 and soon decided she also wanted to open an inclusive modelling agency, to represent women from all minority groups, including Indigenous and Muslim women.
She turned to Thrive Refugee Enterprise, a not for profit organisation that provides microfinance loans to refugees and asylum seekers wanting to start or expand a business.
It has offices in Sydney and Melbourne and will open its first regional office on Friday, in Newcastle.
Ms Yuol opened Anyier Model Management in May last year.
"Thrive was not just about the money, but really making sure I had a mentor to really kick start it," Ms Yuol said.
"They have definitely contributed to the success of my agency, they believed in me."
Thrive's NSW manager Gus Nehme said providing information about the Australian business market and the steps required to start or expand a business, as well as post-loan mentoring, was just as important as the funding.
He said many new Australians arrived with the "attitude and aptitude" to be entrepreneurs and wanted to be financially independent, but many faced hurdles such as the language barrier, their qualifications not being recognised, a lack of local experience and no credit history.
Mr Nehme said Thrive assessed applicants' expressions of interest and if successful, provided them with three-year loans of up to $25,000 that have an interest rate of 12.5 per cent and monthly repayments.
Mr Nehme said Newcastle was a logical place for a third office, because it had one of the highest refugee settlement populations in regional NSW.
Thrive has partnered with The Business Centre and Northern Settlement Services as part of its expansion.
He said Thrive was already working with a handful of Hunter residents who had submitted applications.
He said Thrive aimed to help 50 to 100 Hunter residents in its first year and between 30 and 40 each year after that.
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