Business skills can provide a powerful pathway to women’s empowerment, but the varying circumstances and societal challenges faced by many women mean they are often prevented from realising their full potential. Helping to level the playing field, business incubators like the Global Sisters Accelerate program, and the 'Strong & Kind' Job Readiness Sewing Circle, supported by the Sydney Community Foundation Sydney Women’s Fund, are supporting women who face challenges in accessing the opportunities they need to thrive to build their own businesses – and enriching their lives in the process. Their stories are a testimony to the power of meaningful workforce participation and small business endeavours to create a ripple effect of social change.
Kagi Kowa, participant in the Global Sisters Accelerate program
Two years ago, Kagi Kowa arrived in Australia as a refugee from Kenya. Managing the stress of the big move, she found solace in painting – a creative outlet that also provided a powerful way for her to maintain a connection to her culture. As Kagi’s interest in painting grew, so too did her business aspirations, and she developed Nubia Designs as a way to create change and transformation for refugees through art. Fast forward to now, and The Global Sisters Accelerate program will be instrumental for Kagi as she enters the next phase of her business journey, helping her accelerate her idea for a ‘Paint + Sip’ workshop into a sustainable, thriving social initiative.
The Accelerate program has a significant impact on accelerating business growth, supporting participants like Kagi in four key areas: business coaching, marketing and sales, microfinance and technology. The program is a vital component of Global Sisters’ end-to-end business development support, support women to gain business acumen, enterprise, financial wellbeing and ultimately, empowerment.
Kagi brought her business idea for the Paint + Sip workshop to the Global Sisters ‘My Big Idea’ workshop in September 2017. With the encouragement and support of the program, she created her first workshop, guiding 25 participants through creating their own artwork. The workshop, which also involved a collaboration with her fellow Global Sister, Saba from Mu’ooz restaurant and social enterprise, was a complete sell out. “Global Sisters helped me to achieve goals that I thought were years away,” Kagi says of the experience. “To hold that workshop after only two months of knowing about Global Sisters, and that it was a success, was really motivating,” she says.
As Kagi enters the ‘accelerate’ phase of her business journey, she hopes to realise her next goal of creating workshops wherein each paid seat allows a refugee in Australia to attend the same workshop, providing an opportunity for them to become more connected to their new home and experience the joy of being creative. With Global Sisters, Kagi is well on track to realising her goal. “I know that I am supported in creating a brand that my customers want, and testing my ideas with the potential customers is a lot less scary with that support,” she says. “I am excited for the opportunities that Global Sisters has for me in 2018.”
Janette, participant in the ‘Strong & Kind’ Job Readiness Sewing Circle
For refugee and migrant women in Australia, having access to supportive environments that empower, build capability and enhance self-care is critical for overall wellbeing. When these environments offer opportunities to participate in meaningful work, the benefits are even greater, enabling the women to develop the skills that can potentially link them further education, employment pathways and personal enterprise.
This has been true for Janette, who came to Australia from Syria last year as a humanitarian migrant and is now a part of the ‘Strong & Kind’ Job Readiness Sewing Circle – a collaboration between The Sydney Community Foundation Sydney Women’s Fund, designer fashion label, Ginger and Smart, Sydney fashion social enterprise, The Social Outfit and refugee support service, Parents’ Cafe Fairfield Inc.
Through the Sewing Circle, Janette has been able to learn valuable skills in fashion manufacturing, working with eight other women to create a designer product for sale: the limited edition Strong & Kind Canvas Tote. The program, which has proven to be a form of therapy for the women (many of whom have not spoken previously of the circumstances that forced them to flee their homeland), promotes community belonging and lasting friendships, but is also giving Janette the opportunity to earn an income and enhance her own financial security. Ultimately, the experience has supported her to realise her potential to succeed and build a fulfilling life in Australia. “There is no limit or time in the life to learn, you can start anytime with the willing or wish to,” she says. “Everything is possible.”
Helping to continue to support more refugee and migrant women in Australia, the Strong & Kind Canvas Tote is now available for purchase through Ginger and Smart stores and online, with proceeds from the collaboration to be reinvested in the program and used to seed new programs for women and girls in need.