There’s an organisation in Sydney’s western suburbs that’s changing lives by giving women the opportunity to thrive through a micro business incubator program.

Liverpool Neighbourhood Connections (LNC) is an organisation partnered with the Sydney Community Foundation, based in Warwick Farm.

LNC strives to change the lives of disadvantaged people by offering access to capacity building programs, advocacy services, education and employment opportunities.

One of its most transformative programs is the Women’s Micro-Business Incubator. Drawing on the generous support of the Sydney Community Foundation and Sydney Women’s Fund, it provides women with skills-based training, business and financial planning workshops, grant applications and marketing support.

Since the program began in 2014, it's been involved with 45 small businesses that have been established by women from the Liverpool area. As of December last year, LNC also enjoys a partnership with Liverpool City Council, with the Liverpool Library Café and pop-up shop, Rising Collection, providing a retail space for graduates to generate their own income and grow their businesses.

Two women who have taken part in the incubator, Shy Leolahi and Tigi Dankay Daramy (pictured above left, centre), share how participating in the program and starting their own businesses has changed their lives.

Take opportunities

Shy lives in Warwick Farm with her husband and young son. She always had an inherent eye for elegant food design and yearned to pursue this passion professionally. It wasn’t until her son was born that she realised she wanted the autonomy and flexibility of her own business in order to maximise time spent with her son at home. When Shy’s son started kindergarten, LNC had placed pamphlets in the kids’ bags for women interested in starting a business. Shy decided to start her business journey with LNC.

Shy’s business, Macro Ave, produces health foods and natural beauty products, ranging from delicious granolas to coffee body scrubs. Last year, Shy attended the Women in Focus Annual Conference, not only as a guest, but also as a supplier. She created hundreds of protein ‘Bliss’ balls and they received rave reviews.

“Take the opportunity, take the chance, don’t miss out,” Shy told Women in Focus.

“I questioned myself for a long time and opportunities passed me by. Then I learnt, when you do take that opportunity, go at it with your whole heart. Take a chance on yourself. I’m glad I did.”

Find your niche

Tigi came to Australia from Sierra Leone as a refugee in 2001. Civil war was ongoing and she migrated with six of her children just after her husband died. Tigi is a traditional Gara dyer – an artful dyeing technique that she was taught by her mother, having been passed down through generations of women in Sierra Leone. Upon arrival in Australia, safe with her family, she longed for the vivid colours and practice of Gara dyeing, and discovered that there was a gap in the Australian market.

The incubator program taught Tigi the product standards and business skills necessary to succeed in Australia. “The business I was doing all the time in Africa is very different to how it’s done here,” explains Tigi.

Now in her third year of business, Tigi is selling her beautiful products in Australian markets, galleries and shops.

Mentoring is essential for entrepreneurs

Tigi said one of the most important things is to have the desire to pass on your skills to others and share your knowledge.

Mentoring is vital for any entrepreneur; having people you trust with your best interests at heart to act as a soundboard, provide networking opportunities and to motivate, support and challenge you with business experience and advice can be an enormous advantage.

The women participating in the incubator program have unwavering support from the LNC staff members and specialised business mentoring.

“When I started, I was so scared, because I didn’t know who I might meet, especially when working alone,” Tigi said. “The LNC helped me make many connections. At first, I couldn’t speak in front of people. Now, I can speak to everyone.”

With the encouragement of the program, Shy said she is constantly expanding her boundaries, experimenting with creating new products and increasing the scale of her production capabilities.

Share your knowledge and experiences

The empowerment for these and other women to create their own business and the impact the mentoring provided has created a ripple effect in their community and families.

They have inspired future generations, imparted confidence in each other and are providing a positive impact on their local economy, leading by example.

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