Getting to know… Global Sisters

Global Sisters believes that every woman should have the opportunity to be financially independent. They provide a solution for women who face barriers or are excluded from economic participation by making self-employment a genuine alternative. They provide a roadmap for women to establish or grow a sustainable, successful business. These businesses allow women to be financially independent, stand tall and create a ripple effect of positive change to their family and community.
I recently caught up with Heather Thomson, Chief Operating Officer, to hear all about this remarkable social enterprise.
www.globalsisters.org
Tell me about Global Sisters
We set up Global Sisters to fill a massive gap in Australia, as there is hardly anything operating in terms of helping women establishing their own business. We work with women who may be financially excluded or low-income earners, asylum seekers and low-income migrants, Indigenous Australians, single mums and those impacted by domestic violence- any woman whose circumstances prevent her from accessing mainstream employment and who is motivated to be self-employed. That is what we are all about – providing a genuine option to women. If a woman can’t get into employment due to childcare responsibilities, doesn’t want to be on income support and has an idea – we can help. We help our Sisters get a business off the ground and help them build it so up that she can gain financial independence.
How did the social enterprise come about?
Mandy Richards is the founder and we met a couple of years ago – I was moving to Singapore and she had just come off maternity leave. She had been working on a social enterprise incubator supporting the establishment of micro and social enterprises however it bothered her that every enterprise needed the same support- – set up her own website, access finance and markets,- and the same thing had to be done over and over again with each individual. She felt there had to be a better way of doing this and more economies of scale.
I was working in microfinance, which is a key poverty alleviation tool globally. I have seen what that can do for entrepreneurs in Indonesia and the Philippines. In Australia, however, there is very little access to enterprise microfinance. There are some wonderful programs around access to consumer credit that would assist, for example a woman leaving a domestic violence situation, but not a lot for micro-entrepreneurs, and nothing exclusively for women. . We started testing this out in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne – at the end of last year we wanted to get it really going. We put a board of directors in place and raised the money we needed for the next 3 years to operate. We didn’t want a charity model but did need philanthropic funding to get us going. Our aim is to build up an income stream that ensures we are self-sustainable, just like we are teaching our Sisters to be.
At the start of this year, we really kicked off and hired a heap of people and started working seriously in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and the Hume region of Victoria to offer our programs. We are starting to see the impact already, early indications that this is the right approach and what women really need. They need the end-to-end support to really make it happen.
I am so absolutely beside myself to work at Global Sisters – it is my dream job and one of the most empowering ways ways to facilitate financial independence
What is Global Sisters’ ultimate purpose and goal?
Financial independence for women, where they can stand tall and create impact in their family and wider community. Financial independence means different things to different people yet the common theme is empowerment. We will be tracking the ripple effect that this Sister will have in her family and community and what generation changes may occur in the longer term. We know that studies suggest that if a woman is successful in business, it has a huge ripple effect across so many other people. Some Sisters are modelling to their daughters that economic participation is possible, even in areas of generational unemployment
We set a modest goal for 500 women across Australia in 3 years. For me the scale seemed small compared with my previous roles in microfinance in Asia but we can’t discount that it is 500 women who wouldn’t have otherwise had a business! Once we have achieved this short term goal we’ll be looking to expand significantly across Australia and into Asia.
What services do you offer a Sister?
We provide women with the tools, networks and resources to accelerate an idea into a thriving business. Our Sisters access support that enables them to create businesses that last, and businesses that allow women to stand tall. Each woman will start at a different point on the business development roadmap, but they’ll all access the right support, at the right time, every step of the way. Every journey is as unique as the Sister we support. Our approach embraces four essential facets, collectively allowing our Sisters to harness their potential and accelerate an idea into a sustainable business.

  1. Business know-how: Sister School is a practical business education program that enables women to get a business off the ground, and our business coaching program provides one-on-one expert business development support.

We provide foundational knowledge for those who, if newly arrived in Australia, need to know in taking an idea and launching it into an actual business.

  1. Marketing and sales: We provide product and service development support, a business directory and marketing tools, as well as a variety of sales channels and opportunities including corporate and home-selling events, alongside an online store.
  1. Microfinance: We provide affordable, accessible and safe microbusiness loans to kick-start their business, and will be providing access to appropriate microinsurance to protect their business.
  1. Technology: Our technology platform is key in reaching women far and wide, efficiently and economically. We will also provide affordable access to smartphones that enable women to run their business and access our programs.

We offer different coaches for different business needs, or even aspects of a business. Some women can have access to 3 coaches throughout their journey and it is really hands on coaching to solve a problem. The coaches are all successful entrepreneurs who have been through it themselves and are amazing in their own right. We are seeing this accelerate the stages of business growth.
There are some incredible female entrepreneurs involved, how can everyday people also support the Sisters?
Christmas with a Conscience: we sell Sister products on our online shop and sell beautiful, handmade items that tell an incredible story of the person who makes it, the person who packages it, and also the person who does our fulfilment. If you are looking for a special gift for Christmas or a loved one just because, please consider our online store.
As an example, for Mothers Day I gave my mum a stunning handmade scarf and told her the most incredible story of the impact to the women who make the scarf. My sister in law also gave her a scarf from a retailer with no story attached. They were both lovely scarves but the present with a powerful, life-changing story was more precious to both me as the present giver and my mum as the receiver.
We have an online store so that, unlike many other small businesses, they don’t need to rely on setting up their own website and digital marketing strategies. We do that for them and we partner with Myer Store who funds our retail program.
We also run pop up markets at our corporate supporters and help Sisters sell their products in boutiques and other online stores. We proactively provide the women with sales channels for their product or service and work with Mahlab Media, our wonderful pro bono partner, who are experts in story telling so that consumers can connect with Sisters unique story.
How did you personally become involved?
With experience spanning 15 years in microfinance in both Australia and Asia, I am absolutely committed to microfinance being delivered in a way that empowers women and brings families out of poverty permanently. What really attracted me to Global Sisters was that it is not access to finance alone but the end to end support that women entrepreneurs need. It really is the full solution and not just one piece of the puzzle.
Mandy and I are both mums of young children and wanted flexibility in our careers so we have split the role – she is CEO and I am COO. We work amazingly well together as Mandy has a massive vision and is extremely entrepreneurial, high energy and motivated. I am good on the detail and the operational aspects of the business.
We are hiring amazing women from a whole range of different backgrounds and are trying to create an organisation that supports our people through a flexible working environment.
What is your favourite success story?
Yarrie comes from Guinea and fled to Australia with her family. Before the war in Sierra Leone, Yarrie used to see women making the ginger beer that has since become the focus of her business. What grabbed her most about the drink was less the product itself and more the story – and the people – behind it. She saw women participating and all working together to cut the ginger, make the paste…everyone had a role. That stayed with Yarrie.
Yarrie is now an Inner West local and this year she decided to turn her dreams into reality. She began looking for organisations that help women like her. A friend introduced Yarrie to Global Sisters, and from there things took off. Her initial meetings with Global Sisters helped her lay the foundation for her future business and plan her next steps. “For people like me, it’s hard to be successful because you are different,” she says. “I am someone with low self-esteem about myself and my identity, but after meeting with Global Sisters, I told myself, ‘I can do it’. It’s things like that that excite me and make me think I am close to my destiny, close to my dream.” OUR SISTER’S KEEPER Global Sisters not only provides Yarrie with financial help and business savvy, but the emotional support she receives is what really drives her to keep pushing forward. “Global Sisters gives people hope, and that’s what women need,” she says. “They want to help people, but Global Sisters does more than that. It helps women stand up and feel bold, and it encourages people to help others and get behind others. If my mother had something like Global Sisters after the war, things would have been different for us.” Through Global Sisters, Yarrie was matched with two business coaches and she is launching her business as we speak!
If you could change the world, what would you focus on first?
Women! We know that if you invest in a woman the ripple effect is a massive flow on to her family and community particularly around children, education and health. How they see the world impacts the opportunities for the next generation.

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