Mandy Richards’s entrepreneurship all started with an appearance on the Australian series of Dragons Den; from there she has gone to establish herself as a social entrepreneur, founding the Global Sisters initiative in 2016.
Global Sisters provides women with the tools and resources to establish or grow their own business in the aim of “democratising” entrepreneurship and business opportunities. The organisation assists with business know-how, marketing and sales, micro-finance and technology.
Mandy has a desire and philosophy to have as much of a positive impact as she can in this world. This, and her personal childhood experience, prompted the founding of Global Sisters.
Mandy grew up in a single parent household in rural NSW, facing homelessness, with her mother struggling to find work that fitted with her childcare commitments.
To date Global Sisters has created over 219 female owned businesses and has impacted over 1500 women. Of the women the organisation has worked with, 30 per cent are single mothers and carers and over half are women aged 50-plus, including women living in regional areas, refugees, Aboriginal single mums and grandmothers facing homelessness.
The success of the organisation is proven by its case studies, which are showcased below, as well as by its backing from federal government funding.
It originally started as on an online marketplace to assist women with additional cashflow from their side business, however Mandy quickly adapted it to something more, seeing the need for the further support.
With the coronavirus outbreak and its economical effects, Global Sisters has had to adapt even further to assist the business owners with successful pivoting. The result is digiPIVOT, a program that within days has already helped numerous women shift online and stay open for business.
Our interview with social entrepreneur, Mandy Richards, goes into the COVID-19 pivots and adaptability more, as well as her opinion on how entrepreneurs can whether out this storm. We also delve further into the Global Sisters mission and Mandy shares her advice for starting a business. Two Global Sisters case studies are featured, Lina and Jo, who are sharing their wins amidst the coronavirus crisis.
What were you doing before 2016 and the launch of Global Sisters? What led you to found the initiative?
I’ve had quite a diverse career path over the past twenty years which has seen me work across both commercial and the not for profit sectors. My crash course in starting a business came when I appeared on the Australian series of Dragon’s Den and won the highest amount of investment.
After that, I exited the business and worked at Social Ventures Australia where I set up a social enterprise hub between government, corporate and not for profit sectors to create employment via social enterprises for people unable to access mainstream employment.
During this time, I also completed a couple of awesome consulting projects across Ethiopia, America and Botswana. I set up the US based foundation to support Hamlin Fistula Hospitals in Ethiopia and worked with the Botswana Government around their business incubation program which was aimed at decreasing their reliance on imports. I have always been passionate about social enterprise and prior to GS officially launching in 2016 I worked with Social Ventures Australia, establishing the ACT Social Enterprise Hub and as the Director for Place Based Philanthropy with the Sydney Community Foundation. More recently I completed a Master of Human Rights Law at Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne.
What does it mean to you to be a social entrepreneur, and to have a programme like Global Sisters?
We’re not on this planet very long and I intend my impact to be a positive one – I like to make the most of every minute I have. I believe that if every human being acted with the thought process of “how can leave this world better than how it was when I arrived” it would be a very different place. Global Sisters started out as a socially conscious marketplace where women could sell their products as a way towards financial stability. I soon realised though that we needed something more long lasting and empowering, and as a result we now have a free program that helps women gain financial control of their lives, irrespective of their circumstances and external events.
Pre COVID-19, what were the top ways you were helping women start their own business?
GS supports women unable to access mainstream employment to explore and develop business as a flexible means of generating income. We provide start to finish support in a longer term program which includes business education, coaching, micro-finance, sales & ,marketing support as well as wrapping around all this in a beautiful community. The first 4 years of GS operations has been focussed on the ground with face to face programs supporting women down the Eastern seaboard as well as in regional Victoria/NSW. Depending on whether a sister is starting from scratch or already established we help with all facets of business including accounting, marketing, photography, online sites, product development and funding.
Case study: Lina Qasem, founder of ROBOFUN
Robofun is a Melbourne based robotics and coding academy for kids, offering affordable fun 3D-Design and Coding classes.
Robofun was born out of founder Lina Qasem’s love for robotics and coding. Having participated in and won multiple robotics competitions she wondered why there aren’t more girls like her in this field. Realising the importance of exposing kids early to STEAM education she founded Robofun to do just that.
Lina has pivoted her business quickly during COVID-19, taking her classes from face to face to online which allows Robofun to operate nationally.
And since COVID-19, how have things changed in terms of the help you deliver? How are you helping the business owners to pivot during this time?
The last 6 months we have been undergoing a digital transformation as part of our scale strategy to reach all women across Australia – which has been perfect timing for Covid-19. Our number one focus has always been accessibility and flexibility – meeting the women who need the support most on their own terms and in a manner that will work for them. Now all our programs are accessible online and our operations on the ground have just transferred over to using zoom, the telephone, snail mail. We’ve also launched a weekly Masterclass called digiPIVOT which is 90 minutes of facilitation for women with existing businesses focussing on how to get a digital presence and how to pivot your business to new opportunities. We’ve seen so many immediate and incredible pivots literally overnight!
What is your best advice for business owners to ride out this storm?
I think we will emerge from this into a different looking economy and life. We’re finding a lot of the women we support are for the first time finding themselves with time to think and really focus on their business and what they want out of it. We’ve also embraced the idea of ‘slow business’ in Global Sisters – and I think this is particularly appropriate for now. These current few months every business needs to assess their digital presence and if they don’t have one they need one. There has been an instant shift in where people are spending their dollars, which I think will swing back as life normalises again. But I do think we are only going to see an increasing interest in connection, wellbeing, health and living a good life. I don’t think any business in the future will be exist long if they do not operate ethically, with a social conscience and in a manner that is environmentally sustainable. I also think there is going to be a big shift towards buying local and buying from small business.
Where do you see the future headed for Global Sisters, and what do you hope to inspire with the business owners that seek your support?
We’re aiming to go global. Our immediate focus is making sure that every woman in Australia who needs a flexible income knows that business is an option for her. Our aim is to democratise entrepreneurship – it should be a realistic option for every woman and it should be a genuine alternative to mainstream employment, welfare or low paid, unstable indecent work.
Case study: Jo-Ann Wolles, founder of Goanna Hut
Sydney based aboriginal chef, Jo-Ann Wolles, is the sole provider for her 3 children and husband.
She is the carer of a child with a disability and a family member with chronic mental illness. Like many Australians during COVID-19, Jo has lost her casual employment with a company that provides airline meals, and she has already had catering jobs for Goanna Hut cancelled.
Through an opportunity arising from Global Sisters, Jo has just received a significant order from T2 ($90k+) to stock her native teas online. T2 will also promote her business to their multimillion tea club readership in order to maximise this opportunity to launch her online business.
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