Its founder is Mandy Richards. She explains how Global Sisters operates: “There is an important difference between women being on welfare, and women being empowered to earn a living on their terms. Our welfare system here in Australia is counterproductive to supporting entrepreneurship, and fails to offer women who are welfare-dependent opportunities to create a job when they are unable to find one.
“At Global Sisters we give women the expertise to be able create their own businesses or self-employment opportunities. This is all about practical access to skills, expertise and mentors, not theory or generalities. Our Sister School, for example, which is our week-long business education program, gives them the basics they need in business, finance, technology, and sales and marketing, to start putting their self-employment ideas into practice.”
The scenarios that can lead to women suddenly finding themselves in these situations are varied, and surprisingly-common. As many as 14% of Australian women live beneath the OECD poverty line.
Mandy Richard explains: “Women may live in remote or rural communities where there simply is no work. Migrants or refugees can discover that professional qualifications earned in their countries of origin are not accepted here in Australia. Indigenous women in remote communities often have little access to any kind of business opportunities.”
And her personal story is a case in point: “My own mother had a double-degree in psychology, earned at a time when this was still somewhat unusual, and started a family rather than establishing her career after uni. And we also lived in a country town with virtually no employment opportunities. With three young children, my parent’s marriage broke down and overnight my mother, myself and my two siblings were facing homelessness. Having been away from the workforce for 14 years, my mother’s professional network was non-existent and her professional qualifications were out of date. We initially moved to my grandparents in another town until my grandfather took over our mortgage and saved our home, and my mother started doing unskilled, low-paying work to make ends meet.”
Global Sisters is itself a start-up, now with a formal, three-year strategy and plan with formal funding partnerships with AMP, Citi, Myer and the Department of Social Services. Under the direction of a formally-constituted board of directors, the organisation operates in Queensland, Victoria, the ACT and New South Wales.
Imalia has worked with Global Sisters from the earliest days, and provides the company’s insurance cover that helps make Global Sisters secure in the services and training it provides. “We’re in business to provide real-world expertise to those we work with and to make a real difference,” notes Mandy Richards, “so it’s great that we get that from Imalia in turn.
“And the Imalia team is expert at working with us on new business ideas. An example is the concept of microinsurance. Global Sisters provide microloans - those very small amounts of investment often needed by individuals seeking to become self-employed, but usually not available from the mainstream banks. The concept of microinsurance is not however as common. As an example, many women seek to earn income from craft work, yet they cannot sell their products or produce in markets without insurance, and can’t pay the insurance premiums without income - again, they’re caught out by the system!
“We’ve discussed about how we might be able to offer a new type of insurance product that would cover this with Imalia. It’s a work in progress, but it’s an example of Imalia’s commitment and expertise centred on empowering women to be financially independent and secure.”
Other developments for Global Sisters includes negotiations to become accredited under the Federal Government’s long-standing New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS), which allows individuals to continue to receive welfare support as they create their new startup venture without having to continue to look for work.
“Our aim is to build an organisation that can scale, providing the business skills that allow financially-excluded women to become financially secure and independent,” says Mandy Richards. “Global Sisters is about self-empowerment for all women, whatever their circumstances. Entrepreneurs can be taught - they don't need to be born.”
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