How Global Sisters is breaking down barriers and shifting the paradigm around work

by Women’s Agenda
Tuesday 11 October 2022

Global Sisters woman painting

Imagine a world in which all women had the opportunity to access decent, sustainable work?

That’s the ultimate mission of Global Sisters, an organisation supporting women to start and grow their own businesses and making self-employment a viable option for those who might otherwise face structural and systemic barriers.

CEO of Global Sisters, Mandy Richards, says she was drawn to start the organisation in 2016 after looking for a way to help women gain self-employment.

Her drive came from various lived experiences; perhaps none more formative than seeing her single mother struggle to secure a job while growing up on a farm in Armidale, NSW. 

Richards was also exposed to the complexities of poverty when she moved with her family to Indonesia and then travelled and worked overseas as an adult.

Since moving back to Australia and becoming a mum, Richards has devoted her energy into building Global Sisters and making a profound difference to the lives of thousands of women by shifting the paradigm around work.

“Mainstream employment generally is so inflexible. I think the older you get, the more you see how many women are facing so many barriers, that really make that typical nine to five jobs incredibly difficult,” she says.

Global Sisters supports women who may not have considered business ownership a viable option from the earliest stage of ideation through to long-term growth. A massive 92 per cent of women at Global Sisters feel as though they have acquired the business acumen to run a good business and this financial independence offers much-needed security and flexibility.

Lisa Keenan, Executive Director of MECCA M-POWER, says it's this very specific impact that drew MECCA to partner with Global Sisters.

For thousands of women in Australia, no work, not enough work, or being unable to keep a business going are daily struggles that often descend into poverty, homelessness, and the devastating effects those conditions have on mental health and wellbeing,” says Keenan.

“We love Global Sisters’ special focus on single mothers and older women, groups that are especially vulnerable. Mandy and her team have shown that from little things, big things really do grow.”

Global Sisters also has an online marketplace, where women can sell their products. Around 220 women have already begun selling there. For vulnerable women, the offering really is life changing. 

“We've done a lot of work with refugee women and migrant women- they all have their own barriers. Then, of course, there's things like [domestic violence], it's just so widespread, which has a massive impact,” says Richards, adding that “everyone wants and needs to work, but so many women, most women really need flexible solutions.”

The multiple systemic and personal barriers women face in mainstream employment were only compounded by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and yet, in 2020, 59 per cent of women who joined Global Sisters were able to start generating income from their business.

This success rate was due in part to Global Sisters’ efforts to move everything online to match the need for women to have flexibility in their work. The online marketplace allowed many women to quickly set up shops online.

“One thing that we saw was that a lot of women lost their jobs. Because most of these women had some sort of casual work on the side, and a lot of that just dried up. It actually gave them some breathing space to focus on their businesses that they'd been wanting to,” says Richards.

Aysha Navlakhi for instance, moved to Australia 22 years ago and is a South African Indian woman living in Brisbane. Navlakhi joined Global Sisters’ My Big Idea workshop and subsequently opened a catering business called Events by Aysha. Due to the in-person nature of catering when the pandemic hit, she was forced to slow down on events and get into pre-packed meals.

“I had to think quickly and it was an opportunity for me,” says Navlakhi.

“Without Global Sisters, I don’t know if I’d be here. I don’t know if my business would have been in conception, infancy or where it is today. It’s the catalyst that pushed me to where I am. And it gave me constant confidence.”

Global Sisters has seen 3,000 women commence or complete a business education program and Richards has her eyes set on helping even more women become financially independent by starting a business.

“I want to run a 3-year pilot, where we work with 600 women, who are on welfare- single moms particularly. With a focus on women who've come out of [domestic violence] situations, as well,” says Richards.

“We want to run that pilot and really just prove to the government that micro-business and self-employment is something they need to invest in, and they need to support it as an alternative for these women.”