In this interview, Mandy shares her personal story on why she founded Global Sisters. She sheds light on some of the economic barriers facing women today, and her big ambitions to fix the system.
1. What motivated and inspired you to set up Global Sisters? How did your own experiences inspire you?
A combination of personal experiences and passions inspired me to create Global Sisters.
I spent my primary school years in Indonesia and witnessed devastating poverty up close. I remember seeing people suffering debilitating illnesses and experiencing homelessness every day.
Prior to this I grew up on a small farm and then later in a single mother household. My mother, who was university qualified but had no current professional experience, supported me and my siblings through significant financial hardship.
These experiences left an imprint and were part of my inspiration to help women facing barriers – to mainstream employment, to financial stability, to economic security. I feel driven to make change and have always been passionate about human rights and doing something meaningful with my life.
During a trip to Vietnam, I met hill-tribes women in Sapa who had incredible weaving skills but no access to markets or support in creating designs for marketable products.
I returned from that trip inspired to create Global Sisters, and the rest has been an evolution from that very moment.
2. What was the core problem you tried to solve with Global Sisters?
Women need flexible options for working. In the past men worked and women were homemakers. Now women are still the primary homemakers and carers but they also work, and this creates an often difficult if not impossible scenario.
Women carry the bulk of the caring load in society but they don’t get reimbursed for it. They suffer financially when they take time out to raise children, look after sick kids and elderly family members and when long term relationships end they are often left without income support that meets the caring needs they still are responsible for. They approach older age having received lower wages, less super and a hindered career and may find themselves over 50 with no assets, unemployed and unable to find a job.
We also have a very outdated welfare system that was never designed for women, particularly single mums.
Self-employment provides flexibility which can make it possible for a woman to earn an income around and despite her circumstances. Global Sisters aims to Make Business Possible for any woman who wants and needs it. At the same time, our Systems Change work is focussed on removing cultural and systemic blocks to make self-employment a possible pathway – particularly for women dependent on income support.
3.What barriers did you see when you founded Global Sisters 10 years ago, and are they still there today?
Access to markets and an online sales presence were a big barrier years ago. I could see there were plenty of women around with the talent and drive to create their own self-employment but there were barriers to selling online in terms of cost and tech know-how.
This has gotten easier now with solutions such as the Global Sisters Marketplace which enables an online presence and shop set up at no cost or risk as well as coming with wrap-around business and marketing support.
Isolation is another barrier – business is always a roller coaster journey and it’s important to surround yourself with a support base. Our Global Sisters Community is at the heart of everything we do. There’s always someone to share wins and losses with, and someone who supports your journey alongside you.
The other huge hurdle is business networks. Most of our Sisters don’t have strong business networks behind them and no way of accessing expert support, coaching or significant sales opportunities. A core part of our model is connection with our corporate and business partners. This means our Sisters have access to experts for business coaching, pro bono services and sales opportunities and they get enormous value from these networks and connections.
4. You see so many women’s lives directly change as a result of the work from Global Sisters and its partners. What does success look like now at a systems change level – what are you currently advocating for?
My number one focus is to drive change in our welfare systems so that it not only allows, but actively supports self-employment, as much as external employment, for those most vulnerable and dependent on income support.
Most women are welfare dependent due to external factors beyond their control. Solutions to see them exiting welfare permanently need to recognise the barriers these circumstances are creating, and provide solutions around them.
This includes providing enough consistent income support and the space for a stable base to build a financially independent future from.
5. For anyone looking to make a difference, how can they get involved? Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government to help overcome the obstacles women are facing?
Global Sisters is focussed on solving problems everyday, from different angles, and there are a number of ways to support a Sister, and our mission. You can find out more here.
We’d love to see the Government providing seed funding for micro business and making changes to the welfare system so that it enables and truly supports self-employment where it is needed most.
Invest in Her: $1000 supports an Australian woman to start her own business and set up her own income stream for a pathway to financial independence. We welcome donations to help make this happen for more women. Get involved here
Buy from Her: Buy from micro business (1-4 employees) and shop purposefully from our Sisters on the Global Sisters Marketplace. Gifting from our Marketplace adds extra meaning because that purchase is truly making a difference to someone’s life. This applies to individuals as well as corporations. Shop now.
Coach Her: We continually have opportunities for pro bono business coaching and business services so that you can help a Sister through your business expertise. Sign up here
6. You were awarded Pro Bono Australia Impact 25 winner… What does something like that mean to you?
It’s an honour that recognises the hard work of the Global Sisters team as well as the support of everyone who has helped Global Sisters to arrive at this point. I also think it is important to shine a light on innovation in the not-for-profit sector. We have some big problems that need big solutions, and they are not going to get fixed with business as usual – by the government, corporations or the not-for-profit sector alone – collaboration is key.
7. What do you think is the biggest issue facing women today? What barriers are women facing when starting their own business and what are you doing to change this?
Gender inequality is a big issue for women that needs addressing. It impacts every part of our lives and results in many women living in poverty through no fault of their own.
We know from our experience working with 5500+ Australian women as well as our research that the primary barriers to our Sisters starting up businesses include lack of ; confidence, networks, business knowledge and long-term business support. Global Sisters is much bigger than a program – it’s really a movement to democratise entrepreneurship. A platform and a community that bring together people and a comprehensive suite of resources and tools that provide a one-stop-shop for micro business support. Our flexible and accessible model addresses most of the key barriers we have identified through long term support and connection to what is needed, when it is needed.
8. Where do you see Global Sisters in 5 years?
Global Sisters can offer so much. My 5 years wish is:
- Global Sisters is a household name in Australia where every woman knows she can go to access whatever business support she needs to start or grow her micro business. An established practical pathway of hope for economic participation for women trapped by their circumstances.
- I hope we have driven clear change in the welfare system such that it genuinely enables and supports self-employment and provides a new alternative pathway to long term financial security.
- We’ve set some big goals in this time, the launch of 17,000 new micro businesses and directly impacting the lives of 42,000 Australian women.
- We can be a global impact case study for what is possible. A model that inspires celebration and recognition of the impact of micro business and Making Business Possible for ALL women.
9. What does IWD mean to you personally?
Every day is International Women’s Day here at Global Sisters. But the day is an opportunity to shine the light on inspiring impact stories and hopefully raise awareness and drive action which results in much needed change.
10. Best advice I can give the next generation of woman …
You have everything inside you to do whatever it is you wish to do.
Inspired to support Mandy and Global Sisters in their quest to fix the system? Learn more on ways to show your support at globalsisters.org/IWD