We are so pleased to introduce to you Sisterworks, a fantastic charity who help women migrants, asylum seekers and refugees become financially independent and happily settled in Australia.
Come along the journey and get to know how this wonderful charity came about, what their ‘everyday’ looks like and how they already have and plan to improve the lives of women around Australia.
Why and how did your charity first start?
At the age of 45, as a medical doctor and a communication expert, Luz Restrepo arrived in Australia in 2010 seeking political asylum. Her life was in tatters, and she spoke no English. She felt like a nobody: frightened, isolated and disempowered. Luz soon discovered that she was not alone.
In 2011, along with a group of 25 women experiencing similar challenges, Luz began to make and sell crafts around Melbourne. She understood that to support each other is also to strengthen each other.
SisterWorks Inc. was born in May 2013 when a committee of volunteers joined Luz with legal, fund-raising, marketing and administrative skills to give support and structure to the project.
What are some of the things you set out to achieve?
Through work and entrepreneurship, Sister Works’ mission is to support women who are refugees, asylum seekers or migrants so they can improve their confidence, mental wellbeing, sense of belonging and economic outlook.
Our vision is an Australia where all migrant women are given the opportunities to become economically empowered.
We are always in search of networks and opportunities that connect our Sisters to the Australian workforce and society. Furthermore, we nurture a safe and accepting space for these women to integrate into their new lives in Australia smoothly.
What makes your charity so unique/stand out from the rest?
We also function as a social enterprise. We have two retail stores that sell the products that our Sisters hade make weekly in our Design Labs. These products include homeware, self-care, food, accessories, and clothing. All these products are ethical and sustainable. At least 50% of the profit from each sale goes directly to the woman that made the product.
At SisterWorks we are champions of inclusion and diversity. To date, we have supported more than 492 women from 56 different countries. To increase the number of migrant and refugee women empowered to access opportunities in the workforce, SisterWorks is starting to share its model into other Victorian regions. New partners and Sisters are joining our SisterWorks family in Dandenong, Bendigo and Carringbush.
UN Women has acknowledged our achievements. We are currently part of the UN Women pilot program Second Chance, in partnership with the BHP Foundation. Through this program, we are highlighting the ‘second chance’ opportunities we provide for our Sisters. A significant opportunity we provide is through our e-Hub. This hub focuses on creating an online education WebApp that aims to deliver an online learning and connectivity portal for Sisters who have minimum digital and literacy skills.
Share a typical day at your organisation. How does your team typically work?
We are a very social organisation with very interconnected teams. We all meet regularly for meetings and to keep each other in the loop with each other’s achievements and goals ahead.
Our training labs are located in the same building as our office. So, we are connecting and engaging with our Sisters daily. Hugs and kisses are a commonality.😊
Who/what other organisations do you partner with to enable the great work that you do?
SisterWorks has many partners; wholesale, corporate, NGO, educational, Government etc. Some of our prevalent partners include Australia Post, Richies IGA, City of Melbourne, Kathmandu, NAB, RMIT and UN Women.
Highlights of our impact:
- Every $1 invested into SisterWorks generates $2.40 of social, economic and cultural value.
- 65% of the migrant women we have/are supporting are running their own micro-businesses.
- SisterWorks had 400 volunteers over the past four years, filling the equivalent of 12 full-time positions each year which is more than double the current employed workforce at SisterWorks.
- The Government is a significant beneficiary of the work that SisterWorks does. Using conservative assumptions, SisterWorks contributes over $1.4m in social value for the Government. The most considerable outcome for the Government is the reallocation of resources due to the early intervention by SisterWorks to assist women with mental health and isolation issues. Some women (4%) have been able to set up small family businesses, gain full-time employment at SisterWorks or other organisations, or establish successful and profitable enterprises. These women are no longer dependent on welfare as a result of SisterWorks.
- Our open-door policy of welcoming everyone, genuine care and respect for everyone’s culture, skills and experiences, and belief in ‘sisterhood’. This culture means that like no other organisation, individuals who come to SisterWorks feel that they have found a place where they belong, can share their story and are valued.
What motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?
A deep love, appreciation and respect for our Sisters and the sacrifices they have made in their lives as women, mothers and migrants. SisterWorks gives back to these amazing women.
How could a platform like charityBay assist in achieving your charity’s goals?
A platform like charityBay is an excellent partnership for SisterWorks in spreading awareness about our organisation. Any bit of money invested in SisterWorks goes a very long way for a locally based non-profit like us. Furthermore, the ethos of charityBay in promoting a sustainable cycle for unused items blends with the ethical model of our SisterWorks products. We believe in sustainability and making consumption more ecofriendly.
What is installed for the future for your charity? What are some of the projects you’re working on that you would like to share with your community?
SisterWorks is an extremely proactive and positive organisation. Despite the challenges of our current environment of isolation, this has not slowed the progress and achievements of SisterWorks.
As our Empowerment hubs and shops have suspended face to face contact, we have shifted online, and we are using creativity to move forward. Our highest priority is to keep our Sisters engaged and economically empowered. We decided that if our Sisters cannot come to us, we can go to them using technology and visiting them in their homes. To do this, we are embracing our’ learning by doing’ approach and implementing a proactive, remote activities model.
To maintain engagement with our Sisters in an environment of physical distancing, we have started e-classes and created individual support plans for each Sister. Our regular skill development workshops are still functioning via live, video meetings every week. All of the resources, materials and instructions are delivered directly to our Sisters' homes using the necessary precautions around physical distancing. We want our Sisters to continue to be engaged, and each week we aim to involve more and more Sisters.
One of our primary goals for the future is the achievements of our Second Chance program with UN Women, in partnership with the BHP Foundation. As our e-Hub is the program of focus within this partnership, we see our current online climate as one that will accelerate and provide greater opportunities for achievement.
Work Empowers Women!
From charityBay, we want to send our deepest and most sincere thanks to Maria and the whole team at Sisterworks. We are so pleased charityBay has an opportunity to make a difference to the lives of the women you support day-in-day-out.
But now it’s over to you, our readers! If you love what you’ve read about Sisterworks and want to support their teams of women, click the link below to start auctioning off your items and help generate much-needed funds.