While there’s no denying that the pandemic has been tough for most, its impact on women in the workforce, specifically, can’t be ignored. As we know, the COVID recession hit women much harder. According to new research from the Grattan Institute, women were not only much more likely to have lost jobs and income, they were less likely to get government support, while also being left to shoulder more of the unpaid work, whether carrying the brunt of supervising children remotely or caring for relatives.

Enter Global Sisters, an organisation that seeks to get women back onto their feet and strive for financial independence. Founded by Mandy Richards, the organisation has helped thousands of unemployed and underemployed women successfully launch their own small businesses or find steady employment and income, and while Richards has been hard at work for just under 10 years building on Global Sisters, her organisation’s work has never been more important.

Global Sisters seeks to make business possible for women who might have otherwise been unable to participate in mainstream employment, be it through job loss, separation from a partner or mental health, enabling them a means to be financially resilient. Basically, the organisation removes the structural and systemic barriers that women commonly face, making self-employment a reality.

While Richards’ business background had always included some sort of social aspect, working with major charities or social enterprises—including the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals in Ethiopia, the RSPCA in New Zealand, as well as work with the Botswana government—it wasn’t until an experience with reality series, Dragon’s Den, that her career would take a major pivot, sparking the entrepreneurial spirit she would later use to bring Global Sisters to life.

“I went on Dragon's Den when it aired in Australia, it was the only one they did in Australia, unfortunately, and which was obviously the precursor to Shark Tank. I won the highest amount of investment on that with this business concept,” she says, “and actually, of everything I've done, that was the biggest learning curve. It was a sharp learning curve in business.”

While the idea for Global Sisters had begun to bubble away during her years working with charitable organisations, Richards can’t deny that her own personal experiences growing up in rural New South Wales had an immense impact on her decision to start the organisation.

“When I was in high school, my parents separated, and just watching and living through the experience of, what I would say was a messy divorce, but a mum, suddenly a single mum, who has three kids in a country town where there weren't many jobs,” Richards recalls of her time growing up. “Even though she was super smart and had a double degree, my mum hadn't ever worked, she didn't have a network. The biggest barrier I think really was self-confidence, she didn't have the self-confidence and just doing this juggle with trying to manage three kids by herself.”

All of those experiences is what Richards believes culminated in her passion for micro-business, the ethos of which Global Sisters currently still has at its core.

“I love anything entrepreneurship, wanting to help women in Australia, and also overseas, genuinely be able to start a business and create their own income streams and create their own jobs through self-employment if that's what they wanted to do. So the big thing for Global Sisters is really democratising entrepreneurship and making it a genuine third option for women in Australia, so that if they can't access mainstream employment, they don't have to go on welfare or if they do, there's another option there that they can look into and use. It's not just one of two choices.”

It wasn’t until Richards went on maternity leave that the idea really had time to flourish, giving her time to focus, despite being in “those early crazy days of babies and not much sleep.”

The business model is completely unique, not just in Australia but worldwide, as Richard notes, offering up long-term solutions to aid in women’s employment that is beneficial, flexible and accessible.

“It's been designed in a way that it's quite modular and there's not a set start and there's not a set finish, and once women join the community, they stay in the community. They move through different phases and they pick up different pieces of support as they need it. They also start giving support back to other women, which is awesome.”

Richards explains that Global Sisters aims to support women in four central ways”in business education, business coaching, microfinance and sales and marketing”, which ultimately offers up entirely new skills to continue on their own.

“It just removes all these barriers to women getting their businesses online,” Richards explains of the Global Sisters platform, which also has the backing of “excellent big corporate partners,” including Afterpay, Visa, Unilever, Google and more, who provide further access to expertise that would normally not be at such accessible disposal.

“It's continuous, different companies come up with different things all the time.”

From business coaching to the organisation’s Sister School, there are countless avenues for women who join the program to explore, which ultimately, leads to an overall build up of confidence, something Richards notes is often the biggest barrier in getting started.

“Our focus is entrepreneurship and business start-up, and what we have found with a number of women is that they really build up their confidence when they come through the program and then go and get jobs, which is brilliant and a nice side effect. But the biggest barrier we really see is self-confidence, and so the entire program is designed in a way that is building up women's confidence through the platform, but also by having this community of women that just have each other's back.”

Every idea, big or small, is welcome at Global Sisters. The organisation has even coined a term for that initial idea, ‘Brilliance’, which is also shared via their social media platform alongside the hashtag, #BackHerBrilliance.

“Every woman has brilliance and every woman has something that she can turn into an income stream if she chooses, whether it's something she's passionate about, she loves, a hobby or skills, and it’s just recognising that every woman does have her own brilliance. Sometimes people just need a bit of support to make that shine and to live their best lives.”

Global Sisters has (and will continue) to help countless women across Australia, with hopes to launch globally not far from Richards’ mind. Ultimately, its success could come down to Richards’ continual focus on the “why” of her organisation—seeing the real, tangible change it makes in people’s lives.

“Hearing from the women that have been supported by Global Sisters always blows my mind, it always hits me pretty hard. I had this video sent through just a couple of days ago by one of my team of a Japanese woman who had just gone through Sister School, and there's this beautiful 30-second video where, in tears, she's describing the experience, and the last thing she said was, ‘Thank God for Global Sisters.’ And for me, that's the food, that's the stuff that keeps you going.”

One such success story in the Global Sisters network is Melbourne-based Amber Bennett, who after joining the organisation, has become a clear example of how impactful the education and support it provides can be.

Finding herself unemployed during the pandemic, with small children to support, Bennett began to practice daily rituals like meditation to ground herself, having dealt with depression and anxiety her entire life, something that would later become the catalyst of the business she founded with Global Sisters.

“I had been laid off from my employer because I was working for a retail company and I'd been laid off because I hadn't been there long enough to be entitled to JobKeeper,” explains Bennett. “I was turned down and I've always had the idea that I wanted to help people, that I wanted to help women in particular and create something that was a little bit of a legacy.”

Bennett notes that even prior to getting involved with Global Sisters she had always been creative, but admittedly without the skills to take her business to the “next level.”

“I'm very much a creative and the things that had always really scared me have been finances, accounts, all those mean and nasty things,” she explains.

Upon discovering the organisation on Facebook, Bennett instinctively knew it was something she wanted to get involved in.

“I've just maintained income, and I think that getting involved with Global Sisters has really helped me see that I can shift that and I can take it to another level. I just need those skills and the support of the team itself and the community of the Sisters always being there and always available to ask questions has been really helped.”

What would eventually come to fruition is Bennett’s business, Ethics & Alchemy, which is as she describes, “a lifestyle brand offering women the ability to create their own self-care rituals.” The brand offers ethically-sourced healing crystals and eye pillows filled with organic herbs.

“Ethics & Alchemy is built to just slow down, to be really mindful,” she explains. “I slow everything down in the way that I create, the way that I've taken the time to think about the way things are, where they come from, how they've been sourced, I'm creating something from the start that you can feel good about yourself and then build and mature into it.”

Bennett went through the Global Sisters program, including the My Big Idea workshop and Sister School, completely online—never having met the team in person, but nevertheless, the community has been just as supportive and encouraging as if it had been done face-to-face.

“They've become great friends and we've all got very different businesses, but the support, it's a community that I've never belonged to before. It's so supportive. It's a beautiful group of people that just want to see each other succeed. It's actually unlike any group that I've belonged to before, to be honest.”

What Bennett experienced through the organisation was essential, “deconstructing” her initial idea, as she says, and building it from the ground up again.

“I just hadn't thought about my business at those levels. It's deconstructing everything and then putting it all back together and cherry-picking what actually works for you,” she says of the programs. “The process that they took me through was really to reign it in and to keep it small and to keep everything really close so that when you launch, you can scale from there. I had always thought of things in such a grand way that it stopped me from moving to the next step. So, they were able to bring me back to let's start really, really small and let's build on a bit at a time.”

“It’s something I'm really proud of,” she adds.

Bennett’s advice for other women who are considering getting involved with Global Sisters is simple too: “Do it straight away, get involved.”

“Your idea, you'll be supported through the whole thing. Even if your idea doesn't turn out to be like you first anticipated, the learning that you'll get and the support that you'll get through this group, you'll be able to take into anything you do in the future.”

Bennett’s plans for the future of Ethics & Alchemy don’t just stop at her either, with hopes to use the expertise and support she’s received from Global Sisters to help women in her own way, with a dream of taking her production to Bali.

“I’ve always wanted to empower women in Bali, providing an income for those women as well, to those artisans. I'm really focused on a product that is made by women for women. That's my market. I know that that's my market.”

Image Credits: Global Sisters, Ethics & Alchemy