*By Daria Impiombato

Australia is a country of migrants. After the two world wars, it welcomed thousands of Europeans running from poverty. It then became the dream destination for newcomers from all the corners of the world, in search of a brighter future. It is now home to millions of people of all nationalities and backgrounds.

They all came here with goals and dreams in mind, but they were not given the same tools to reach them. In fact, moving to a new country is hard for everyone, but for some, it’s harder than for others.

And here is where SisterWorks comes into play.

Behind a little, colourful shop on Swan Street, Richmond, there is magic happening every single day. 

Back in 2013, a group of inspired migrant women came together and, helped by the generosity and hard work of many Australian women, they started shaping a new ambitious project.

Driven by one vision, they have been working together to expand their network and ensure that all migrant, refugee and asylum seeker women in Australia have the opportunity to become economically empowered, by working and making business in their new country.

“When you don’t have money, you need friends” said Luz Restrepo, SisterWorks’ founder and CEO, when we first met at their Richmond home. Her focus on networking and reciprocity reflects on the whole team strategy and became the starting point for all the work done in the past five years.

SisterWorks’ core belief is that to make change, women need the basic tools for independence, starting with an emotional and physical support system, and ending with economic autonomy.

There are, however, many obstacles on the way to self-empowerment and self-worth. For one, many migrant women currently live far from the social enterprise’s headquarters, being spread out in outer suburbs and country Victoria. They are often isolated and long-term unemployed, making it even harder for SisterWorks to reach them and have a positive impact on their life.

The SisterWorks family.

A lack of fluency in English is usually the most evident set-back for migrant women, but it’s not the only one. When moving to a different country, the first thing they lose is their own identity, together with their role in society. Their unfamiliarity with Western culture creates a shock that is hard to overcome without the support of people who are in the same situation, and might generate social isolation and depression.

All these women come from different life paths, they all tell different stories of hardship and disadvantage. Some of them are full-time mothers and family carers, others have never worked before in their life, some might be completely illiterate, while others might have been victims of domestic or social violence.

These issues are the reason why the people behind SisterWorks keep working and expanding their area of influence. The social enterprise has been constantly growing since its founding, but the potential is much bigger. 

With the help of the community, SisterWorks is aiming at building an even stronger network with business and social entrepreneurs, because they do believe that Australia is a place of opportunities, and with your help, they will make these opportunities become a reality for many.

Handmade products at SisterWorks shop on Swan St, Richmond.

Are you a local entrepreneur in Melbourne and want to know more about this social enterprise? You, too, can support SisterWorks by buying the ethical, local products hand-made by these women, from the online shop, or by visiting their stores. 

Daria Impiombato is a freelance journalist in Melbourne, Australia. She is now interning at SisterWorks and contributing to the blog’s content.

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