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Meet the social enterprises making a difference for women on International Women's Day

March 1, 2024
March 7, 2023

In honour of International Women's Day, we interviewed some of our social enterprise customers to learn about the amazing work they're doing to empower women both in their communities and beyond.

We spoke to Hannah Brennan, CEO and Co-Founder of Scarf, a social enterprise that provides a supportive and inclusive space for trainees to develop skills and networks in the hospitality industry. And we also chatted with Kim Rollason-Nokes, CEO and Founder of Ethni, a non-profit organization that offers young women from diverse backgrounds meaningful training and employment opportunities while elevating their voices through a youth-led board.

Question: "Can you tell us what your number one motivation was in establishing your organisation? What was it that kept you going through those ups and downs of starting a business?"

Hannah: "Meeting young people from refugee backgrounds who so badly wanted to be working, but just couldn't get a foot in the door. I was also inspired by the organic mentoring relationships that I had benefited from, and that I'd seen other people benefit from, working in hospitality. Scarf was always going to have mentoring at its core."

Kim: "Seeing our team and community of young women from diverse cultural backgrounds have a safe space to bring their full selves to, where they could explore their full potential and strive for opportunities that they had envisioned for their future with confidence. What has kept me going was knowing what Ethni was doing was so much bigger than me. Of course, you have the day to day moments of walking alongside someone on their journey and seeing that incredible growth, but as the years went on and seeing those who had been part of programs starting to join the team and pass that knowledge and support on to other young women, I knew we had created a platform and model of working that was much more than any one person - that real long-term change was possible."

A group of kids gather around for a photo. Some wear shirts saying "Ethni" on them

Question: " What are the moments that make you the most proud in your day to day work?"

Kim: "Recently we held a team culture and values day where an external facilitator, Renee Shea, took the team through a series of activities that helped them determine what our organisational and team values are and how we can practically live them in our day to day work. I got to sit back and observe a lot of that day and it was filled with so much pride and contentment to see this group of young women who have been with Ethni from 2 weeks to 5 years talk about what they had created with such fire and love. These moments happen often these days where the team will be in meetings or presenting to a funding body or speaking at an event, and, as I said before, it is that feeling of 'we've done it'. Not that we've reached the end of the road, in fact is it still just the beginning, but the vision has truly come to life and we have this team and community owning it and living and breathing it every day. "

Hannah: "I think it's hearing from graduates who are smashing life goals. I recently heard from Nyaguich who did a Scarf program in 2012. Before she came to Scarf she'd been applying for jobs for a year and no-one would even interview her. She was a vibrant, smart young woman and she excelled in the program, then quickly secured a Food & Beverage attendant role at Sofitel on Collins. She reached out to me at the end of 2022 to see if we had any recent graduates who wanted to come to an open interview day at Sofitel... she's still working there 10 years on! Another graduate messaged me recently to tell me he'd just bought his first home. This young person had been in a really difficult place before coming to Scarf in 2015, but doing the program unlocked a lot of great job opportunities for him, which he made the most of. I'm also incredibly proud of the team I work with - a lot of what we do looks like fun (and some of it is!) but there's a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes, and it can be challenging to stay positive when you're hearing, first-hand, about the discrimination and other barriers which our trainees face on a daily basis. It takes a lot of strength to keep showing up with a smile and running programs and Scarf Dinners in the hope that we can change the circumstances of these resilient young people."

Scarf employees gather behind a brick wall

Question: "How do you think identifying as a woman has uniquely shaped and affected your journey on running your business, if at all?"

Hannah: "I've been thinking about this a lot lately. There have been times, particularly in the early days of Scarf when I was in my mid-20s, that I wasn't taken seriously. I think people considered Scarf as a "project" for a long time, rather than an organisation with a clear vision and mission, and lots of compliance considerations! There's a sort of minimisation in that, which I think correlates to me being a young female trying to do good in the world. I also lacked confidence in those early days because I struggled with imposter-syndrome for a very long time. I'm grateful to have had a lot of incredibly inspiring colleagues and mentors, as well as some really wonderful female board members, who have lifted me up and helped me believe in myself. "

Students stand behind a counter

Question: " Can you offer your own perspective on what you think the unique opportunities and challenges are for women running social enterprises and community organisations?"

Kim: "Where to begin! I think women are do-ers. They are the gritty ones who get in, put their noses down and bum up and grind hard doing the work day to day for their communities.  They often don't seek recognition and can lack the confidence (or lack the opportunities) to really chase the attention required to push their enterprises to the next level i.e. attracting funding, local political support, award nominations etc. But women are the backbone of this sector - They bring a strong combination of empathy and compassion with strength, resilience and determination. I deeply admire the leadership style of Jacinda Ardern, but she is only a unicorn. I see her replicated in hundreds of women across my networks who are leading in small and big ways in their communities everyday."

Three woman sit a table, one holds a pen in her hand, writing on a piece of paper

Question: "How do you think women in leadership are making a difference in social enterprises and community organisations, and why do you think the role women play important in growing the purpose-driven business sector?"

Hannah: "I don't want to over-generalise but I think most women approach things from a place of empathy and creativity. Women who run social enterprises and community orgs are good problem-solvers and multi-taskers - we have to be, because generally we run our households as well as our workplaces. We just get stuff done. At the end of the day, the commercial side of a social enterprise is important but if you only make decisions through the lens of the bottom-line, I think you miss a lot of opportunities."

Question: "If you could describe your perfect future for women in your sector, what would it look like?"

Kim: "More seats at decision making tables where the skills and strengths of female led enterprises can be recognised and rewarded. More pathways into leadership for women, particularly women from diverse backgrounds, from entry level roles into decision making roles so more diverse wisdom can inform the radical change we need in our sector."

Learn more about our inspiring customers here.

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