How a local business can make a real difference to people with special needs
Anne Fuchs, Sunsuper's Head of Advice and Retirement, chats with a remarkable young woman who has created a profit-for-purpose business employing Australians with special needs. Nipuni ‘Nip' Wijewickrema started GG's Flowers and Hampers to get her sister Gayana off welfare and into a purposeful vocation — and won the inaugural Sunsuper Dreams for a Better World Business Grants Grand Final.
Intro: Welcome to the New School of Super. A fresh look at money matters, your super and the things that could affect your financial dreams now and in future with Sunsuper's Chief Economist Brian Parker and Head of Advice and Retirement Anne Fuchs.
Anne Fuchs: Hello and thanks for listening. Welcome to the New School of Super, Sunsuper's, podcast series covering money markets, investments, your superannuation and most importantly, helping you achieve your retirement dreams.
Now, today's somewhat of a different episode, I have to say the illustrious Brian Parker, my -normally my partner in crime, the Chief Economist here at Sunsuper isn't with me, but I have someone sitting in front of me, who is wearing the most beautiful yellow blouse and her name is Nip and she's all the way up from Canberra, from cold Canberra to Brisbane from GG's Flowers and Hampers. And we're talking today with me about employing people in disabilities and the benefits of that can have to businesses, to communities and families. So, it's really good to have you here today, Nip!
Nip Wijewickrema: Thanks so much Anne, normally I'm wearing pink, so happy to change it up a bit. Good.
Anne Fuchs: Yellow's very Sunsuper! I have to say your in-brand, though you may not have deliberately done it. Now, before we begin, we're - what we're talking about today is more is learning a lot and hearing about Nip's experience. And it's about, I guess, predominantly focused for our small business owners. But certainly, anyone that's listening, we just wanted to share with you that this is just general information only. And if you're thinking about superannuation more generally, that you obviously can always contact Sunsuper and get a copy of our product disclosure statement or contact us to seek financial advice and you can call us on 13 11 84.
So before we begin, let's talk about Dreams for a Better World. And you know, this is a way, this is a programme, or a way of Sunsuper giving back to the community. How does a woman such as yourself, a small business owner in Canberra, even come into contact with this programme?
Nip Wijewickrema: I know it's a little bit surreal, and I can't kind of believe I'm sitting here at Sunsuper's headquarters in Brisbane when I'm normally kind of used to, you know, my garden shed in Canberra, where we deliver flowers and hampers. So, I suppose around about this time last year, a bit later, I came across the Dream for a Better World grants, and I was really inspired by the incredible amount of support that Sunsuper was putting behind small businesses like mine.
Anne Fuchs: So how did you find the grants, even? Like, how did you even get to that point where you found the grants? Tell me. Just rewind a little.
Nip Wijewickrema: Let's rewind. Yeah, I think it was via social media. Anyone that knows me out there knows that I love my social media, and I'm sure a few people sent it to me, and sure, I just saw and I thought "you know what? That has our name written all over it". And I really wanted to be aligned with the brand, like Sunsuper as well; so I just thought, "You know what? I'm not going to win, but let's just put my hat in the ring".
Anne Fuchs: And so you applied?
Nip Wijewickrema: Yes. I applied online through a really, really easy process, I might say, and it was just, you know, like as someone that applies for grants, all the time, sometimes they can be super complicated and super hard, and you just feel like it's not even worth it. But it was great, it was easy, it was a breeze, and I'm so super glad I did it.
Anne Fuchs: And you're…tell our listeners a bit about your business and why you've become a finalist in the Dreams for a Better World.
Nip Wijewickrema: So GG's Flowers and Hampers is a florist and gift hamper business that provides meaningful employment for people with special needs. I started the business seven years ago for my little sister, Gayana, who's very cheeky, and she has down syndrome, and I really wanted her to have a job, and I really wanted her to have a purpose in life. And so obviously we built a florist in our bathroom and, you know, and then a few months later, we moved all the way to the garden shed, and from that, we just kind of grew from strength to strength, and we were delivering flowers every day, and then we started doing gift hampers, and the gift hamper aspect of our business has become kind of our core business, where we provide people with special needs with meaningful employment. We pay them award wages, boring things like super, but also make sure that they're participating in our economy in Australia.
Anne Fuchs: here at Sunsuper we think super is not boring; we think it's fabulous it's fabulous, fabulous! No, I'm just I'm teasing, I was being a bit cheeky there.
Nip Wijewickrema: No, absolutely. I even said it on the Dreams for a Better World gala night, I said "You know what I used to think super was so boring, but it's only until you talk to a person with a disability that really values their super. That's when you really realise how life changing it can be".
Anne Fuchs: So I know I was watching Employable Me on the ABC quite a few weeks ago now, and I found it just so inspiring, and just the impact; you don't think about people being left out of the workforce just because they have a disability and what that impact might have on their families and their self-esteem, and also the loss - to your point earlier around -the lost economic value for the overall contribution they make to productivity to Australia. Tell me, what are the statistics around people with a disability, do you have any? You know, sort of facts you could rattle off that you might have pre-prepared earlier around that?
Nip Wijewickrema: So, you know, and I haven't just pre prepared for this; like, there are in Australia, there are 4.8 million people with a disability, and of 4.8 million, only 27 percent have employment. So, that basically means that 73 percent of Australians living with the disability right here right now are unemployed and therefore welfare dependent. And, you know, and for me, when I was doing this research years and years ago, I realised that obviously when they're unemployed than they're welfare dependent; well, then let's delve a bit deeper into that kind of look at their welfare system. And actually, their payment is only about $445.15 a fortnight. And so how can you kind of live off that? If anyone's met my sister, they will know that she is a very tough crowd to follow. And, you know, she really likes getting her nails done. She really likes going out, but obviously, on her $445, she could never do that. Which is why economics participation for a person with a disability or anyone on the welfare system is really, really important if they want to live.
Anne Fuchs: I guess too, it's the fact that that amount of money is not going to pay the bills. And so, then there's the impact, the flow-on impact to the families, to make up that shortfall, isn't there?
Nip Wijewickrema: Absolutely. I used to joke that the only reason I worked with to pay for her life [laughs]
Anne Fuchs: Your sister, I have to say this, is so lucky to have you, that big smile that you have in your face and the Passion. So if you're a small business, we have over 90,000 employers around Australia, could even be close to 100,000 now employers around Australia, and I'm sure many of them having a disability - you said 4.8 million Australians - so there's lots of employees that would have people in their lives who have a disability. Where would you even start in wanting to employ someone with a disability in the business? And what are the benefits for doing it?
Nip Wijewickrema: Look, and I will always throw my hands up in the air and tell you that over the last seven years I have had, you know, it's been a really it's a bit of a roller coaster and employing people with disabilities is in no way like you can't liken it to a walk in the park. It's a complex workforce, but you do it because you want to do good business. And as small business owners, you clearly want to do good business because that's why we're all in the same game, right? And, I think that for me personally, I have thousands of people that want employment from me because they acknowledge that we're providing a really safe, compassionate and caring workplace, and we're doing it in a really meaningful way, and we're not taking advantage of anyone or anything like that. However, you know, every day I'm approached by other small businesses that want to do their little bit to employ a person with a disability, and my kind of tips for that would be to reach out to disability organisations because often they have people that are desperate to work or desperate to volunteer. You know you don't need to necessarily give them a full-time job off the bat. It could be well, why don't you just come in for three hours a week just to kind of get to know everyone in the office and, see what's happening and kind of do it gradually and then offer them employment.
Anne Fuchs: And you make a good point, I mean, a small business - and Queensland, I have to say is a small business state, like fundamentally, our economy is a small business economy up here in Queensland and small business, it's a hard game and a lot goes on the line. So why you spoke about being good business? How is it good business employing somebody with a disability?
Nip Wijewickrema: So I think that in large corporate organisations which I'd kind of never really - don't have much background too, because I've never really worked for a large corporate. But I actually think that it's quite difficult to bring on a tiny little change like that, whereas in a small business where you're agile and you can make decisions quickly and you can tinker and tailor, it's actually easier to employ someone that perhaps has complex needs because you can adjust and see what's working and what's not working and react very quickly to something like that.
Anne Fuchs: What's the impact on the other staff who don't have a disability? What is it and the culture of the organisation?
Nip Wijewickrema: Look, I speak to thousands of organisations every month about the culture and it's proven that when you employ people with disabilities and additional needs in your community and include them in your community, your community is going to grow and it's going to become stronger because then you…it's inclusion, it's acceptance. It's moving away from tolerance and moving to acceptance and making sure that we're all on the same page because at the end of the day there are people with special needs all over, and just because it's not diagnosed doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And, I think that's really important to realise that no matter where you turn, there are people of different abilities around, and it's just about identifying that.
Anne Fuchs: Your conviction and quite frankly, raw leadership qualities around this arereally compelling. You know, I've just met you today and is dreams like, what is your vision? This platform of Dreams for a Better World? What is your vision? Where do you go to from here? How do you use this conviction and your leadership qualities to really change the landscape? What are you thinking?
Nip Wijewickrema: So I started, you know, with this dream for my little sister to just make sure that she had enough money to paint her nails. That's basically what I wanted to do. And now it's grown from this to this vicious beast that we feed every day, and we deliver flowers and we deliver hampers. And so, I'm really committed to economic participation on people with disabilities paying award wages and providing a safe, compassionate and caring workplace for them; and then in turn leading hopefully the rest of Australia to do the same. You don't have to build a florist in your bathroom to do it, but just in small little ways you, can tinker and tailor it to make Australia a more inclusive place.
Anne Fuchs: Have you met, has it given you, has the Dreams programme given you more of a platform or networks that you can tap into to help accelerate your dream for this idea spreading across the country?
Nip Wijewickrema: Absolutely. I've been absolutely floored by the generosity of Sunsuper, but also of their partners. You know, they have really embraced what we're doing, and that's actually quite an important point too is, you know, we're a small business from Canberra. Not very many people know about us. And then a huge giant like Sunsuper comes sweeping across, puts us on TV ads, puts us on their Facebook and really gives us a platform to share what we're doing, which is kind of in two ways, obviously selling our gift tampers but also in a way, promoting inclusion and promoting people with disabilities in the work force.
Anne Fuchs: Do you think in terms of going back to the good business sense that you're, that you're actually acquiring more customers and more goodwill for your brand? And as a consequence of this policy that people are actually choosing to do business with GG's Flowers and Hampers because of your policy, as opposed to just another florist up the road that doesn't do this?
Nip Wijewickrema: I hope so. You know, it's a very, very hard process and it's a slow process, but hopefully as time goes, it's going to get bigger, and it's going to strengthen people's loyalty and also acknowledging that it's a really good way to do. You know, the way you could buy a gift hamper from down the street and you could spend the same money. Or you can come to GG's, and you can actually change a few lives in the process.
Anne Fuchs: So and one final question before we wrap up, I guess if you are thinking about employing somebody with a disability, and you said to, suggested to go to a local, like a local...what was the organisation that you, was there anyone in particular?
Nip Wijewickrema: Any disability organisation.
Anne Fuchs: Any disability organisation. And in terms of knowing how to integrate them into the workforce and finding that, I guess the scaffolding, so they've got the needs, that they've got their needs well cared for. What would be your advice? Is there any resource centre that you would you would recommend?
Nip Wijewickrema: Look, in Australia, we are truly blessed. We have the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and that is something that no other country has. It means that people with disabilities are finally supported, and it's about utilising that, you know, it's about utilising their plans, talking to their parents or talking to the support organisation that's providing them with support and seeing how they can have, you know, if they need a support worker, if they need mobility, access or what they need in order to be a really great asset to your business.
Anne Fuchs: Okay, so it's the NDIS that provides that support and would help provide the guidance to the employer that was thinking about doing this. Absolutely. That's really incredibly informed, informative Nip. So congratulations again. Thanks so much for coming to Brisbane and to coming into Sunsuper and for the inspirational work that you are doing. You're…it's so exciting to see young, dynamic, powerful women out there making the world a better place. So thank you for doing your bit.
Nip Wijewickrema: Thank you so much for having me.
Anne Fuchs: so listeners, if you wanted to make a difference in your local community if you've been inspired what you've heard Nip achieved today. There are small business grants available through Dreams for a Better World on that website, and you can see also some stories from other small businesses and the like that have made a difference in their local communities. And there's a beautiful video of Nip and her sister, and so you can get to see this lovely lady that I've spoken to today. Thank you very much.
Outro: This has been the New School of Super. For information and inspiration to help you plan your future, manager Super, and enjoy your retirement, visit sunsuper.com.au/thedreamproject. Or if you've got a superannuation or investment question, you'd like Brian and Anne to discuss, then get in touch at newschoolofsuper.com for it feature in one of our future New School of Super podcasts.
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