Name: Nipuni Wijewickrema
Pillar: Business, Leadership & Community
What is your dream?
My dream is to create meaningful employment opportunities for people with special needs in a safe, compassionate and understanding work environment, through my social enterprise florist, GG's Flowers. Of the 4.8 million Australians who have a disability, 73% are welfare dependent and unemployed, with no choice but to live right on the poverty line. At GG’s Flowers, People with special needs are employed and paid award wages for delivering and making floral arrangements, and I hope to one day take the program to every capital city in Australia.
Tell us a bit about you.
I'm a 23-year-old former journalist, and passionate about advocating for those less fortunate. When I noticed that my gorgeous younger sister, Gayana, who has Down Syndrome, didn't have the same opportunities as my other sisters and I, I knew I didn't want her to face a life of welfare dependency. I built GG’S Flowers from my bathroom, until the business grew large enough to take over the garden shed and bring on 7 casual employees throughout the year. We deliver flowers all over Canberra, and work harmoniously with the NDIS to ensure all our employees are supported to achieve their full potential in the workplace. I have also been a volunteer crisis counsellor for Lifeline Australia since I was 17 years old, and it's both an honour and privilege to be there with people in their darkest hours.
How have you demonstrated commitment?
When I started GG's Flowers almost 3 years ago, I was also juggling full-time employment and volunteer commitments, coming home from a long day of work to deliver flowers with my sister. A year ago, I decided to leave the security of a full time job and salary, and invest my full time and energy into GG’S Flowers. Over the last 3 years, I have never drawn a wage from the business: I see GG’S Flowers as my philanthropic investment into the disability sector of Australia, and I'm so happy to be able to help my sister and her friends find meaningful employment.
What challenges do you face?
The biggest challenge I face is the sheer number of people and families of people with special needs searching for meaningful employment. I currently have a list of over 200 families who have asked us to employ their loved ones. It breaks my heart every time I have to turn down an offer for someone to work for us because we don't have enough sales, and my goal is to sell more and more flowers so that I can continue to employ and empower people with special needs.
How will you use the money?
As GG's Flowers is a social enterprise florist, we don't have a lot of spare money to purchase supplies and equipment. If I received the grant money, I'd be able to help support my living expenses so that I can keep working with the florist to build it into a sustainable business model. I'd also like to scale the florist and move into other parts of Australia via a franchise model.
How do you plan to give back?
I’ve learnt so much in my 3 years as a social entrepreneur in Canberra, and I would love the opportunity to share my highs and lows through mentoring other young women, and keynote addresses in the corporate and government space. I'm committed to making Australia a more inclusive place for people with special needs, and I can't wait until GG's Flowers becomes a national brand where people know they can receive flowers with a purpose. I remain committed to being there for people in need, via Lifeline Australia. I believe loneliness is an epidemic in our community and I think Lifeline is a vital way for Australians to connect with other Australians, who can help them through their rough times.