25 August 2023

Wagga 'Dream Team' aims to get more First Nations women into business

| Chris Roe
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The 'Dream Team', Vickie Birkinshaw, Aunty Cheryl Penrith and Leanne Sanders.

The ‘Dream Team’, Vickie Birkinshaw, Aunty Cheryl Penrith and Leanne Sanders. Photo: Chris Roe.

Leanne Sanders reckons First Nations women in business can change the world.

The founder of the Visual Dreaming digital media initiative, Butterfly Dreaming mentoring program and the Wollundry Dreaming centre in Wagga’s CBD is now hoping ‘Bizness Dreaming’ will empower the next generation.

“It can be really hard for women to get started in business, especially First Nations, because there’s not a lot of options to get support locally. I had to go out of town to learn,” she said, explaining the thinking behind the new initiative.

“I think getting into business is so hard and it was a lot of work, but I’ve been really lucky to have a good support team.”

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Leanne is joining forces with fellow entrepreneurs Aunty Cheryl Penrith and Vickie Birkinshaw, who she describes as her own business mentor.

“It’s so important to have good people around you that can share that lived experience and stories of failure and success,” Leanne said.

“Understanding that every failure is a learning and having those people who can remind you of that and go, ‘Pick yourself back up’ and ‘We believe in you’. It just keeps you going when things get tough.”

Aunty Cheryl said she felt that the Riverina was sometimes overlooked by government initiatives and she hoped they could inspire more local First Nations women to give business a go.

“I worked in a lot of different places before I decided to work for myself and it’s taken a massive big risk,” she said.

“But for a lot of us, this is really groundbreaking, and we can build up women in business and create a really big support network for each other.”

Recycled fashion is one of Aunty Cheryl Penrith's business initiatives.

Recycled fashion is one of Aunty Cheryl Penrith’s business initiatives. Photo: Chris Roe.

Vickie agreed that support and mentoring were vital and explained that the first step was breaking it down for people.

“People have been traders and entrepreneurs forever, and for some people that’s been taken away, but at the end of the day, business is no more than buying and selling,” she said.

“We overcomplicate it, but if you always come back to that equation, it means that businesses can really thrive.

“Particularly with those support networks and women supporting each other because we know that we can do that really well and there are great opportunities.”

Leanne Sanders

Leanne Sanders aims to support more First Nations women to thrive in business. Photo: Chris Roe.

The course comprises a series of set modules mixed in with mentoring sessions and guest speakers and will begin after an information session at Pomingalarna Reserve.

“We want to get out on Country at Pomi [Pomingalarna] and have a yarn and talk about the program to give people an idea of what we’ll be doing and to see who’s interested,” Leanne said.

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Vickie explained that the program was inspired by a book that was designed to help marginalised women run online businesses from home when traditional employment opportunities were not available.

“The internet has really opened up those opportunities to work from everywhere and now we really know how to do that and have a viable business,” she said.

“But it’s also about what you define as success and one of the things that we really work on is about contribution to community and how you’re using your business to benefit the community.

“It’s about building a business around your life, not the other way around, so that at the centre are the things that we need to take care of or the things that you need to do for your community that they’re non-negotiable.”

Woman at doorway

Vickie outside her cafe, The Curious Rabbit. Photo: Chriss Buchan.

Aunty Cheryl said it was important to overcome a lack of self-esteem and to help women achieve financial independence.

“There’s a whole lot of little things that we can do to build confidence and we talk about building a dream team of people,” she said.

“And that includes family because some people will always say – ‘Oh, what about your kids?’ What about this and what about that, so in a way we’re breaking a cycle where women can really be doing great.

“Why can’t we all be famous?” she said with a shrug and a laugh.

Bizness Dreaming kicks off on Friday, 1 September at Pomingalarna Reserve and if you’d like to know more or sign up, you can email [email protected].

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