Raising the bar of meaningful employment one bouquet at a time
If you want to be inspired to live your dreams or even simply to start your own business, look no further than social entrepreneur and ACT Young Australian of the Year 2016, Nipuni Wijewickrema.
‘Nip’ as she is affectionately known, is a force to be reckoned with. Emitting an infectious passion, this go-getter is a co-founder of Canberra social enterprise florist, GG’s Flowers, which for seven years, has employed more than 35 people with disability.
“The inspiration behind GG’s is my beautiful little sister Gayana,” Nip says.
“She’s 21 and she just happens to have Down syndrome.”
“We really wanted her to have meaningful employment and assist her to shape and sculpt the life that she would like to lead.”
GG’s Flowers has come from very humble beginnings, starting in the family bathroom in 2013, graduating to the small garden shed, and is now looking to move to new commercial premises, which Nip says will be “awesome for our business”.
GG’s Flowers employs people with Down syndrome, Prader Willi syndrome, Autism, Asperger’s syndrome among other disabilities.
“You name it, we’ve got it, and we’re a really super inclusive business, that promotes, ‘everyone come along, the more the merrier,’ we’re just one big family,” Nip says.
Yet the florist is just one of the activities Nip, Gayana and the rest of this amazing family has on the go each week.
“We have the hamper side of the business where we make gift hampers for all around Australia and New Zealand and that also provides meaningful employment opportunities for people with special needs,” Nip says.
“And then we have the third side which is the NDIS; we’re an NDIS provider and we provide community access and innovative social community participation for all of our participants.”
One of the ‘value-adds’ that GG’s Flowers provides for its NDIS participants is a weekly boot camp run by Everyday Champions, which is held at 11:30am on a Monday morning, just a stone’s throw from the florist workshop
At the boot camp, around 10-15 participants, including Nip, Gayana and others from the GG’s family get together in all sorts of weather and undertake what looks like a pretty gruelling exercise session, accompanied by cool, thumping music and encouragement from all.
“We really do believe in healthy body, healthy mind, healthy life and we’re really committed to ensuring that all of our participants across the three businesses have a meaningful life and an ability to be fit and active and healthy,” Nip says.
“It is an awesome specialised boot camp for all of our participants, where they can really get fit and active and do some punching and do some boxing and do some jazzercise but they can truly have a really awesome opportunity here at GG’s.”
After the boot camp, the participants get together and have a well-earned lunch together in Nip’s family kitchen before getting ready for flower deliveries in the afternoon.
It’s clear that Nip loves what she does, and wouldn’t be doing anything else.
“It’s such an honour and a privilege to work with people with disabilities, every day,” Nip says.
“I get up to work and I’m like, ‘this is awesome,’ I love that.
“My employees with special needs are amongst the most loyal employees ever – they turn up to work, they’re on time, they’re in uniform, they have no attitude, they’re just so grateful to work.
“And for me being able to do that and being able to be part of their story is just awesome.”
We’re standing at GG’s HQ, which is actually our garden shed.
The inspiration behind GG’s is my beautiful little sister, Gayana. She is 21 and she just happens to have Down syndrome. So we really wanted her to have meaningful employment, it just means that we’ve been able to shape and sculpt the life that she would like to lead.
For our business, we have GG’s Flowers, which is obviously a florist. We then have the hamper side of the business where we make gift hampers for all around Australia and New Zealand. And that also provides meaningful employment opportunities for people with special needs. And then we have the third side, which is the NDIS. We are an NDIS provider and we provide community access and innovative community participation for all of our participants.
One of our value adds for our participants that participate in GG’s Flowers is a boot camp. We really do believe in, you know, healthy body, healthy mind, healthy life. And we’re really committed to ensuring that all of our participants across the three businesses have a meaningful life and an ability to be fit and active and healthy. And so we run a boot camp every Monday morning in partnership with everyday champions. And that is an awesome specialized boot camp for all of our participants, where they can kind of, you know, really get fit and active and do some punching and do some boxing and do some jazz-ercise, but they can truly have a really awesome opportunity here at GG’s.
My employees with special needs are amongst the most loyal employees ever. They turn up to work, they’re on time in uniform, they have no attitude. They’re just so grateful to work. And for me being able to do that and being able to be part of their story is just awesome.
International Day of people with a disability is my favourite day. We have an awesome celebration here at GG’s. And we just celebrate all of our staff, and all of these people that we get to work with. Again, it’s an honour and a privilege for my support workers that we employ. They love coming to work every day to serve people with disabilities to lead a meaningful life.
And it’s a very special day where we can celebrate the achievements and we can celebrate you know the special nature of the work that we do. So every IDPwD, the GG’s family and I and all of our staff and all of our participants, we get together and we have a massive celebration because we just think that that’s the most important day of the year for us.
It’s also for people without disabilities that are really committed to celebrating and helping people with disabilities change and lead meaningful lives. If there are people out there that are interested in making a difference and helping and making the world a kinder of place, I say go for it. Because we need more people in our community bringing on social change, bringing on social impact so that we’re all together in this world, making meaningful difference.