Business woman extraordinaire, Hilary Dixon, on helping the Brotherhood empower women17 February 2012
A friend once told me that running a business isn’t much different from being an elite athlete. You keep on training and work out where your weak points are, and continue to work on those points. You’re constantly trying to refine your various abilities so that you get all the components working. So that’s the approach I’ve always taken.
Early 2011, I was browsing the Brotherhood of St Laurence website when the Stepping Stones program jumped out at me! The program provides mentoring, training and support for refugee women in Melbourne, to develop their skills and help them build their own business. I had always wanted to be a mentor and thought it really important to do something for my community. Working with women really appealed to me, I’ve worked with women most of my life. I think it’s often tough for women, there’s a lot up against us.
I contacted the Brotherhood and soon after I met with Sido, a young refugee woman from The Congo, hoping to start a cleaning business. We got along from the beginning as we’re both very tenacious with an eye for good business. We both recognise that we’re in it together and rely on each other. Her aim was not only to start a business, but to build it up so she could employ other women. She wanted to help her own community.
I have met with Sido each week to develop marketing strategies, cost effective advertising and pricing. We say, here’s the problem, how can we solve it? We talk about it and share our ideas and then work at it together. Now she is running her own business and it’s doing really well. It was never about me getting her work, that’s not my role. The program is about trying to teach her so that when I am taken out of the picture, the business is sustainable.
Our meetings are not all about business. We take time out to talk. I’ve met her children. We’ve talked about her aspirations for them, her view of being a mother and the pressures of being a woman, particularly in The Congo community. We often talk about the differences between cultures which is really interesting.
I’ve learnt so much from participating in the Stepping Stones program. I’ve learnt resilience is important, as well as optimism. It’s what keeps you going to break through any barriers. Sido has taught me so much and has reminded me of the value of friends, family and having fun.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my work with the Brotherhood, and plan to continue mentoring Sido in 2012. I highly recommend other women participate in the Stepping Stones program, to help empower refugee women in Australia.