Women’s business incubator fostering new beginnings

From left to right: Mary Top, Nyibol Deng, Lily Walker

Please note: Images in this article were taken before COVID-19 restrictions and mandatory mask requirements were in place.

Women from culturally diverse communities are being empowered through a  business incubator, funded by the Victorian Government’s Stronger Regional Communities Program.

Carrying the barest of necessities Nyibol Deng fled South Sudan in 2003 in search of a new life.

But one thing she never left behind is her love of colour.

“In Africa, people love colour, colour is joy, colour is life,” she says.

Nyibol holding a cushion with flowers and is standing infront of a collection of cushions.Nearly 20 years later, it’s Africa’s vibrant colours that reinvigorated her desire to share her cultural roots with her new home in Ballarat.

“I wanted to do something for the community so that my children would know that even though life can be difficult that you can do this,” she says.

“That inspired me to do something new.”

Nyibol now brings the colours of Africa to Australian loungerooms, one cushion, bag, necklace and doona cover at a time after launching her own business.

Aptly named ‘A Tuk’ from her Nuer heritage, the name of her business roughly translates to ‘To begin’ and sells wares sourced, sewn and sold by Nyibol herself.

After growing up in a refugee camp, a new beginning is exactly what Nyibol was searching for when she decided to launch her own business, but it didn’t come easy.

“There's a lot of challenges because there's a lot I don't know.”

With the help of Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council (BRMC), the mother of five taught herself how to sew whilst completing the Stepping Stones Program.

“You learn as you go, and that’s why the BRMC has been so important, having them help me,” she says.

The Stepping Stones Program is one of a range of empowerment pathway programs offered by BRMC including the recently opened Women’s Business Incubator.

Funded through the Victorian Government’s Stronger Regional Communities Program the incubator is a dedicated space at the Ballarat Welcome Centre at Barkly Square.

Executive Officer at BRMC Ann Foley says its aim is to help foster the talents of women from migrant and refugee backgrounds and women aged over 50 to help them achieve financial autonomy and well-being.

“Working from home doesn’t always cut it. So, to provide a safe, family-functional, friendly workshop, meeting or private space to see clients is a really useful thing that the Women’s Business Incubator will be able to do,” says Ann.

Mary Deng is another Stepping Stones graduate who will be moving her wares into the space when coronavirus restrictions ease. She’s looking forward to the creative collaboration and the support that the space will allow.

“There are a lot of staff at BRMC who can help you set up your equipment, help you if you don’t know what to write or to help you with technology,” says Mary.

“When you come from a different country and are a refugee it’s very difficult. Here in Australia, there are a lot of rules you need to follow to have a business, so to have people help me, it’s helped me go further and know what to do.”

Collection of cushions with bright coloured fabric“To have good support from people who know what they are doing, it makes life easier, and it makes you feel like ‘wow I can do something’,” Mary says.

Ann Foley says their entrepreneur support programs focus on community members who may face a range of challenges including limited access to networks, language barriers and personal responsibilities, but that it’s also about accessing their untapped potential, which benefits the whole community.

“Women from diverse backgrounds have a lot of interesting global capital, being multilingual, having lived in other places across the globe, having contacts in the community with a rich cultural background. Ballarat benefits from this.”

“People from diverse communities participate in every way you can imagine from arts, to sports to business and this Women’s Business Incubator is one small part of that but a really important one,” she says.

Ann says BRMC is expanding their Stepping Stones Program across the Wimmera Southern Mallee region and will continue to provide the opportunities and the programs as long as they are wanted.

“For us, success is when communities fly on their own, and we do see that already,” Ann says.

By setting up her business at the Women’s Business Incubator at the Ballarat Welcome Centre, Nyibol Deng hopes to inspire others in the community to follow their passion, and see their vision come to life.

“My advice is don’t be scared, just do it. It’s good to able to start something even though you don’t know where to start it gives you a sense of purpose.”

“It is amazing to be part of the community, all you need is people around you - especially at BRMC,” Nyibol says

“There are people from all different cultures and backgrounds, but we have one thing in common and that is we support each other,” she says.