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Meet the migrant mumpreneurs helping each other to grow their businesses

Five years ago, Oznur Demirhan and her husband moved to Australia from Turkey.
Turkey’s political unrest and economic troubles pushed the couple to seek a new life in another
country, Oznur says.

“We are so grateful that we call Melbourne our home,” she tells ABC RN’s Life Matters. “We feel so safe here that we are just so happy.”

Two years later, Oznur gave birth to her son, Lennon. She credits him as inspiration for her
macramé homewares business, Lennon + Me.

The story of how her business came to be is one of communities supporting each other — both in her
local neighbourhood and within a wider community of migrant businesswomen.

Hunting for rainbows
Just as Lennon was becoming a toddler, the pandemic struck and Melbourne was sent into lockdown.
“Staying in lockdown with a toddler was really, really hard because they want to go out, they want to
be outside but it was not possible,” she says.

“I also study, I do my masters degree in digital marketing, so it was really so hard.”

To keep the local children’s spirits up, her neighbourhood started a rainbow hunt.

A popular activity in Melbourne’s first lockdown, rainbow hunts, also known as rainbow trails, saw
people display rainbows for kids to spot during their daily walks with their parents.

Children chalked rainbows on the footpath or hung rainbow pictures from trees.

“I just decided to make a handmade rainbow for Lennon to put in our window for kids to find during
their rainbow hunting walk,” she says.

She shared a photo of her macramé rainbow with her mothers group – who then became her first
customers.

But it was a meeting with fellow migrant mother Luz Restrepo that helped Oznur turn her craft hobby
into a fully fledged business.

Connecting migrant women
Luz Restrepo arrived in Australia from Columbia in 2010, seeking political asylum.

She had very little English, not much money and no social connections. So she sought out other
migrant women for support.

The network she built grew into SisterWorks, a not-for-profit social enterprise with the stated goal of
supporting migrant, asylum seeker and refugee women “to improve their confidence, mental wellbeing, sense of belonging and economic outlook”.

“It gives them opportunity to identify what are their pathways … to understand if [they are] going to go to study or to go to employment,” Luz says.

She then co-founded Migrant Women in Business (MWiB), a national network of businesswomen from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Luz says migrants are entrepreneurial, resourceful people.
One third of the country’s small businesses are run by migrants or their children. But, Luz says, a much smaller proportion — one in ten — are run by migrant women. which she describes as “a huge gap”.

She says MWiB’s aim is to shrink that gap by supporting and advocating for migrant women
entrepreneurs. Luz says that MWiB is an example of “the power of women working [with] and supporting each other”.

“When you support a migrant woman, an entrepreneurial migrant woman, we know that she is
teaching other women as well.”

“And when we sell our products and services, we raise our voice and we become a leader.”

‘Business in our own time’
Many of the migrant businesswomen involved in MWiB are mothers.

Luz says, for many migrant mothers, running a small business gives them flexibility.

“We can keep looking after our families but we are making our own business in our own time,” she
says. “If my baby is sleeping, I have the time to think, ‘What are my talents and how I can put money on the dinner table, that gives me power into the family, and gives me a sense of belonging in the society?'”

Oznur says that was certainly the case for her.

“Before I started the business, we only had one income and, as a family of three, one income might be
challenging,” she says. “But because I can look after my son and also do my macramé products, it gives me independence financially. It’s really important for families like us who don’t get lots of government support.”

When Luz and Oznur met online during the pandemic, Luz mentioned MWiB’s Made By Many Hands
project, an online marketplace where migrant women can start their own shop selling their
handmade goods.

The marketplace is home to around 50 individual businesses selling a wide range of goods including
homemade foods, toys, jewellery, homewares, clothes and beauty products.

“Made by Many Hands gave me the opportunity to sell my handmade products from the safety of my
home, and also be financially independent,” Oznur says. “As a micro-business owner, I can’t do much to promote my business to a wider audience as I don’t have enough budget to do marketing and advertisements. “Made by Many Hands does all the marketing activities for me, which is great, and which supports my business and myself.”

Oznur says being involved with the marketplace also helps her socially.

“I’m surrounded by women with similar stories and it also ensures that I’m not alone in this journey,
which also gives me inspiration to keep going.”

And Luz says those social connections are important in helping the sellers go on to bigger and better
things. “They start to collaborate with each other, to grow in quality and capacity, to reach more customers and buyers across Australia.”

Lennon+me

[Source: ABC Radio National, 17/12/21]

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