Empowering women is at the core of Enterprise Partnerships WA’s operation as a social enterprise.

The organisation supports Indigenous women living in the Kimberley by helping them set up their own social enterprises, which, in turn, strengthens local communities.

EPWA was founded by Clare Wood and Susannah Wallman in 2015 to nurture this circularity of social benefit, with Ms Wood saying the social enterprise supported entrepreneurial thinking.

“In the Kimberley region there’s not as many social enterprises in the First Nations space as other places,” Ms Wood said.

“And because the women are so remote, we offer the resources and partnerships they need to get going, and education around business as well.

“Generally, First Nations women in business … do it because they want to benefit their families, communities and culture.

“That’s the driving desire behind any kind of wealth creation, whether it’s through social enterprise or commercial business; to benefit communities and have social change in the regions.”

The genesis of EPWA came after a women’s group in Kalumburu invited Ms Wood and Ms Wallman to collaborate on a social enterprise development.

Ms Wood had been working as a mental health clinician in the Kimberley for many years and was eager to make further investments in the future of local communities.

“The Kimberley has a really high rate of youth suicide, one of the highest in the world,” Ms Wood said.

“I’d been talking with different women’s groups in the places I worked about how they wanted young people to have meaningful self-employment or employment.

“Usually that was connected to keeping culture strong, which is preventative of suicide. “Economic empowerment and wellbeing are so interlinked. You need both.”

EPWA helps Indigenous women to embark on their own social enterprise. “Our mission is to have First Nations women included in the economy so they’ve got options in life … for their families and communities,” Ms Wood told Business News.

“In the Kimberley, stories travel, and so another community invited us to work with them. And then just in February this year we started a partnership with … the Maganda Makers Business Club.

“Maganda Makers is led by an Aboriginal woman called Natasha Short. She’s created a group of women who are all aspiring in business for that purpose of creating wealth for their communities or social change.”

Ms Wood said EPWA helped women at the start of their social enterprise or business journey, and provided educational resources so those women could continue operating beyond the support offered by EPWA.

“In Balgo, a remote community in the Kimberley … the women run an op shop called Piriwa [and] also make different arts and crafts goods, the sales of which enable women to go on bush trips to improve wellbeing and keep culture strong,” she said.

“We [EPWA] could raise funds for women to do bush trips, but I think there’s something more powerful about women raising their own funds through trading and making their own economic decisions about how they use those funds for the benefit of their community.

“It’s stronger for self-determination and sustainability. Those people then have entrepreneurial ways of creating wealth to then redistribute.”

Ms Wood said there were various ways businesses could invest in community.

“Being on the receiving end of community investment is so vital because often the money businesses invest enables projects to happen or get started,” she said.

“It’s not always just a straightforward money transaction. Sometimes we have businesses invest in us with skills, like volunteering.

“It can also be part of businesses’ reconciliation commitments, [or for] their social and cultural licence to operate.”

Ms Wood said value-alignment strengthened partnerships and increased return on investment.

“I find the business partners we have the most successful, rich working relationships with are those who have a really good understanding of the story they’re influencing and how it’s making an impact on women’s lives or their communities,” she said.

“We’re interested in partners that understand the vision … and are interested in longer-term partnerships.”

Bronwyn Bate says Mettle Women invests 100 per cent of its profits in the women it supports. Photo: Mettle Women

Mettle Women Inc is another social enterprise working to empower women in community.

The charitable organisation provides gift delivery services, with 100 per cent of its profits going to support women experiencing homelessness caused by family and domestic violence.

Mettle has assisted 528 women through scholarships, crisis funds, childcare subsidies and survivor designed support programs, and also employs and trains women in need of work.

Since October 2019, Mettle has paid more than $420,000 in wages to employees and generated more than $1.9 million in revenue from social enterprise sales.

In conversation with Business News, chief executive and co-founder Bronwyn Bate said 96 per cent of the women Mettle had supported had not returned to their previous, violent domestic situation.

“We exist to create safe and accessible pathways to employment for women who are residing in homeless shelters as a result of family and domestic violence,” Ms Bate said.

“We operate as a charity and to generate the revenue for our charity. We operate a social enterprise that’s staffed by the women we exist to support.

“We take referrals from sixteen different shelters for women who are [accessing] their services … and they take part in a minimum six-month paid employment program so we can help them build a life after crisis and rebuild towards the future they deserve.”

Ms Bate said social enterprise was invaluable for improving community.

“When you’re talking about community investment, there are a lot of models … people have brilliant businesses that generate profit where they have to invest a portion of that profit back into that business,” she said.

“At Mettle, though, we chose to invest 100 per cent of our profits back into the women we exist to support so everything we do is run through the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

“The reason that’s important is not only because it generates revenue for the programs we run, but it also provides the actual grounds for meaningful employment for women.”

Mettle has recently employed its 40th woman in its paid employment program.

“[Those women] have a safe space to develop skills before they enter the real workforce,” Ms Bate said.

“It gives them time to recover from crisis before they have to enter a pretty daunting new environment.” Ms Bate was inspired to start Mettle Women, alongside co-founder Alesha Bate, after volunteering at women’s refuges.

“During my time [volunteering] I noticed a lot of women … would move out of refuge, and then in a space of about four to six weeks they would return, and their injuries were much more severe and their safety status was very heightened,” Ms Bate said.

“I started doing some research and found that fifty-two per cent of women across Australia who were residing in women’s refuges had actually been there before.

“I started interviewing women around Australia to find out why they were returning … what was the gap when they left that meant they were in these heightened, dangerous situations.

“And it was because they had no financial security, they had no access to employment.”

She said women experiencing FDV were often forced to stay home by the perpetrator, and many had never been allowed to work before.

“I wanted to find out what safe employment would look like [for these women] so they could have a stable income. So when they left the refuge they had the means to pay rent and not have to return to either abuse or homelessness,” Ms Bate said.

“Mettle was the end result.”