STARTING a floristry business in her bathroom also started Nipuni (“Nip”) Wijewickrema on a journey to being named Young Australian of the Year ACT.
The 22-year-old was recognised last month for her social entrepreneurship in starting the home-based business GG’s Flowers two years ago to enable her 16-year-old sister Gayana, who has Down syndrome, an opportunity to find meaningful employment.
“We started the business in our bathroom, then moved out to our garage,” says Nip.
“My family saw this as something we could do to help Gayana, but we have also been able to employ five other people with special needs to work casually with us delivering flowers.”
Nip says the goal of a social enterprise is to create business that helps the social good.
“The product you get from GG’s is the same quality from any florist, but the difference is that this business changes people’s lives, we pay people with special needs for their work and give them purpose,” she says.
Running a small business can be challenging at times, Nip admits.
“When you try to do a good thing, sometimes it can also be hard,” she says.
“It doesn’t mean the bills stop! We have to sort out all the details that any business faces such as insurance, premises and creating a safe and healthy working environment.
“We are not a charity, I am set on making this a profitable business and show that people with special needs can make money and can be involved with business.”
Nip left her job at the ANU to give GG’s Flowers her full support, alongside her stepmother, Geetha. While Nip and Geetha don’t yet take a wage, Nip’s goal is to make enough profit to pay all staff and divert money back into training and employment for people with special needs.
Nip says she would like to create a partnership with CIT and offer floristry training opportunities and, one day, plan her and Geetha’s succession to allow people with special needs to step in and take more responsibility.
“I am determined to show Gayana and her friends that with love, support and contacts, you can make money and be less reliant on disability payments from the government,” she says.
Nip says that Gayana loves working and the independence she gains by being able to make money and spend it how she likes.
The Young Australian of the Year ACT award gives Nip the opportunity to talk about her work and inspire others.
“I want to lead by example and, once I get on top of this business, I hope to pull together all the information and share it with others to inspire them to do something to make a difference,” she says.
“You, too, can start something from your bathroom!”
Nip Wijewickrema will represent the ACT in the final of the Young Australian of the Year 2016 in Canberra on January 25.
GG’s Flowers are at 0402 370097.