Interview of Yarrie Bangura by Molly McKew
How did you get involved in Global Sisters?
Earlier this year I was looking for social enterprises that help women like myself, as ever since I first came to Australia I have wanted to give something back to the country that had given me so much. I was looking at the current situation and how I can help other people – and helping other people is difficult! I didn’t know how to go about it, as at that point it was just an idea. And I had my stigma; I felt that I had to be rich to own a business, I had to be commercial, and I had to be born Australian to have a business of my own. I was scared to approach anyone and scared of rejection. When I started doing my research I was looking at female entrepreneurs and at their stories, to see if I could find a common link to myself. If these people had gone through that experience, I thought, I can too. I came across Global Sisters and saw women speaking about their own experiences and knew it was for me.
Tell me more about this stigma that you felt about being a businesswoman: how did global sisters help you overcome this?
When I came here as a refugee I was scared because I didn’t want to put my hand somewhere it didn’t belong. My family told me “just continue with university, business is not for you here”. So meeting Global Sisters and telling them my ideas made me regain my strength and realise my ambitions weren’t impossible. Seeing women help other women was motivating because I realised that is something that I can do too, and that there are no barriers. Even though I wanted to do this and I was telling my family about it, I still I had doubts. Maybe I am dreaming too big!! Global Sisters connected me with an amazing mentor, Helen.
Tell me a bit about the mentor relationship.
We just saw each other and clicked, and couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. When we meet she usually sits with me and talks things through. Even though I might have a good idea I am not good at thinking about it realistically. So Helen usually explains the steps and gives me an assessment and we figure out where I need to go next. Her profession is in branding and marketing, so together we came up with the ginger tonic brand. Also, I usually write a poem and sometimes a little quote, and she helped me compress my writing into my brand!
Where does the idea of the Ginger Tonic come from?
Ginger beer is very popular back in Sierra Leone. It’s a drink that you always find at a special occasion, and is well known and well celebrated. After the civil war in my country I used to see six, sometimes up to 10 women together making this product. They usually make it and overnight it becomes icy, and then in the morning they take it to the market to sell. When I was thinking about my business idea I thought my first idea wasn’t going to work, so I started thinking about what I could do that has not yet been done, and I came up with this. The first image I saw was women making the tonic together, and I realised that that is what I want to do. And the ginger beer here, compared to home, is different, and I have always missed real ginger beer!
How do you think small business and these entrepreneurial projects are important for women’s equality?
When you give a woman capital you are giving them a generation of capital, because usually women tend to manage money well. After the war, we had nothing, but with the little my mother had we were able to put food on the table. That is why for me it is very important for women to work together, because when women work together they can move mountains. I really respect Global Sisters because they create not just a business, but a generation of businesses that will grow. It is also important to give back to society as your business grows, because at the end of the day you can’t enjoy all the money yourself! I believe it will take lots of hands to work together to solve the problem of gender equality – I don’t think anything is impossible in this life if we are united.
What’s next for the future and where do you see your business going?
I want it to grow in Australia and for Australians to be in love with Aunty’s Ginger Tonic! The idea also is to build job opportunities for vulnerable people that are coming here, refugees for example, who are finding it difficult to get employment. I want to see this work! Also, I want in the future for the tonic to be in shops like Woolworths, health boutique shops, and cafes both here and internationally – which is difficult, so Helen always tells me I am a big dreamer! Ultimately I would love to fly around the world to sell my product!
Finally, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
I would say never stop dreaming – you have to believe in yourself first before other people can believe in you. Your past should not determine your future, and you are always in control of your future. Some people don’t want to let go, but it is important to say that this is not the end of me, but to forge ahead. Also, you should enjoy the moment because you’re young, and understand the world, because the world is not just Australia!
You can learn more about Global Sisters here.[share]