Written by Leanne Tomkins
Westpac Scholars Sarah Gun and Dr Tiffany De Sousa Machado are working together to provide the Inclusive Work Program for women and non-binary people who face complex barriers to employment. The 9-week program was created by the GOGO Foundation, a charity Sarah was encouraged to set up during her Social Change Fellowship.
“The Inclusive Work Program is the first offering of the GOGO Foundation,” says Sarah. “We ran our pilot program between April and June, 2021, and what became clearly evident was that these women were dealing with complex trauma.
“The barriers to the workforce are wrapped up in trauma,” she says. “Family and domestic violence, experience of the child protection system, intergenerational poverty, incarceration… all these things. We needed someone, or an organisation, with a deep understanding, who could help the women unpack their trauma. And that's where Tiffany came in.”
Tiffany and Sarah originally met in 2017 when Sarah was a Westpac Social Change Fellow and Tiffany was a Future Leader Scholar working on her social enterprise The Village Foundation, which provides education and support to new parents, employers and midwives to support mothers and prevent postpartum depression.
“I met Sarah and instantly knew that I loved her,” says Tiffany. “We definitely got along and there was a want for us to work together somehow, and we knew the right thing would come at the right time.”
Now, Tiffany facilitates ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’, a favourite and essential part of the Inclusive Work Program. “I come in on a Wednesday for half the day and we work through various topics around wellbeing, self-awareness and developing skills to be able to handle life's challenges,” she says.
“Often the women have come through severe trauma, and are still in severe trauma. So we take them through resilience strategies, gratitude strategies, social support, mindfulness… we look at planning for the future and strategising those sorts of skills. We do a lot of group therapy — when things come up, we deal with them in the moment, in a very safe way.”
Connecting through the W100
Other elements of the program were built with the help of a Westpac Foundation supported social enterprise, Jigsaw.
“Jigsaw work with people with intellectual and physical disabilities, and ours is about women who’ve been marginalised,” says Sarah. “They delivered their foundational work skills program for us, which we’ve tweaked to suit our needs, and they teach it and offer one-on-ones.”
Tiffany says, “The W100 Network is such a rich melting pot of experience and personalities, that it becomes really easy to form those kinds of deep, multi-faceted, connected relationships and I’m really grateful for that. When you meet in business there’s always an element of preservation, but in this network it doesn’t really exist — I think you can just be exactly who you are and still be lifted up by those people that see you in your vulnerable moments.”
Empowerment through authenticity
Feedback from the program’s participants has been incredible, with some commenting:
“Wellbeing Wednesdays were nurturing, caring and delivered with love and wisdom.”
“Many of us feel we are creating a new beginning for a brighter future.”
Sarah puts the success of Wellbeing Wednesdays down to Tiffany’s ability to be present and be vulnerable alongside participants.
“Tiffany is really good at her craft,” says Sarah. “When moments pop up out of the blue between her and a participant in the class she will use it as an opportunity, and it’s transformational. She is courageous, brave and authentic, and her ability to manage complexity is profound. I feel very privileged to be there.
“The common denominator of everyone in the room is that we are on the journey to being our authentic selves, to standing in our power,” she says. “Our theory of change is not just that the participants can become job ready and find a job and stay in a job, it's actually about their agency and their sovereignty.
“I would go out on a limb and say that we are building stronger community through the work we're doing, not just in an economic sense but also because the empowerment ripples out into their families and their community.”
Published 8 November 2022