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GG’s Flowers and the importance of an inclusive workplace

In Australia, there are 4.8 million people with disabilities and out of those, only 27 per cent are employed. That means that 73 per cent of people with special needs are unemployed and therefore welfare-dependent.

Gayana is a young Canberra girl with Down syndrome. Her mother and older sister Nip saw the lack of opportunity for her in the workforce. Together as a family, they created GG’s flowers with the vision to only hire people with special needs, in an effort to emphasise the importance of inclusion in the workforce.

GG’s Flowers Team/ Family via Facebook

The social enterprise is booming as they deliver flowers and a hug around the Capital, showing the amazing abilities of those with special needs. Nip has recently been awarded the Westpac Social Change Scholarship, providing her with the opportunity to visit Harvard, Disney and other businesses that are paving the way for inclusive employment, helping to expand her knowledge of social enterprise.

I spoke with Nip about her experience developing a more inclusive workplace.

Tell me how GG’s Flowers came about, why and what it is all about? 

GG’s is a social enterprise florist and a gift hamper business providing meaningful employment for people with special needs. It was established for my sister, Gayana – a 20-year-old young woman that has Down syndrome.

Here at GG’s, we are committed to providing meaningful employment but also paying award wages to ensure every employee leads a fulfilling life.

What does a typical day at GG’s look like? 

A typical day at GG’s is absolutely bat-shit-crazy, but also has a lot of really special moments. In the morning, we receive all of our flower and gift hamper orders then the team load the vans and delivers them. It’s a really special story in the process of GG’s because you get this beautiful person with special needs knocking on your door often demanding a hug but most importantly delivering you a beautiful bunch of flowers. Then they come back and look after all the flowers we have, put them in the cool room, treat them, water them, feed them, you name it they do it.

How have these opportunities helped people with disabilities? 

So here at GG’s we don’t discriminate on the basis of your disability, the only positive discrimination point is that we only employ people with special needs. We employ people who have Asperger’s, autism, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome; and other large range of disabilities. We customise their employment at GG’s to make sure they lead a fulfilling life while coming to work doing the best they can.

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Mother’s Day is this Sunday and Team GG’s is in full swing. Order flowers for your mumma and receive a free Women’s Weekly Magazine with every order. #ggsflowers #canberraflorist #florist #mothersday

A post shared by Nip Wijewickrema (@ggsflowers) on

How has GG’s impacted the wider community?

With our business coming up to its six-year mark, it has been truly life changing for all our employees. I can see that when we walk down the street everyone knows who we are and everyone comes and says hello to Gayana, and that in turn has caused this ripple effect of inclusion.

I think we have made disabilities, specifically down syndrome, a little bit more accessible. People know what a disability is, they know that actually in Gayana’s case, they are this gorgeous cute little bundle of joy that is just going to demand a hug and wants to give you a beautiful bunch of flowers.

What are your future hopes for GG’s flowers and your work in the community?

So obviously, we have an ambitious goal to employ hundreds of people in a profitable and successful way. I don’t believe just because we have a social enterprise we shouldn’t make a profit. So it is really important that we are doing our part and making the business sustainable and profitable so that GG’s can last forever.

I would love to see a shop front in every capital city in Australia as a florist and a gift hamper business. This is important to me because there is a need in the community for the beautiful work that we do. My employees with special needs are so loyal, they are so committed and grateful for the opportunity to come to work every day. That is something you don’t see in anybody else so the work ethic is life changing.

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