Nipuni Wijekrema is bringing flower power to Melbourne with a stint at the Unleashed Festival’s Speaker Series where she’ll give us her thoughts on bouquets and social inclusion.
We interviewed her ahead of Unleashed.
A Canberra native, ‘Nip’ (as she’s known to her buds) is working to change the world ‘one flower at a time’ with a florist service that provides meaningful employment opportunities for people with special needs.
Inspired by and established for her 17 year-old little sister Gayana, who has Down Syndrome, Nip’s florist GG’s Flowers is built on the premise that everyone should have the same opportunities, privileges and rights.
“My family and I have always been conscious that my little sister wouldn’t have the same opportunities in life as my sisters and I. There’s such a lack of meaningful employment which provides a safe, caring workplace,” Nip says.
“Having your own money and a purpose to get up for in the morning helps with lots of mental health and confidence issues – which is why it’s important that people are given a go despite their disability. My step-mum Geetha, who’s a former special needs teachers and now florist, and I decided to go into business to help give Gayana and other special people in our community the opportunities they need to thrive.”
GG’s flowers employs casual staff with special needs including Aspergers and Prader-Willi syndromes – all of whom help to arrange and deliver flowers. Hundreds of families have come forward seeking opportunities for their loved ones.
Working from her backyard shed, Nip has shown other local organisations how to create safe working environments for people with disabilities. With her upcoming appearance at Unleashed, Nip is hoping to sow the seeds on a broader scale.
She’s also not completely broken up about getting out of Canberra for the weekend.
“Having a sister is an honour and a privilege, but when she has a special need and faces great inequality, disadvantage and vulnerability, your life changes. Your need to create a world where she is not just supported but included and valued.
I want to share some of my journey as the sibling of someone with special needs, to help others – who don’t have a sibling or loved one in this position to understand why its social inclusion isn’t just important it is essential.”
I’m hoping the work we do through GG’s Flowers can inspire other to get on board and recognise that they can be part of this movement for inclusion. What better way to do that than head to the heart of innovation in Australia – Melbourne!”
A self-proclaimed ‘accidental social entrepreneur’ Nip is part of this year’s Young Social Pioneer cohort and a strong proponent of the “just do it” attitude – don’t stop to smell the roses, start pruning those thorns and be ready to work hard to get achieve the change you want to see.
“As young people, it’s our duty to combine our enthusiasm and knowledge, recognise the change we want to make and then do something to positively impact those around us. We can all sit around and think about doing something helpful, but actually doing it, that’s another thing.”
“This looks different for everyone. For me it was building a social enterprise – but it is just as important to get behind existing initiatives, to back the change that others have already put in motion. You don’t have to start it to be part of it!”
You heard the lady – be part of the innovation conversation, get yourself to Unleashed this weekend (especially the Speaker Series cos that’s where Nip’ll be).
P.S. It’s free! Keen to come along? Check out the Unleashed program and register here.