On March 26, we celebrated International Women’s Day with our event Women in Social Enterprise and three amazing women who’re integral to their communities, they work hard to ensure their communities are sustaining by using their organisations/cooperatives to make an impact. We asked them a couple of questions, wanting to gain some insight on what it means for them to be a woman in their community, their organisations, and in there positions in society.

Tenille Gilbert

Tenille Gilbert is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Society Melbourne. She has a background in community development and has worked across a number of Melbourne-based social enterprises and charities, living out her passion to support young people from all different backgrounds to thrive. Tenille believes strongly in the power of social enterprises to provide long-term solutions to social issues, whilst empowering the community to be a part of this social change every day.

Society Melbourne is a not-for-profit organisation that exists to create pathways out of homelessness for young people. We do this by running hospitality-based social enterprises that act as training and employment spaces for young people in our programs, whilst generating profits that are directed into running our programs. Society Melbourne currently runs five venues across Melbourne including Crêpes for Change Food Truck, home.one Cafe in Brunswick, home.two Cafe at The University of Melbourne and two Coffee Carts.

Q1: As a woman in your community what are the greatest challenges you face?

I am lucky to be surrounded by an incredibly supportive community including many other social entrepreneurs. I think that my main challenges tend to arise around my age and how this combines with being a woman. I have often had experiences of not being taken seriously, of people deferring to my co-founders (male) or of feeling overlooked during important conversations. The challenge that this poses to me is to not let this kind of behaviour bring me down or make me lose confidence in myself. To me, it is really about how I can hold confidence in myself and not be taken over by ‘imposter syndrome’. I see it as a challenge, but also as a great opportunity.

Q2: What does this year’s International Women’s Day hashtag, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you?

To me, this hashtag is about having and owning my voice as a woman. I am lucky enough to have had generations of women before me fight for gender equality and to have received the privileges of this. I see this as reminding me that I still have a responsibility to continue to challenge the status quo and anything that I see that is not allowing women to live out their potential.

Q3: What advice would you give to a younger woman who wants to make it to where you are today?

I would advise them to take on all of the opportunities and experiences that come their way, and to wear their passion on their sleeve. By engaging with the space you will meet incredible people and discover opportunities to test the waters and to find out what you would truly like to be involved with. It is also essential in this work that you surround yourself with great people to not only make the best combined impact, but also to look out for each other.

Q4: How does your social enterprise contribute to society?

Society Melbourne contributes to society by supporting young people (aged 16-24) who are at-risk of or are currently experiencing homelessness to create their own pathway out of homelessness. We provide paid, on-the-job training at our hospitality social enterprises, along with wrap around support which builds up the confidence, skills and experiences that young people need to establish independence and follow their potential. Society Melbourne also creates a space for the community to directly engage with the issue of youth homelessness and to contribute to ending youth homelessness every single day, simply by purchasing their coffee from us!

Celeste Norris

Celeste Norris is an award winning social entrepreneur. Famed for her highly successful café on the Mornington Peninsula, in 2018 Celeste made the move to social enterprise and became our Social Enterprise Leader. Responsible for the development and implementation of Youth Projects social enterprise operations across Melbourne which have grown from one to three cafés over the past 12 months.

Celeste is the reigning National Barista of Choice in Australia and continues her promotional work in celebrating National Barista Day across the country. Celeste is not only an exceptionally talented barista, she is also an outstanding member of the community and has a deep passion for grassroots social change. She has featured in many short film projects highlighting social enterprise as a fantastic career pathway for young women in Melbourne.

Celeste uses her 10+years’ experience in the hospitality industry owning and managing a highly trafficked café, incredibly warm demeanour and passion for social change to Youth Projects cafes to provide high impact support.

Q1: As a woman in your community what are the greatest challenges you face? 

My own self-doubt. It has taken time and courage to find my voice and speak up with a powerful voice, not just a loud voice. My younger self always conformed to the ideals of the role women “should” play in society and I always felt pressured by that. Now that I have found my voice and confidence, I face the challenge of maintaining the courage to have an opinion that goes against grain and the status quo of what is still so ingrained in our community.

Q2: What does this year’s International Women’s Day hashtag, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you?

This year’s theme resonates so true to me – in many ways. I made a promise to myself many years ago that I would no longer be a bystander. That I would use my voice. That I would be part of positive change – not only for women, but for those that couldn’t use their voice yet. This takes extraordinary courage, but it is my choice. We need to be the changemakers and challenge not only ourselves but the stigmas that are still so engrained throughout our community.  It can sometimes be frustrating, but real change requires time and persistence to change opinions – and I accept that. If you have a platform, your voice is the most powerful and important tool in choosing to challenge what is accepted.

Q3: What advice would you give to your younger selves?
Follow your instinct and create your own path. Life is hard, and no one holds your hand – you need to draw on your inner strength to be fearless, soak up knowledge and find your voice.

 Q4: What advice would you give to a younger woman who wants to make it to where you are today?
Find your passion and most importantly, always take pride in what you do – no matter how big or small you feel it may be. But don’t be afraid to fail along the way because it will help you learn and become more self-aware. 

 Q5: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
It is a time to have thought-provoking conversations – no matter your gender. It is about informed discussions to educate one another and acknowledge how far we have come, but how much we still have to change. I deeply believe that changing opinions is necessary, but using our voices – as girls, ladies and women – can have a profound impact on creating real and positive change. 

 Q6: What does it mean to be a woman in society today?
I want to pave the future way for girls, ladies and women – to make their journey easier than those who’ve fought so hard to get us to where we are now.

 Q7: How does your social enterprise contribute to society?
Our social enterprise cafes harness community goodwill towards social and economic sustainability and ethical business and invest profits to innovate and grow within a social justice framework – reaffirming our vision of young people being good-to-go into a very competitive job market. Our cafes enable tangible, client-led goals that are life affirming and strengths-based. Spanning across three cafes – one on the iconic Hosier Lane, another at Rosanna Station in the leafy north east and the third at the Alfred’s Innovation & Education Hub – our social enterprise cafes empower young people to lead meaningful lives by providing hands-on skills development and mentoring from industry experts. Each trainee has a platform to build self-confidence, gain key employability skills and genuine work experience in a supportive and judgement free environment.

Sylvia Lo Piccolo

Sylvia Lo Piccolo, Pascoe Vale resident and Chair of the Pascoe Vale Food Collective. Sylvia was raised in Hadfield from migrant parents, attending both Hadfield Primary and High Schools, and has lived in Pascoe Vale for 35 years.

The Pascoe Vale Food Collective is a community lead group that sources food and cleaning products in bulk and provides these items for distribution to its members during a monthly distribution day. The focus is to source the products as locally, organically and ethically as possible, with a large environmental focus especially with the reduction of packaging.

Q1: As a woman in your community what are the greatest challenges you face?
Mostly being judged and compared to a male in the same situation. Males are generally looked at their individual skills however women mostly seem to “represent all women” so if they fail, comments may be “women don’t have what it takes”

Q2: What does this year’s International Women’s Day hashtag, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you?
It’s all about women not being treated as equals and it means continuing to challenge any behaviours where this is happening

Q3: What advice would you give to your younger selves?
I think I was a little naïve and scared of what people would think when growing up and so I would advise myself to ask a lot of questions and not to give a hoot about what others will think.

Q4: What advice would you give to a younger woman who wants to make it to where you are today? 
Have the confidence to knock on people’s doors and ask for help. If I hadn’t have started discussions with people the Collective would still just be a thought in my head.

Q5:What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
It’s two fold. Recognising the wonderful achievements of women, and that women are different but should have just as much opportunity as anybody else

Q6: What does it mean to be a woman in society today?
To stand by your fellow woman and give praise and make them feel empowered. We need to look out for each other

Q7: How does your social enterprise contribute to society?
It empowers the community to take control of their food supply, and fosters community connections through a membership and volunteer network