Aussie family's incredible business empowering people with disabilities

·Content Producer
·5-min read

GG's Flowers and Hampers is an iconic, Canberra-based brand created by the Wijewickrema family with the purpose of hiring and enabling staff with a disability.

The inspiration behind the family business is 22-year-old Gayana, one of the Wijewickrema daughters who lives with Down Syndrome. The family of six built the business for Gayana with care, compassion and a safe, inclusive workplace in mind for her.

The Wijewickrema Family built GG's Flowers and Hampers to ensure a safe, fair, and compassionate workplace for Gayana, who was born with Down Syndrome. Photo: Supplied
The Wijewickrema Family built GG's Flowers and Hampers to ensure a safe, fair, and compassionate workplace for Gayana, who was born with Down Syndrome. Photo: Supplied

The eldest Wijewickrema daughter, Nipuni or 'Nip' for short, is the Managing Director of GG's Flowers and Hampers.

In 2016, she was named ACT Young Australian of the Year for creating the socially sustainable business model that has taken GG's from humble beginnings in the family home's bathroom to a fully-fledged social enterprise in just eight years.

"We built this floristry [business] for her because we wanted her to have meaningful employment," Nip told Yahoo Lifestyle.

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"In Australia, 72 percent of people living with a disability are unemployed and therefore welfare-dependent and we didn't want our sister [Gayana] to be part of that story."

"We chose floristry because we thought it [flowers] would be such a lovely thing for a person with a disability to deliver."

Gayana and Githa Wijewickrema working at GG's Flowers and Hampers. Photo: Supplied
Gayana and Githa Wijewickrema working at GG's Flowers and Hampers. Photo: Supplied

It starts at the top

GG's would not be where it is today if it weren't for the Wijewickrema matriarch, Githa. According to Nip, her step-mum's floristry training, hard work and tenacity were the seeds that grew GG's into a thriving, well-known business across the ACT.

"We're called GG's Fowers and that stands for Gayana and Githa."

"We launched on Valentine's Day 2013 and basically delivered to all my friends," Nip said.

"It was me and Gayana in my little Volkswagon Polo with two doors, seats folded [down] and we just delivered flowers all around Canberra."

GG's Flowers and Hampers employ over 50 staff that include florists and support workers that assist with enabling staff at work with a disability. Photo: Supplied
GG's Flowers and Hampers employ over 50 staff that include florists and support workers that assist with enabling staff at work with a disability. Photo: Supplied

Delivering a social impact through the pandemic

GG's grew 'astronomically' over the past year providing over 50 staff with stable employment through the pandemic.

While Covid-19 had a significant impact on GG's when lockdown rules were enforced in early 2020, the pandemic presented a unique opportunity for the business. 

"All our corporate clients shut their offices down, everyone went to working from home - we struggled through [the lockdown] those first three months."

"We lost 90 percent of our business in days - I remember thinking, 'Oh my goodness, I just don't know how we're going to survive'," Nip said.

"No one could see anyone, so everyone was sending gifts and we just went crazy!"

GG's was the busiest it had ever been and had to bring back their entire workforce. Nip found they had more room for employment opportunities after expanding due to demand.

"We're just growing from strength to strength." 

"There are bigger and better plans, we're running as an NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme], [Disability Service] provider and that gives us our purpose and stability as an organisation," Nip said.

"As we grow, that [NDIS provider role] will grow as well and we already have a massive waiting list for people who want to work at GG's or do community participation at GG's."

Gayana Wijewickrema, Co-Founder of GG's Flowers and Hampers pictured with Anthony Vrkic, Co-Founder of Krofne Donuts, another notable social enterprise in Canberra. Photo: Supplied
Gayana Wijewickrema, Co-Founder of GG's Flowers and Hampers pictured with Anthony Vrkic, Co-Founder of Krofne Donuts, another notable social enterprise in Canberra. Photo: Supplied

Championing inclusive employment

GG's aren't just famous in Canberra for their beautiful blooms, they are also known for Gayana's cheerful deliveries that always come with a big hug. 

As the essence of the business, the Wijewickrema family wanted to ensure Gayana had fulfilling work after graduating from high school. As the co-founder as well as the face of GG's Flowers and Hampers, Gayana has seen the business grow from small-scale operations at the Wijewickrema family home.

"We employ 25 staff with a disability, over 25 florists and support workers." 

"It's grown from those humble beginnings where we got excited when we got to do one bunch [of flowers] every week, to now doing a lot of bunches every day."

"With our tiny, little organisation, we have created 50 jobs," Nip proudly said.

GG's ensures their staff living with a disability are given the time and space to develop skills that would enable them to do all the jobs at the shop well.

"On a typical day, Gayana or any of her friends would deliver flowers, they would help out with merchandising the shopfront, they would help with bringing all the flowers into stock."

"We want to ensure that every person with a disability has meaningful employment and they are paid at award wages so, they are paid the same wage you or I, are paid at," Nip said.

"The only difference is, that they are provided with a safe, compassionate, and caring workplace, in which they can truly flourish."

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