Bronwyn Bate is a social entrepreneur turning empathy into action. After several years working in high level communications management, customer experience, and business management roles within music & arts, not-for-profit, and public service, Bronwyn undertook a year of research to test and develop her business idea with survivors of domestic and family violence around Australia. In 2019, Mettle Women Inc. (a registered charity) launched their online gift delivery service, training, and support programs – set up to provide sustainable employment pathways for survivors of domestic & family violence. In their second year of operations, Mettle Women Inc. have supported three times as many beneficiaries as forecast, and partnered with 53 corporate clients across Australia to generate revenue to continue to scale their social enterprise nation-wide.
Mettle Women Inc. is a non-profit social enterprise that operates a national gift delivery service and creative workshops, staffed by women experiencing homelessness in crisis shelters as a result of domestic and family violence. They equip survivors with the skills, confidence, and financial security required to secure and maintain employment and in turn, safe and stable housing. As a registered charity, 100% of profits from gift boxes sold go directly to the Mettle Gifts employment, training and support programs – providing a safe workplace and a minimum of 6 months paid employment and wrap-around services for these courageous women.
How did you come to start Mettle Women Inc. ?
I had been working in the non-profit space for a while and connected with so many front-line service providers who were disheartened by the return rate of survivors of domestic and family violence. Over half of the women and children in their shelters had been there before. The business plan for Mettle was the product of a year of research with survivors around Australia to find out why they were returning to homelessness and abuse. The resounding answer was the lack of support to gain financial independence. With these courageous women, the Mettle Business plan was designed to act as a mechanism to open opportunities to get women facing homelessness back into the workforce (should that be their desire) and working towards the safe future they deserved.
What makes your Mettle Gifts unique?
Commercial success was a necessity for us because it doesn’t only drive the revenue that pays and supports our beneficiaries, it also provides them with a meaningful training ground and a launch pad for their safe future.
What is your favourite aspect of being a social entrepreneur?
The fact that I can work so closely with the people I’ve set out to support and ensure I’m still driving in the right direction. Our business model is constantly evolving, we call it a ‘live business plan’ because every new participant has such a unique story and teaches us something that enables us to enhance our offering…also the fact that I can get away with never wearing shoes at work.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a social entrepreneur?
Being an active listener, being honest with yourself and others, and a willingness to do the hard work. I’m not naturally a big talker and I think this was the biggest asset in building our business, because I listened to what the beneficiaries actually wanted rather than trying to be prescriptive. Honesty has also been a big contributor to our success as it’s applied to all that we do. From being honest with yourself if you’re out of your depth and need to ask for help, to being honest if you’re a bit intimidated by someone who might be viewed as competition and figuring out how you can celebrate them and learn from them.
What has been the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
I hate confrontation so much that I used to settle for less than what we deserved as an organization rather than figuring out assertive ways to communicate our worth. It can be scary to talk yourself up when you’re new and haven’t ‘earned your stripes’ yet. I’ve learned now that if I’ve validated our goals with our beneficiaries and I know it will serve them, then it’s my duty to be outspoken on their behalf and push for what we’re worth.
Outsource the skill or learn the skill?
I’m a bit of a control freak (probably an understatement). I can’t pass a task on until I know the minutiae of it myself. I’m super aware that sometimes this isn’t the best way to allocate my time but I want to know that if something goes wrong, or if I have to analyse why something didn’t work, that I intimately understand why. I know I have to become more comfortable with outsourcing as we scale though because it’s not sustainable, as much as I love learning new things.
Who are the people around you that allow you to thrive and give support?
I love my job so much that I often forget to look up from the laptop. I’m able to thrive in my role because of the beautiful support networks continually reminding me to pause, whilst simultaneously understanding that I want to be working as hard as I am because it brings me so much joy. My partner is basically a living health and wellness app – always messaging me to say “have you paused to have lunch today?”, “make sure you have a screen break today”. I’m also incredibly lucky that the Chair of my Board prioritises my wellbeing over anything else. She encourages working thoughtfully and strategically so that I have the stamina to keep driving change and I am eternally grateful for her guidance.
What keeps you going in difficult times?
The women in our care would be completely forgiven if they decided that getting out of bed was too much one day. They endure some of the most unfair, challenging and terrifying circumstances but somehow, they come to work and keep pushing for a safe future for themselves and their children. They’re my inspiration. If they can display some of the best work ethic I’ve ever seen, despite their hardship, then I owe it to them to push for reform.
Do you have any tips for work life balance?
Nope – I’d be absolutely lying if I said I did. I am rubbish at maintaining a social life and basic things like doing the groceries are such a big achievement for me. I think it’s so important to note that the ‘Instagram success’ that we so often see can be damaging and misleading.
Women are far too hard on themselves if they’re not kicking goals at work, whilst being a zen yogi and raising flawless children. I want to throw all of that pressure in the bin and say do whatever works for you! For me – that’s working in a role that I truly love and being surrounded by magnificent people who know that I sometimes need a reminder that my impact will be greater if I do look after myself holistically (that can be in the form of a glass of wine rather than yoga by the way!)
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Free to Feed is a Melbourne social enterprise that employs refugees and people seeking asylum. I connected with Loretta Bolotin, their CEO & Co-Founder, when we were both finalists for the Woman’s Weekly Women of the Future award as I was honoured to be selected alongside her. She is a phenomenal human and leader and a huge inspiration of mine.