Why Avenue will be a success
When the team at Avenue invited MyCareSpace to pay them a visit at their Frenchs Forest hub we jumped at the opportunity. We know from our extensive research that the top priority for people with disability who want to lead a fulfilling life is meaningful employment opportunities.
Avenue offers people more than a work environment, it offers people the opportunity to develop and hone entrepreneurial skills that some of the most tech savvy incubators in Sydney’s CBD are charging top dollar for.
Avenue is part of an umbrella organisation called Fighting Chance, started by the brother sister team, Jordon and Laura O’Reilly. Jordan has gone on to be the poster child of innovation in the disability sector, by founding an organisation called HireUp which allows people to directly hire careworkers, cutting out a layer of cost involved with agency placed support workers. Laura has won many awards herself and is now CEO of Fighting Chance which has branched out with 2 new fledgling organisations called, Avenue and Jigsaw.
Later we got to spend time with two of the interns, Nicole and Matt who shared their experiences with us.
The Avenue Business Model
Megan Nicholls the General Manager of Avenue, spent some time with us explaining the business model and vision of Avenue. The vision is to help people reach their full potential by offering meaningful work environment which allows them to work in a supported, flexible space.
Avenue is a social enterprise part of the non profit Fighting Chance. Avenue is run by a workforce of people with disability who use their skills to create, grow and evolve the business. Support Workers work with people with disability on a daily basis and help them complete business tasks (ie- drafting an email, creating a social media post for Avenue, checking inventory.) All the tasks ensure the progress of the Avenue business model, a marketplace. Avenue buys quality products with an ethical and/or sustainable foundation from suppliers all around the world from places like Nepal, India and Cambodia. Products are sold to customers at community markets and through the online store. The business is unique in Australia in that it provides work skills training for people with profound and severe disability.
Some of the sustainable products sold by Avenue
Changing lives through Trade
Avenue’s mission is to empower people in Australia and across the world through trade. In Sydney, the Avenue business is operated by a diverse team of interns who are engaged in all areas of building a small business – managing stock, website development, marketing via social media channels, customer sales, writing blogs and responding to all stakeholder queries. This means products are sourced, imported, costed and marketed with all the operational activities to support this being executed by the teams, with limited involvement from the Avenues support workers and management. Who said managing a small business was easy!!! All the interns have varying levels of support depending on their independence and needs. This ensures people come to Avenue feeling confident they can grow and develop in a secure environment, no matter what their level of needs.
Being NDIS registered, Avenues has a signed a service agreement with each intern, which allows them to collect funding via the NDIS, under different support categories, including Assistance with Daily Living, Increased Social and Community Participation and Transport.
Megan explained that the business is set up such that the interns are self-motivated and focused. Instead of being paid a salary, they work in teams all with the same objective of turning a profit and building a business. Not only do they learn business skills, time management, financial acumen but they also learn social skills and the ability to collaborate in a team environment. Each month, the profit is calculated and shared amongst the team based on an agreed formula.
The vibe and environment on the day we visited was happy and relaxed. Everyone was very busy and each intern was allocated a task for they were directly responsible. Its clear people arrive and leave this place happy.
A photo of Nicole in the kitchen and communal area in the Avenue
Nicole, has been at Avenue for 2 years and found out about it through a friend. Prior to this Nicole had a packing job which she has been doing for 17 years. Nicole now comes to Avenue 2 days a week. She says she is always happy and enjoys being with people. It’s not hard to imagine with her disposition, Nicole would enjoy Avenue more than packing show bags. What she loves most is the computer work at Avenue.
A photo of Matt outside the sunny Avenue branch in Frenchs Forest
Matt also found out about Avenue through a friend who had previously worked there. Before this he played boccia but in his own words he ‘’did not want to be there’’ (at boccia) - what he wanted to do was work. Matt clearly loves being at Avenues and loves the fact that every day is different and his responsibilities change daily. Some days he is on the computer and other days he goes out to markets. He gets involved and does whatever needs to be done - Matt is a true team player. What really excites Matt is not necessarily making a profit at Avenue but it’s his artwork. Matt started painting 2 years ago and is clearly passionate about art and being an artist. He started painting at a studio called Studio Artes which is based in Hornsby. He had an iPad with and proudly showed us photos of his portfolio which were mainly abstract watercolours. Matt aspires to develop his talent as an artist and one day he would love to have an exhibition of his own art. Based on the little glimpse of his personality that I saw, and the determination in his eyes, I have no doubt he will make this dream a reality.
Matt has another passion and that is busking, which he often does with a friend at Circular Quay. When I ask him how he feels when he is busking he replies ‘’It feels like a good job and it makes me happy’. But what Matt really wants to do is help other people with disabilities. Several times he told me: ‘’We can do whatever we want to do. We know we have a disability but that won’t stop us doing what we want.” Matt is clearly a determined and self-motivated individual. He believes people can and should do what they want. He has an abundance of resilience, which no amount of money can buy.
The irony strikes me later my drive home, how some people may feel sorry for Matt but he has got it all figured out – to have a job which makes one happy, to have friends and passions like painting and busking and to make a difference to other people’s lives. Add a substantial dose of resilience and according to a Harvard Business school study on what makes people happy, Matt has all the components for a happy life. There are many other people that I feel sorry for, but Matt’s not one of them!
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‘’OUR MISSION IS TO EMPOWER PEOPLE TO ACKNOWLEDGE A PERSON'S SKILLS RATHER THAN THEIR DISABILITY. OUR VISION IS A GLOBAL COMMUNITY THAT PROMOTES MEANINGFUL VOCATIONS, ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALL PEOPLE TO REACH THEIR POTENTIAL. ‘’
Avenue has recently opened a new hub in Botany Bay and is currently seeking expressions of interest for internships. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.