A hand up for survivors of domestic violence
7 December 2020 at 8:15 am
Bronwyn Bate is the founder of Mettle Women Inc, a national gift delivery service providing safe, sustainable work to survivors of domestic and family violence. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Domestic and family violence is the single largest driver of homelessness for women in Australia, and is something that Bate witnessed firsthand working in the district courts.
Time after time, she saw women and children fall through the cracks of Australia’s justice system, ending up homeless because of a lack of safe and accessible employment to establish financial independence.
After a stint in the NFP sector, Bate decided to create a business that would give these women a hand up, not a hand out. Mettle Gifts employs women who are living in crisis accommodation shelters, equipping them with the skills, confidence, and financial security required to secure and maintain employment and in turn, safe and stable housing.
Bate knows she can’t fix the problem of family and domestic violence, but that filling this gap is a good first step.
For her efforts, she has been selected as one of the AMP Foundation’s Tomorrow Makers, a grant program that assists social changemakers.
In this week’s Changemaker, Bate discusses the challenges of trying to solve big problems, why patience is a guiding force, and how starting Mettle Gifts has put life into perspective.
How did the idea for Mettle Gifts come about?
One of my first jobs was working in the district court in Western Australia. That role left me feeling really helpless and frustrated. I was only 21 at the time and I didn’t really know what to do with the frustration and helplessness that I was feeling when I saw so many survivors of domestic violence being let down by the system. I jumped around into different communications jobs, because that’s where I was qualified, and found my place in the not-for-profit space.
I connected with so many incredible women and men on the front line who were really frustrated at the lack of post-crisis support for people leaving homeless shelters. On average, half of the people that were staying in refuges had actually been there before. It just baffled me that there was no support post-crisis to ensure the safety of these people was sustainable. So I started a year of research just to see why this was happening and where the gaps were. I spent a lot of time interviewing people with lived experience of homelessness as a result of domestic violence and asking them if they had to go through those awful circumstances again, what would [they] like to see changed? What was missing when [they] left and what outreach support would have been helpful so that [they] didn’t have to return to either [their] abuser or homelessness. We built a model based around all of their feedback and Mettle Gifts was the end result.
Why did you think starting a social enterprise was the best way to have an impact?
I’d been working for a philanthropic organisation and could see how competitive funding was in the charity and advocacy space, and I knew how desperately frontline services needed that income. I didn’t want to detract from the frontline services and rely solely on philanthropy.
I also wanted to create a solution that provided a hand up rather than a handout and would equip the people we were existing to support with the skills that they needed to take the next steps. They are so capable and worthy of support, but I just don’t think they have access to that support. So we thought we’d give them the skills to kind of transition out of crisis, and then that way it was a sustainable outcome.
And what does your day look like as the founder of Mettle ?
We actually do everything ourselves here. My sister and I co-founded the organisation and currently we are the only two staff/volunteers, with the rest of our staff being program participants. They do everything from manufacturing the products, fulfillment, to dispatch. We’re also training them in areas such as admin and social media.
So my day can be anything from accounts, strategic planning, marketing, PR and then also working on our partnerships to make sure that our commercial entity is running well, but also that the social service side of the business is operating well. Because at the end of the day, we are a social service provider and we’re working with really marginalised and disadvantaged women, we need to make sure that we’re not just any employer, we really have to offer a bunch of wraparound services to make sure they’ve got a big safety net around them.
And what are some of the challenges of running the organisation?
I’d say the biggest challenge is just accepting that some things are out of our control. It’s also a really long game, things don’t happen overnight when you’re trying to push for reform. Regardless of how nurturing and how safe your working environment is, once the women are in the real world, their perpetrators are still a very active risk to their lives. It’s really disheartening to see how significantly they’re let down by the justice system. There’s a lot of gaps because sectors aren’t communicating in a respectful and open way with each other. And as a result, the women are really let down and their children are really let down as well. I think the hardest thing is staying positive. I’m naturally a really positive person. But when you see such deserving women let down so drastically, it really sucks, to be frank.
How do you deal with working in a space that at times can be really emotionally taxing?
I’m contradicting myself a little bit, because I say there’s not enough cross-sector support, but there are some players in the game who are really supportive. I’ve got a really beautiful network of women’s refuges and caseworkers who I can call in these circumstances to share what has happened. Knowing that some have been in this game for 30 years and say that although the pace of change is glacial, it is happening. I have faith that it is happening.
But I think the main thing that gets me through is having the privilege of working alongside the women everyday. Despite the challenges that they face, they show up to work every day, and that gives me no excuse to not show up. I owe it to them to show up and keep driving for change, because if they can do it, regardless of the fact that their life is actually at risk, then I have to do it as well.
How would you say running the organisation has changed the way you see the world?
As corny as it might sound, it’s really just put life into perspective. Like I said, these women would be completely forgiven if they just wanted to stay in bed and not face the world, that would be an ordinary and expected response to what they’re going through. But they still come in and provide me with more inspiration and transformation than I can ever provide them. They just have this drive and spark that you can’t curate. Their resilience has rubbed off on me in a way, because nothing is too much for them. I’ve run other teams before, and the work ethic that these women display is unparalleled. They would be such an asset to any team because I think they have such a hunger to be independent and to really succeed because they haven’t been allowed to for so long.