• Oprah Winfrey receives the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom presented by President Barack Obama. (Getty)Source: Getty
What do you do when the workforce won’t make space for you? You start your own business.
Phoebe Loomes

28 Aug 2018 - 3:07 PM  UPDATED 28 Aug 2018 - 3:07 PM

Adversity can be the maker of people. Certain sectors of the population are often abandoned by the workforce, with long term unemployment a devastating reality. But those forced to overcome roadblocks in their lives are more and more being recognised as individuals with the resilience required to overcome greater hurdles than the rest of the population. Is there a link reference for this information? A study or initiative we can refer to?

So what do you do when the workforce won’t make space for you? You create your own job by creating your own business.

That is a major takeaway from The Employables, a three part docuseries that tells the story of forgotten individuals determined to create their own professional opportunities. They are a diverse group who represent different sectors of Australian society who are at high risk for workplace discrimination - a single mother, an amputee, a visually impaired head chef, a former refugee, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, seniors, young people from rural areas.


Successful founders often come from difficult backgrounds

Oprah Winfrey has spent decades flourishing in media and entertainment, but her life began with incredible hardship. Born to a single mother, they lived in poverty. Winfrey was sexually assaulted multiple times in her childhood and became pregnant at age 14 with a child that died in infancy.

Eventually, she landed her first job in radio and the rest - thanks to self-belief and determination - is history. After a beginning marred by circumstances prohibitive to success, Oprah has risen to the top of diverse creative fields over and over again: as a talk show host, an actor, a philanthropist, a publisher, and a producer. She is currently worth US $2.8 billion, acting as the founding chairwoman, CEO and CCO of The Oprah Winfrey Network.

"Although there may be tragedy in your life, there's always a possibility to triumph," she's said. "It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always."

Author JK Rowling similarly turned hardship into success. Going through a divorce soon after giving birth to her first child, she struggled with depression and poverty and survived off meagre welfare payments. Rowling said her life was so exhausting she had little willpower to do anything but write, meticulously planning the minutiae of the wildly successful Harry Potter books, including the buildings, the spells and all aspects of the stories. Upon completing the first book, she was turned down by 12 publishing houses before she was able to find an interested party.

‘The Founder Gene’: Are entrepreneurs born, made or transplanted?

‘Outsiders’ from minority groups are accustomed to the adversity that colours and informs startup culture. The long hours, the rejection, the self-doubt. The indefatigable self-belief that allows an individual to keep going, even when times are tough.

The Kauffman foundation’s research backs up the startup rhetoric: their 2016 US-based annual Index of Startup Activity showed that immigrants were almost twice as likely as those born in the USA to start new businesses. They also found that 30% of immigrants were new entrepreneurs, and 40.2% of Fortune 500 Companies included a founder who had immigrated to the USA or was the child of immigrants.

An example of this is tech billionaire Jan Koum. The co-founder of WhatsApp has a current net worth of US $9.1 billion and while his college dropout story mirrors other tech startup founders Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, his earlier life differed substantially.

Koum had a rural upbringing in Communist Ukraine, where he developed an appreciation for communication that could not be monitored by the government. At 16, Koum immigrated to California, where his mother worked in a grocery store and collected food stamps. WhatsApp, a messaging and calling service that conceals the personal information of its users, sold to Facebook for US $22 billion in 2014.

In Australia, our low unemployment rate doesn't tell the full story

In June, the Australian unemployment rate was reported by the ABS to be the lowest in five years - at 5.4%. However, scratch the surface and things don’t look so rosy.

Inhabiting a certain sector of society automatically puts you at high risk of being long term unemployed. These factors include being young and living in a rural area; having any kind of disability; being a migrant or a refugee or a single parent, and so on. An example of hardship faced by these minorities groups is age discrimination - one in ten people over 55 are unemployed and many of these will never work again. One in six Australians are also underemployed, meaning they do not get enough hours at their job or jobs to fulfil their financial needs.

The Employables gives six unemployed founders from high risk groups eight weeks to turn their business into what could be a million dollar idea. Creel Price, who acts as a mentor in the program, is a millionaire startup mogul who is no stranger to hardship, having grown up in an agricultural community suffering the effects of prolonged drought on the land. “What drives me to help the underdog is all about my upbringing. We went through a tough period of drought where there was very little money,” says Creen, who, as an 11-year-old, started a small strawberry farm in the back paddocks of his family’s property to supplement their income.

Now focused on philanthropy, Price is hopeful the six founders featured on The Employables can achieve millionaire status - and be kind whilst doing so. “It doesn’t have to be a dog-eat-dog world. It doesn’t have to be winner takes all,” Creel explains. “Commerce can do some amazing good.”


Watch The Employables Wednesdays at 8:30pm on SBS. Catch up on the first episode at SBS On Demand:

Meet the mentors guiding ‘The Employables’ on their start-up journey
These business coaches nurture and evaluate the candidates’ ideas – and decide who advances to the next stage.
Who are the budding entrepreneurs striving to make a difference on 'The Employables'?
13 candidates. 13 incredible stories.
From unemployed to entrepreneur, 'The Employables' is not business as usual
‘The Employables’ launches an unprecedented social and business experiment to empower a group of the most marginalised job seekers in Australia.