Founder, Marjorie Tenchavez, Shares her Extraordinary Journey from Instagram Account to Thriving Social Enterprise.
In the Beginning there was Fire
At the end of 2019, vast swathes of Australia were burning. People lost their homes, and small businesses lost customers. As Australians do, we came together to find ways to support people who were suffering. Social media campaigns such as ‘Buy from the Bush’ and ‘Blak Business’ were going gangbusters. Marjorie found herself buying loads of things from these businesses.
At the time she was working for Metro Assist, a community organisation in Sydney that provides support to marginalised communities. She worked closely with a program called Ignite, an initiative that facilitates business creation for vulnerable communities such as people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. In a lightbulb moment, she realised that there was no single platform to elevate these businesses as well as the many more in the community.
The seed was planted and Marjorie began speaking to work colleagues about her idea. People were supportive, but it fell to her to get started in the end.
By now, the COVID-19 pandemic had hit, and because of lockdowns, she had more time to work on the project. Initially, the most efficient way to start was with an Instagram page which she launched on March 21 2020.
‘I purposely launched around Harmony Day; I thought it would be a good time to do it, to show people what harmony day is really about, you know, taking action. I wish I had done it sooner.’
By Refugee Week in June, Welcome Merchant started to receive some media attention: First Broadsheet ran a story, then SBS Food. After that, the account began to amass followers, and Marjorie’s friend Adrianna volunteered to help with marketing. This led to them being accepted into a three-month business accelerator program for people from a migrant background. Initially, Marjorie thought the program could help her set up Welcome Merchant as a charity but soon realised it wasn’t a road she wanted to go down.
‘I quickly realised that becoming a charity wasn’t the pathway for us. It’s quite onerous and very time consuming … really, social entrepreneurship is the way to go these days, in order to remain sustainable and not be so reliant on charities or people donating or government funding.’
What is a Social Enterprise?
Social Traders – who Welcome Merchant are in the process of being certified by – explain that ‘Social Enterprises are unique because they exist to create impact through trade. Purpose is at their heart, but it can be hard to quantify or explain, and they use many different legal structures.’
For Welcome Merchant, certification means that they will have the opportunity to work directly with corporations who could integrate these kinds of businesses into their supply chain logistics.
What is Welcome Merchant up to now?
Marjorie credits all the volunteers who have made Welcome Merchant’s growth possible. Since Adrianna came on board, more volunteers started to trickle in through word of mouth, which enabled the website to be built and the ability to ramp up social media marketing. The team also includes a web developer, content writers, photographers, event managers, language support and graphic design.
The directory of merchants is now Australia wide and has so far featured around 107 businesses, ranging from cleaners and fashion designers to restaurants and music producers, some of whose products are sold in goody boxes. Welcome Merchant regularly hosts events such as cooking classes, curated dinners, welcome lunches and pop-up markets.
A vital part of Marjorie’s vision for Welcome Merchant is to continue building capacity for the merchants. Many of these businesses went through various programs to start, but they weren’t taught how to market themselves. She does this by offering workshops in digital marketing and, most recently, accounting.
Marjorie would like to thank her team of friends and volunteers, past and present, for their hard work over the past two years; she couldn’t have done it without them. She is excited to see where she can go with Welcome Merchant in the future.
To celebrate their second birthday, Welcome Merchant hosted a day of fashion, food and art at a Pop-up Market in Sydney on Sunday, March 20.
How you can help
Training workshops are taught by volunteer professionals, so if you or someone you know can contribute, please get in touch.
You can purchase goody boxes or merchandise here
Harmony Week runs from Monday, March 21 to Sunday, March 27 and celebrates Australia’s cultural diversity. It’s about inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone.