We spoke to Annie Gibbs, Founder & Director of Amour Destiné CIC and asked her to tell us about her business and how it came into being…
Amour Destiné, French for "Love your Destiny", is a community interest company that aims to improve the socio-economic status of black women in the UK.
We aim to achieve this by helping women affected by, but not limited to bereavement, mental health issues, domestic abuse & sexual violence, immigration problems and care experiences, work towards building the lives they desire. By accessing advocacy support from Amour Destiné, women are able to address the various challenges they may be facing such as no recourse to public funds, family law access and mediation. We also provide a one-to-one and group educational mentoring workshops led by inspiring women and girls. Amour Destiné helps women develop confidence and self-belief which will enable and encourage them to live out their ambitions to succeed in life.
Amour Destiné provides the platform which has united and inspired many to connect, collaborate, exchange resources and empowered some to test their business ideas through our partners’ events & workshops.
Amour Destiné began as a voluntary pilot program, borne out of my own passion and lived experience of overcoming the loss of my mother at the age of 8 years of age and being placed in care. This experience led me to want to get more involved and to give back to my community. I have, as a result of the pilot program and demands from women seeking my advice and counsel on various issues such as employment, career advice and immigration issues, organically formalised what I have been offering the ladies and therefore, launched a 12-month Destiny Creators Mentoring Programme & Advocacy service in Lambeth & Greenwich. I managed to gather information through digital surveys and feedbacks harvested from mentee workshops regarding how the service has benefited them. I find the feedback information very important as it is my passion to provide a tailored service which meets the specific needs of my clients on the program.
The results from a survey conducted in 2019 reported that 78.4% of women preferred to have more one-to-one coaching/mentoring support. 72% reported that they really enjoyed the networking opportunities Amour Destiné offered with 36.4% wanting this to be more than once a year and the other 36.4% preferred three times a year. As a result of this feedback, we have developed our Destiny Creators programme to provide a combination of monthly virtual group sessions as well as face-to-face group sessions.
As well as being the Director of Amour Destiné, I am a board member for a community forum in Greenwich and Director of Treasury for a black female-led frontline domestic abuse service provider in Croydon. These positions have enabled me to hear and to understand the needs of women affected by socio-economic problems in and around London. Information collected and collated from digital surveys and workshop participant feedback questionnaires has enabled me to further shape the programme. Acknowledging the voices of women in need of support has improved the services offered by Amour Destiné. In the past year and a half, over one hundred participants have been willing to contribute in providing feedback comments.
Furthermore, we have a good social media engagement with one thousand, two hundred and fifty five followers across a number of platforms where we have conducted polls and utilised questions to further develop our mission to meet the needs of our community.
We work collaboratively with local groups, organisations and individuals to address social economic issues affecting the quality of women’s lives. This enables us to ascertain the needs of their beneficiaries through digital surveying.
Why did you want to start up a business? What was your motivation?
Amour Destiné was formed as a result of losing my mother at the age of 8 years to HIV as well as the experience of learning to push past my own challenges in life growing through the UK care system. I wanted to create a support service for black women to break through barriers and to build on my late mother’s legacy. I had been bothered throughout my life when I think about the struggles my mother faced during my childhood, being passed from service to service because of her Malian heritage, having encountered language barriers because she could not speak English. My mother had no family in the UK. She was a survivor of domestic abuse and did not have a supportive network to fall on. I remember her struggles and having only one or two friends.
My ambition and desire had always been to make a difference in the lives of black women surviving abuse. My current frustration now is to find that the difficulties my mother faced in the past are still existent in the 21st century. It is my mission therefore, to ensure that any woman who reaches out to our service does not feel isolated and unsupported like my mother did. In addition, it is my desire to make knowledge and information accessible to all women who reach out to Amour Destiné. The Amour Destiné platform provides services to equip and empower women succeed to overcome obstacles that life throws at them. To all black women, Amour Destiné says, “Your Chapter does not end there” and that “You own the rights to create your own destiny”.
How did the SiLL project help you in setting up your business?
I attended the side hustle to business workshop at Woolwich library on International Women's Day, delivered by Loretta Awuah, who I am grateful has now become my mentor! She provided me with the details of the SiLL programme virtual workshops: ‘What next for my business idea?’, ‘Get ready for business’ and ‘Marketing Masterclass’. I felt I had nothing to lose so I decided to register and to attend the sessions with the view of developing my understanding and knowledge surrounding intellectual property and marketing. To launch a product that I could use as part of my workshops and to improve the sustainability of my project ideas that I had been testing in the community.
After attending the workshops mentioned above, I have since had several 1:1 sessions with my mentor, Loretta. She helped me see how valuable my work is and to overcome the fear of the unknown. By breaking down the various elements of the services I was offering and what my project needs were, I was able to develop and progress it further. She also encouraged me to take the next step to register my project as a community interest company and encouraged me to pursue funding opportunities. The SiLL programme has also helped me to connect with various individuals/organisations.
What was the most helpful part of the SiLL project for you?
I found all of the projects incredibly helpful. Loretta’s 1:1 mentoring support, as well as the workshops, have helped me to enhance my knowledge of business. It is difficult to pinpoint one element because all the sessions were helpful and they equipped me to move my ideas forward. If I have to, I would say, launching my product and services. For me, the most helpful part of the SiLL programme was the workshop on intellectual property. As a result of this I was able to gain a better understanding of how to protect my ideas. The sessions facilitator even followed up with me afterwards with answers to a few of my questions that helped me make my decisions to launch my hand-painted African print wellbeing boxes on Etsy.
Can you tell us a bit about Loretta and the Greenwich Business Community that is coming as a part of SiLL?
Loretta’s support has been invaluable. From the first time I met her on International Women’s Day to present, she has been so encouraging and very open to book 1:1 sessions with her. Her knowledge, patience and genuine interest in my business has been invaluable. She has connected me to various individuals in the Borough and helped me to identify my opportunities. Just knowing that I have someone who cares, that I can email with any questions no matter how silly I may feel about asking and sharing good news makes me super grateful. It makes the process of growing my community interest company and navigating things easier. She has also referred an individual to my service in need of support which reassures me further that she believes in my work.
What advice would you give anyone looking to start up a business?
If you are reading this and you are at a place in life where you are considering using your passions, talents and purpose to start a business, I would say the best part is already done. The fact that you have the idea is the beginning of great things. Explore your idea by gaining support from a programme like the SiLL programme to discover what is possible for you and your ideas. Know that all great things have to start somewhere. It is useful to know that there is no right or wrong way to achieve your dreams. Your business ideas are deeply personal to you. They are not supposed to be perfect so allow yourself to grow from what you experience and that it is YOUR journey. Don't allow anything to stop you!
What are the key things you have learnt while starting up your business?
Since launching my business I have learnt many things along the way. The key things I am grateful for learning are that it's so important to ask others for help. Especially in the very early stages you will need others. There is always someone who will know the answer to your questions. But you will not know unless you ask. The least that will happen is that they will say no, or they don't know how they can help.
Find people who you can collaborate with and whose purpose is aligned with yours. You do not have to say yes to everything. As not all things are going to be for you and your business.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Life is for growing and it is alright to try something or a few ideas as this is the only way that you are truly going to know what works best for your business.
Prioritise time for yourself to do the things that offer you happiness and joy. This could be spending time with people that you care about, or time out to read or go for a swim. Whatever this looks like for you, please ensure you develop the habit of practicing self-care.
Above all don't forget why you started and who you stand for. So that you maintain a healthy, loving, balance between yourself and your business.
What would you say to anyone looking to go to a SiLL workshop/talk to their local SME Champion?
If you are considering joining a SiLL workshop/talk go for it. You have nothing to lose. You will find others on the programme that are on various stages of their business journeys to yourself as well as those at a similar stage. You will learn so much from each other. The facilitators are very welcoming and every session is open to asking plenty of questions. So be intentional with your time when you attend to gain maximum support from the sessions. You won't regret it!