Business journey: Friedel Fink, Big Sis CIC
Meet the social entrepreneur challenging social stigmas while supporting young girls becoming young women.
After witnessing the damaging impact societal expectations and taboos have on the mental health of so many young women and girls, Friedel Fink knew that things had to change.
In February 2020, Friedel set up Big Sis, a Community Interest Company (CIC) that works with young girls to teach and promote self-empowerment, strength, and integrity while building a network of support to guide girls through some of the most important years in their development.
On an individual level, Big Sis provides girls with the skills, resources, and tools they need to begin their self-development and empowerment journey. But in doing so, Big Sis is working to create a community of care and support that trickles down through the generations and ultimately shifts the harmful narratives around puberty and menstruation to promote equality and change. Here, Friedel Fink shares the Big Sis journey.
Tell us about Big Sis CIC...
I founded Big Sis CIC with a good friend in February 2020. Big Sis is a UK-based wellbeing platform that promotes and teaches female empowerment and wellbeing initiatives, particularly supporting girls aged eight to 12.
Big Sis delivers a range of services, from puberty preparation webinars for mothers, fathers and professionals who work with girls, to mother-daughter workshops and courses. Currently, we're also developing our Girl Mentoring Programme, which will launch later this year.
All our services holistically address the exciting roller-coaster ride of puberty. Our focus is to prepare young girls for physical and emotional changes that accompany this important stage in their development, all while providing them with the tools and skills needed to ensure their journey into womanhood is an anchored one.
As well as addressing the needs of the girls we work with, Big Sis also strengthens their support networks. This approach has grown from the understanding that support must be addressed from different angles, inspired by the proverb: "It takes a village to raise a child". For example, if a parent or teacher holds shame about their body or periods, how can they be a positive role-model to their daughters or students?
At the moment, we're also planning our pilot 'Girl Mentoring Programme' in Plymouth, a 12-week programme for primary and secondary schools that provides an interactive volunteer-taught curriculum around puberty skills for years six and seven.
What inspired you to start Big Sis?
I was always quite aware of the double standards and taboos in society that claimed girls 'can do x, but not y', or they have to 'look like this, but can't wear that', and I really felt that call to change against these ideas from a young age.
Having witnessed and experienced difficulties with periods, eating disorders and unhealthy relationships myself, I realised how common these issues are. While learning about myself and immersing myself in creative education training, I understood that playfully educating young people is the best way to change the current narrative and transform it into a positive one.
I have trained with 'A Celebration Day for Girls', who provide a beautiful menstrual education workshop for mums and daughters across the world. Their work really inspired me.
Through my work with young girls, and observing society in general, it became clear that girls' empowerment, especially at the crucial development stage of pre-puberty, needs to be supported and addressed from various angles. As well as teaching self-empowerment to our girls, we also work to empower mothers, fathers, carers, teachers, and anyone who forms support networks, to role-model healthy and balanced attitudes and actions.
I always wanted to make Big Sis's work accessible to more people because we have seen that the benefits our workshops have on girls' mental health and confidence are huge.
As well as founding Big Sis, I believe you're also a Holistic Health Educator, a Yoga Teacher and a Massage Body Worker. What has your career path looked like and how did it lead you to the position you're in now?
Yes, that's right. I've studied women's health, practicing as a Yoga and Meditation Teacher and Abdominal Massage Body Worker.
My original training was very different though. I studied Architecture, MA in scenography and communication and was involved in multiple education and interactive community projects.
I also worked for a while as a stage designer in theatre and film and did numerous odd jobs to sustain myself.
What threads together my interests and qualifications is the drive to create experiences that feel good to people, are engaging, creative and work for those they are tailored for.
Through holistic education work and yoga, I am now following an interdisciplinary approach. I am passionate about finding creative and accessible ways to inspire positive body image, emotional resilience and grow self-esteem cross-culturally. Themes that I have always connected with on a personal level.
In November 2019, I participated in the business incubator programme 'Startup Weekend' in Plymouth, which gave me the final push I needed to set up my business and inspired me to set that business up as a social enterprise.
After years of jobs that didn't fulfil my desires to create better conditions for girls, women, and everyone with a menstrual cycle, it felt about time to create my own business from scratch.
In January 2020, we started to plan a crowdfunding campaign, which was actually launched right as the pandemic started. Nevertheless, we successfully funded our first project in July 2020. The funding enabled us to put the structures and support in place to bring Big Sis CIC to life.
Why was Community Interest Company the right structure for the business?
We looked at different business models and had a few consultations to decide which one to go for. The CIC model allowed easier access to funding, while also offering transparency for our customers and members, both big advantages in our eyes. People can see publicly what we spend our money on and how we create impact. The asset lock suits us as well, as our ambition has always been to put people before profit.
It's also lovely to know that our business assets will be transferred to another social enterprise if we cease to exist. In that way, the legacy can live on.
Female empowerment is central to Big Sis's mission. How do you define female empowerment?
It's a huge question. Empowerment is self-empowerment first. We support girls to make their own decisions, to think for themselves and choose for themselves based on their needs.
We teach every girl that they have a voice and encourage them to practice using it. They need to understand that this inner knowing (some might call intuition) and strength belong only to them and no one can take it away from them.
Strengthening this understanding creates resilience and confidence, which they can share with others.
What key thing do you think society needs to challenge to achieve a gender-equal world?
The biggest thing to challenge is our assumptions such as 'boys are like this and can do this' and 'girls are like that and can't do that'. These need to change.
Many of us grew up with pressure from our surroundings, our family, almost certainly our peers or society at large. The pressure to behave or look a certain way in order to meet societal expectations lead to doubts and isolation, unhealthy body image and difficulty pursuing dreams and desires.
We need to normalise the diversity of bodies, menstrual cycles and experiences connected to our hormonal cycles, gender variations, and emotions and individual choices. I feel our world is still very black and white.
We are all so different. Every day I hear women and girls worrying that their bodies, experiences, and behaviours are 'not normal'.
With Big Sis, we challenge these assumptions that ultimately lead to inequality.
Speaking of challenges, what are some of the challenges you have faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?
The biggest obstacle so far was to create a sustainable support network for myself and the business, both personally and professionally.
Setting up a social enterprise isn't easy. I've had to think a lot broader, deal with various people, and not to mention the boring paperwork. But I'm being rewarded with amazing collaborations and opportunities to work with likeminded people who want to make a difference.
I ask myself the question repeatedly: what or who could support me in different areas of my business and life? And not be afraid to ask for help. Doing so has been massively helpful so far and the worst that can happen is you get a 'no'.
Big Sis creates a support network for women, who has been your biggest supporter throughout your career?
I believe the biggest supporter I have is me. I have learned and keep on learning that self-love comes from within and enables deep and unconditional support. Resilience is the biggest asset a person can have.
Otherwise, the global community of menstrual and sex educators and friends that hold similar values to myself and Big Sis as a whole, have all given me a huge amount of support.
For many years now, passionate people of all genders have been working towards normalising puberty experiences, periods and the varied feelings that come with growing and developing into adulthood.
Together we have been holding up this vision, inspiring one another, opening up long-overdue conversations and challenging taboos.
What are your short-term and long-term goals for Big Sis?
In the short-term, we want to bring our Pilot Mentoring Programme to life. That will give us a chance to check what we can do to improve our impact and see how we can reach as many girls as possible. The goal is to improve girls' wellbeing, confidence, and resilience and help prevent mental health challenges often developed during puberty.
In the long-term, we want to bring different initiatives, organisations and practitioners together to work around girls' wellbeing and provide an online platform to inspire and support their different work.
In the future we want to initiate more collaborations and discussions to address the bigger questions. An example of this means working with more dads and male carers who provide key relationships for young girls. We also want to work to educate young boys as well.
What three pieces of advice would you give to any women thinking of setting up their own business?
1) You don't have to go at it alone. Collaborate, ask for help with anything you're struggling with, and support yourself by looking at your needs.
2) Go at your own pace. One of the best points of setting up a business is creating a new culture of working that suits us, our employees, and collaborators. Yes, sometimes it seems urgent to have a fast head start, but who benefits from you burning out?
3) Celebrate the little achievements. I create monthly achievement sheets (for my personal life and business life), and I recommend doing the same. It feels great looking back, seeing what has moved and manifested in the last month and helps me to identify how to plan ahead and feel more balanced.
You can learn more about Big Sis and the work it does, or read some of the great resources it offers by going to their website www.big-sis.co.
- Community Interest Company, Big Sis, supports young girls and women by providing them with skills, resources and tools to empower and educate them through the transformative stages of their lives.
- Founder, Friedel Fink, who is trained in women's health and a practicing yoga and meditation teacher, is passionate about changing the attitudes around mensuration and inspiring body positivity.
- In early 2020, Big Sis launched a crowdfunding campaign which enabled the launch of its first project in July of the same year.
The UK Social Entrepreneur Index is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK.
Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.
For more info visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk.