Our Story

“Our Story” begins in February 2006 when I, Jane Shakespeare traveled to Sierra Leone to study the impact of microcredit on women’s lives, as a project for Economics studies I was doing at Warwick University in the UK. I collaborated with women’s groups engaged in a variety of businesses: cassava farming, tie-dying, pig rearing, soap making, etc. The income from these small enterprises enabled the women’s children to attend school, often for the first time.

During my time there I realised the significance of empowering women and children at a grassroots level and saw the positive impact it had on their communities. At the time, the country was still recovering from its decade-long civil war that had created thousands of orphaned children with many living on the streets. I saw an opportunity to make a small difference by providing them with some financial support.

Jane with two of the girls in The Fig Tree program.

I established The Fig Tree Children charity in 2015 with the goal of providing orphaned and vulnerable children in Sierra Leone with better opportunities. Since then, I’ve been working to help wherever I can.

Currently, The Fig Tree Children is supporting 85 young people, 46 girls and 39 boys, along with their carers. The charity raises funds through various means – running events, operating a child sponsorship program and running online campaigns.

The Fig Tree Children’s New Challenge

Helping school leavers in Sierra Leone become self-sufficient and realise their dreams in a country where 60% of youths are unemployed.

In 2015, I was also working as a graphic designer and was assisting a company called Kenana Down Under (KDU) to redesign their lookbook catalogues. KDU source their gorgeous Knitter Critters, beautifully designed knitted animals, from Kenana Knitters Ltd, a women’s cooperative in Kenya.

I soon realised the fantastic, positive impact this grassroots organisation was having on women’s lives in Kenya and fell in love with their Knitter Critters!

In 2021 I started selling the ‘knitter critters’ at markets, and having some success doing this, I soon realised that this was a good way to raise funds for the Fig Tree Children and managed to get the ‘knitter critters’ as the first product for what has now grown into The Fig Tree Gift Shop.

I have been receiving great support. Unstoppable E-Commerce (thanks to Megan and Karyn) has given us access to their Ignitor E-Commerce programme [as well as Megan (through her marketing agency, Lume marketing) sponsoring ten of the Fig Tree Children].

In October 2021, I completed a “Certificate in Business Management in Not-for-Profit/Philanthropy Studies” at QUT and with my husband, Jeremy mentored three final-year degree students from QUT’s Digital Media School (Chelsea Dobson, Emmalee Mogford, and Nadia Lathouwers) utilising their Capstone Projects to help improve The Fig Tree Children’s online and social media presence. Since then we have also worked with four more students (Monty Chigwidden, Lily Duncan Dann, Grace Martin and Serene Mishteler) to help us develop a database, which is still in progress.

Earlier, three mature MBA students from UQ’s Business School (Sinead McGee, Cameron Sharpe, and Mark Ibrahim) used their  MBA Capstone program to help develop The Fig Tree Children’s 5-Year Business Strategy – still guiding our progress.

With these people’s help – including my QUT lecturers (especially Dr. Ruth Knight and Dr. Wendy Scaife) and the UQ team, I was able to launch The Fig Tree Gift Shop.

The shop was established in 2021 and offers unique handcrafted products made by skilled artisans from around the world. I source these products directly from artisans, or other social enterprises and small business owners, which helps support their businesses.

The Fig Tree Gift Shop operates as a social enterprise that prioritises social responsibility in all aspects of its business. Our customers can enjoy our products whilst making a positive impact on the world.

Our original vision for our activities “to work for a more equitable and sustainable tomorrow” remains true today for the Gift Shop, just as it was in 2006 when I first visited Sierra Leone.

We made a strong start with Kenana Down Under’s knitter critters and with Threads of Hope’s handwoven friendship bracelets – which support families and communities in the Philippines. We have partnered with Mayan Legacy to sell their beautiful Mexican hammocks, which help support families in rural Mexico. We also have other products sourced from social enterprises, fair trade providers and small business owners. We are currently exploring other social enterprises and fair trade product providers, with a view to also offering their products in our gift shop and are also exploring providing gift hampers and plan to reach out to new customer segments such as corporate clients and baby shower gift givers.

I am also grateful to have recently completed the amazing government-funded 20-week Impact Boom Elevator Plus program, run by Tom Allen and Sarah Ripper, where I had the valuable opportunity to work on the business as well as in it and which lead me to pitch the social enterprise to an audience of 150+ people at The Triffid. I was also fortunate to be given 4 public speaking coaching sessions with the incredible Elisa James who helped me overcome my nerves to deliver a valuable pitch. See my pitch here (I’m just proud I got through it, still a little nervous) —>

Kenana Knitter Ladies

Our Vision

To work for a more equitable and sustainable tomorrow

Our Mission

To offer a diverse range of stunning and ethically-made products from skilled artisans, other social enterprises and small business owners around the world. By doing so, we aim to showcase the talents and efforts of these individuals and organisations, while also raising funds for The Fig Tree Children’s ‘Pathway’ program. This initiative aims to empower young people in Sierra Leone to achieve self-sufficiency and independence.

Kenana Knitter Ladies

“Through the Fig Tree Children’s Sponsorship program, we’ve been helping carers of orphaned and vulnerable children in Sierra Leone send the children in their care to school. The challenge we now have is helping those who have left school become self-sufficient in a country where 60% of youths are unemployed.

The Fig Tree Children is a Queensland DGR Registered Charity I established in 2015.

The Gift Shop is a social enterprise and a way to raise funds for The Fig Tree Children’s ‘Pathway to Employment’ program as we donate 50% of our profits.

It is also an opportunity to promote talented artisans who hand-make the unique and beautiful products that are offered through the shop. By working with like-minded businesses and customers, together we can build a more sustainable and equitable world.”

Jane Shakespeare

CEO, The Fig Tree Gift Shop