Business Assistance Fiji: Empowering women and communities

Dr Nur Bano (front row in red) with BAF training graduates (Photo: FILE)

“If you empower women, you empower communities”.

That was the message by Dr Nur Bano, President of the Fiji Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FCCI) at last week’s Business Assistance Fiji (BAF) graduation ceremony in Suva. The event saw 50 businesswomen being accredited not only with certificates, but with essential skills and knowledge to run a successful business.

“Women have that innate ability where they are natural financial managers. They’re really brilliant. It’s just that not many have harnessed it,” Dr Bano said.

Business Assistance Fiji is a limited liability company owned by the Fiji Commerce Employers’ Federation, Fiji Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Fiji Institute of Charted Accountants, and Women in Business. It is also an in-country partner of Business Link Pacific that is supported by the Fiji Government.

BAF General Manager, Ramesh Chand, says the company works with MSMEs on business diagnostic referrals, building networks of service providers, subsidies for advisory services, business support grants, and business training.

Earlier this year, BAF collaborated with the Centre for Excellence in Financial Inclusion (CeFi) based in Papua New Guinea. The collaboration involved the coaching and training of 50 women entrepreneurs around Fiji during a three-day workshop.

Post-training was also conducted involving digital business skills, including training on how to set up a Facebook account and how to use e-commerce platforms like Vodafone’s VitiKart. One-on-one debt counselling sessions with businesswomen who have loans were also undertaken.

“We are not just running our own program, but we continue to look for opportunities to bring any type of activities or training that continues to support MSMEs here in Fiji,” said Chand.

Through the workshop, “we were able to assist around 40 microbusinesses who did not have proper financials and we were able to get them linked with the service providers who were able to take them through the process and now, those microbusinesses are up-to-date with the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service,” said Chand.

Some participants and graduates of the workshop were also members of South Pacific Business Development (SPBD), a microfinance company based in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

SPBD General Manager, Elrico Munoz, says the training provided an invaluable opportunity for the businesswomen to refine their entrepreneurial acumen.

“SPBD Fiji is immensely proud of the achievements of its members and views this as a significant step towards greater economic empowerment for women,” said Munoz.

“This successful completion of the training not only signifies the personal growth of the participants but also contributes to the broader objective of fostering a more inclusive and diverse business landscape,” Munoz added.

One of the participants, Kartika Raman has been a member of SPBD Fiji since 2015. She has been running two businesses in catering and selling seafood.

Kartika Raman
Kartika Raman

The two-time SPBD Saver of the Year awardee, said: “My business is going well, and I’m really thankful to SPBD because they’re giving opportunities to us ladies to be great businesswomen.

This year alone, Raman has saved more than FJ$20,000, thanks to the help of SPBD and BAF.

“The reason I started saving more is because of the two year pandemic that we went through. So if things arise like that, I would have enough to keep on going,” said Raman.

“With these training sessions, it has helped me to grow my business more, especially selling online,” she added.

Raman, who recently joined Cyber Food, through a partnership with SPBD, says she is also planning to join the VitiKart platform.

VitiKart Product Manager, Shimneet Chand, says the e-commerce platform currently has 100 local merchants that sell souvenirs and the like, and out of that number, 80% are MSMEs. He says they are also working on getting a good delivery partner for overseas export logistics. “We’ve had a lot of interest from Australia and New Zealand, and I’m very hopeful that in three months or so, we should be having exports on Viti Kart as well,” he said.

The event also saw the launching of BAF’s new Strategic Plan for the next four years.

“With the support of the Asian Development Bank, under its Pacific COVID-19 Business Recovery Programme, this strategic plan was developed and consultations were held in the central, northern, and western divisions,” said BAF General Manager, Ramesh Chand.

He says BAF will be opening new offices in Labasa and Lautoka, and is working on having the first MSME conference on March 7-8, 2024.