20 Years of Investing in Pacific Women

Greg Casagrande in Tonga.

20 years ago, serial social entrepreneur Greg Casagrande made his first foray into the Pacific Islands, setting up the South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) Samoa operations with the aim of helping women in need to help themselves out of poverty.

The network of microfinance institutions now spans five Pacific nations and continues to lead and innovate in the microfinance space. SPBD works to eradicate poverty by empowering women in rural villages with the opportunity to start, grow and maintain sustainable, income-generating micro-enterprises, build assets, and finance home improvements and childhood education.

SPBD provides its clients with training and financial services and ongoing motivation so that they can climb permanently out of poverty. It serves women in both rural and peri-urban areas who are vulnerable to the consequences of poverty, including single mothers, the unemployed, minorities, the poor in health, the disabled, and the unbanked.

Since 2000, SPBD has impacted more than 80,000 women and disbursed more than 246,000 micro loans worth US$177 million to hardworking, low-income entrepreneurs.

As the initial and flagship microfinance institution of the SPBD Network, SPBD Microfinance Samoa is often used to launch new products and pilot schemes. With coverage on all four islands and nearly every village in Samoa, SPBD Samoa has been financially sustainable since 2007. SPBD is currently impacting more than 20,000 families (an estimated 120,000 individuals), almost 60% of the population.

“I was once a woman with dreams and ambitions,” says SPBD Samoa General Manager Luapene Lefau. “Therefore I would like to remind every woman out there that hard work and determination will lead us to success and achieving what may seem impossible at first.”

Following the success of SPBD Samoa, SPBD launched in the Kingdom of Tonga in 2009. SPBD Tonga reached financial sustainability within 18 months of inception and has since disbursed US$48.6 million. SPBD Tonga will continue to expand its outreach on existing island groups (Tongatapu, Vava’u, Ha’apai, Eua’) and will expand to additional islands over the next few years. SPBD Tonga currently impacts half of Tonga’s population.

“SPBD knows the power of women first-hand. For 20 years, we have seen what they can accomplish. Our members want to improve their lives and their families’ lives. They want healthier housing, better nutrition, and better education for their children. They want the next generation to have a better life. So, how can they make that happen when there are so few jobs? Where can they turn when they have to rely on their own resourcefulness and their own skill set? They can turn to SPBD. We are so proud to provide the financing, support and training so they can get the tools they need to succeed,” says SPBD Tonga General Manager Fine Tu’ipulotu.

Launching in December 2010, SPBD Fiji makes available the benefits of microfinance to the low-income and disadvantaged women of the Fiji Islands who constitute 35% of the population. SPBD Fiji has disbursed more than 55,600 loans since inception, totalling more than US$32.7 million. Today with more than 9,000 members — of which 5,600 are active loan clients — and loan portfolio of US$3.5 million and savings portfolio of US$1.9 million, SPBD is the largest and most successful microfinance institution in Fiji.

“The consistent use of financial education by SPBD has changed the mindsets of the women of Fiji. Not only have they become entrepreneurial but also responsible financial managers. SPBD will continue to expand its outreach to the rural areas and assist these ladies formalise their businesses as well,” says SPBD Fiji General Manager Rico Munoz.

SPBD Solomon Islands started operations in November 2012 and disbursed its first loans in January 2013. Since then, SPBD has disbursed US$15.5 million and more than 25,200 loans. It currently services 8,400 savings accounts and more than US$320,000 of savings. Of the future, General Manager Ajay Verma says: “We will further increase the geographical footprint and the suite of financial products offered by SPBD to make more meaningful impact in the lives of rural families. My Solomon Islands local team and I will strive to make SPBD Solomon Islands one of the largest SPBD businesses in the South Pacific region.”

SPBD Microfinance (Vanuatu) commenced operations in April 2017. The newest of the 5 MFIs in the SPBD network, SPBD Vanuatu has shown impressive progress disbursing more than 13,000 loans worth US$6.8 million since inception. SPBD services 6,900 savings accounts totalling US$290,000 in Vanuatu.

Florin Covaciu, General Manager of SPBD Vanuatu, shares, “I am proud and happy to be a member of this exceptional institution, SPBD. We will increase our efforts to extend our service on other islands of Vanuatu, because our mamas work very hard, and they deserve to have a source of training and of loans as close as possible to their businesses. It is very nice to see them improving and developing, and we are doing our best to be here for them. When they succeed, we succeed.”

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