“My eyes were opened and I now realise that there are different methods I can use to keep my business sustainable.”
These were the words of Milika Baikeirewa, one of the pioneer members of the Fiji Bloom Club, which was launched in July together with the Fiji Bloom Website.
The Fiji Bloom Program, which is an initiative of SPBD, aims to transform women-owned informal micro enterprises into formal and financially viable MSMEs through training and coaching across a range of business skills.
The program aims to recruit 40 participants to the Acceleration program in 2022/23. In the pilot phase (pre-COVID), 11 women graduated.
“For more than 10 years, SPBD has been providing support to the women micro-entrepreneurs through access to financial services and financial literacy. With the Fiji Bloom Program, these women are provided more support in terms of business formalisation and provision of professional business development services (BDS). Those who have completed their FJ$3,000 loans from SPBD may now aim to level up their micro-business to become small enterprises by undergoing the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Preparation Workshop so that they can qualify for a much higher SME loan amount,” SPBD General Manager, Elrico Munoz said.
Elements of the program include business formalisation; the process of business registration and re registration; TIN alignment; income tax return lodgement; and obtaining a tax compliance certificate.
“Some of the businesses constantly face harassment and bullying [e.g., being moved on from where they are selling produce] because they are not formalised. So, what we do is, we convince them and tell them about the need for their business to be formalised so they can get trained and they can grow,” Munoz said.
“They thought they were too small and did not need to lodge their income tax returns, which is not true. Even if you have zero income in that year, you still need to lodge your income tax returns and receive the Tax Compliance Certificate from FRCS in order to take advantage of many opportunities that formal business can exploit,” he continued.
Aside from business formalisation, Fiji Bloom offers the following services for SPBD members:
- Business Development Services: bookkeeping, marketing support, tax/regulatory compliance, IT Support and Resource Linkage
- SME Preparation Workshop: Business diagnostics, entrepreneurial capacity assessment, cash flow analysis, and 3-year business plan
- Business Acceleration: Formal training workshops, one-on-one coaching, and investor links.
“At least 25 BDS providers will be accredited by the program to help the businesses of the SPBD members operate in a more sustainable way. These BDS providers should not only be excellent professionals but also have the heart to support women-owned businesses,” Munoz said.
SPBD Director, Lorraine Seeto acknowledged the value of continued improvement for SPBD and its members.
“Enhancements to products and services is one way that we can all uplift productivity and the quality of our lives – this is good for the family, the community and for Fiji. This is what women empowerment can do to assist in building a sustainable, resilient and innovative nation.”
Read more about Fiji Bloom on the website: https://fiji-bloom.org/
Meet Isoa Tubuna: Fiji Bloom Program Coordinator
Isoa Tubuna brings a deep understanding of banking, business and life as a farmer in Fiji’s rural areas to his role as Fiji Bloom Program Coordinator.
Tubuna hails from Matainoco, in the tikina of Buretu in Tailevu. His wide experience includes roles with QBE Insurance, Fijian Holdings, Fiji National University, Fiji Development Bank, and the Centre for Appropriate Technology Development (CATD). He has also offered business service support as an independent consultant. Many of these roles have involved training for business people and entrepreneurs in rural communities.
Tubuna is also a farmer.
“My parents taught me the importance of food security, earning a livelihood from farming and to love nature, as it provides for all I need.
Farming in our area is not easy, as most planting area is covered with sea water due to the effect of climate change, at every high tide, which can be twice in a month. I have a few beehives and have been processing honey from it. And I also farm vegetables and root crops, for home consumption, and currently leased a 5-acre plot of land in Wailase to start a commercial farming business.”
He was inspired to join SPBD through his desire to help aspiring entrepreneurs.
“It allows me direct intervention to those unreached women entrepreneurs and communities, to allow them to realise their full potential and create pathways to allow them to fulfil their dreams and aspirations. SPBD, through its Fiji Bloom program, is a way to develop rural communities and their resources, which will improve community livelihoods, create employment, reduce poverty, reduce urban migration, reduce crime, and make Fiji the way the world should be.”
The Fiji Bloom Program was created to support, strengthen and advance women-led MSMEs across Fiji, so they have an opportunity to bloom to their fullest potential.
SME preparation workshops will be offered starting July, from which Fiji Bloom Acceleration participants will be selected. SPBD aims to take 40 members through the business acceleration program this year in four batches – two in Suva area, one in the Western Division and another one in the Northern Division.
“I love this role as I worked with women entrepreneurs in the informal, rural, villages, settlements. Those who were created to be successful but could not find that space in their own family, community, church and the nation,” Tubuna says.
SPBD and Gulabdas & Sons Join Forces On Ovalau
Women entrepreneurs in Ovalau and Moturiki can now confidently buy business equipment from a reputable business in Levuka.
South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) has joined hands with iconic Levuka business, Gulabdas & Sons, as a distribution channel to assist SPBD centre members in Ovalau, buy high quality, affordable appliances to upgrade their businesses and homes.
Speaking at the signing ceremony on July 6, SPBD Director, Lorraine Seeto said the new partnership will benefit all involved. “Our SPBD members in Levuka and Ovalau will benefit immensely with this new partnership. We will all be in a win-win-win situation – Our SPBD members, Gulabdas & Sons and SPBD.”
Seeto said they are already discussing enhancements to this new product, “bundles of groceries, extension to PAFCO workers and so on.”
SPBD General Manager, Elrico Munoz explained the partnership process. “SPBD provides the unsecured financing to the women entrepreneurs in the form of cash and/or vouchers. The vouchers are then redeemed from the partner supplier (like Gulabdas & Sons) for goods/items at special discounts. In this way, these women who might have limited or no access for formal financing or hire-purchase facilities, can now purchase their dream appliances or items at discounted prices via SPBD loan.”
Bhupendra Khatri, the founder of Gulabdas & Sons and former mayor of the scenic old capital says 70% of women on Ovalau island work in the fishing industry, mainly at the Pacific Fishing Company (PAFCO), Fiji’s modern tuna cannery, where Khatri is a current board member.
SPBD’s core mission – empowering women — was what drove Gulabdas & Sons to seal the deal. Khatri said: “Women play a very large role in the Levuka economy. There’s a consistency in the way they do things, the way they participate in community activities, social activities, bringing up the children, they have a huge responsibility and they seem to do very well in all aspects of their lives.
“We will offer items that the women need to start a project or business for themselves such as chest freezers, washing machines, refrigerators. We also have sporting goods, as well as back to school items such as stationery, shoes and uniforms,” Khatri added.
Lorraine Seeto added: “We at SPBD are so encouraged that Bhupendra is taking responsibility and accountability of this new product and lifting it to another level. It is through such effective partnerships that we lift each other up and grow.”
Of their future plans, Munoz said SPBD is planning to develop a special loan program for the women factory workers of PAFCO and provide discounted prices from Gulabdas & Sons to them as well. “We are also thinking of linking our women who have canteen businesses to Gulabdas & Sons for grocery bundles at wholesale prices,” he said.
SPBD Nabukebuke Centre Chief, Pasemaca Temo says she is very thankful for the new partnership. “We don’t have to go to Suva,” she says. “Before, we would have to find a way to bring [items for our business] over from Suva. Now, we can purchase it here in Levuka. Tomorrow, I’m getting my fridge.”
The 64-year-old who runs a catering business has been an SPBD member for four years. She said: “Since joining SPBD in 2019, it has been very, very good. We have to be honest at SPBD. When I receive the loan, it is just for my business. When centre members need support, SPBD helps us by encouraging us to stand on our own and achieve our business goals. That is where SPBD is very good… encouraging us to stand up for ourselves.”