Before joining the South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) program, Vani Vakacegu worked hard but found it difficult to get ahead. At 32 years of age she had four children, with another on the way. Her husband, the family’s sole breadwinner, was a fisherman, but “life was very hard”.
Then Vani was introduced to SPBD, at that stage a new microfinance institute that was holding workshops around Fiji to help women secure loans without security, to go into business. Vani’s first loan was for F$850, which enabled her to start buying and selling fish. She quickly saw returns. “The first thing I did was provide electricity for my family,” she says.
Since that modest start, Vani has been able to buy a sewing machine and brush cutter, which saves her family time and money. She bought a second-hand vehicle to transport produce from her village to Suva city, not only for herself, but for other women in her community. She has purchased a freezer and more recently, a newer vehicle. She has expanded from selling fish to other produce. Her children have leadership roles at their schools and the eldest is at the University of Fiji.
Vani still works extremely hard her day begins at 3am but says joining SPBD has given her confidence to lead: “Everything I have learned from SPBD I have to take to my community, I have to help them do the finance work and also help them do the marketing. I have to encourage them so we can buy one market on the highway so it will be easy for us to sell our product.”
SPBD celebrates its 10th anniversary in Fiji this year and has supported many women like Vani in that time. Since its beginnings from a small temporary office at the Suva Motor Inn in October 2010, it now has branches in the capital, Sigatoka, Savusavu, Lautoka, Rakiraki, and Labasa, and works across Fiji. Just last year, SPBD operations reached Rabi for the first time. In 2011 it reached its first 1000 SPBD members; that number now stands at well over 20,000 members. SPBD is a key part of Fiji’s financial sector, and has formed partnerships with some of Fiji’s most prominent companies, including Vodafone, Courts, the Fiji Development Bank, Kiva Microfunds, the Rotary Club of Suva, Vinod Patel and RC Manubhai.
SPBD has also played a critical role in supporting communities through natural disasters, including Cyclone Evan through a Cash- for-Work program in 2013 and Cyclone Winston in 2016. Most recently, SPBD has launched a COVID-19 Pandemic Response Strategy to benefit all its members.
“During hard times, SPBD listens closely to what the SPBD members would suggest. The best example is when the economic effects of COVID-19 pandemic hit the livelihoods of our members. We immediately restructured their loans and provided a five-month repayment holiday. On top of that, we are currently providing Business Recovery Loans and also promote the establishment of Home Gardens to cope up with the hardships, “says SPBD General Manager, Rico Munoz.
SPBD’s philosophy of lending is based on respect for each individual’s innate human ingenuity, drive and self-esteem. By providing small, unsecured loans of around US$400 to groups of rural women, who then invest them into businesses based on their existing livelihood skills, it provides an opportunity for women to achieve their full potential, expand their businesses, support their children’s education, improve the healthiness of their homes, build savings and invest in insurance.
Training and ongoing mentoring and guidance is key to SPBD’s work. Last year SPBD recruited its first participants to the Fiji Bloom business acceleration program, which aims to pave a new pathway to help informal, women-led micro-enterprises transition into thriving, formalised small-medium enterprises.
Throughout the six-month program, SPBD connects participants to tailored business curriculum training, one-to-one private industry- specific coaching and select networking events all to help them build and execute a SME-level business plan.
“The Fiji Bloom Program offers a whole new world to the women micro-entrepreneurs. Through this program we are able to assist them to formalise their businesses, equip them to transition from micro to SME-level enterprises and accelerate their growth through training and business coaching,” explained Mr. Munoz.
SPBD Fiji is part of the SPBD Microfinance Network which is also celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. The network started in Samoa in 2020 and has spread its operations in the region – Tonga (2009), Fiji (2010), Solomon Islands (2012) and Vanuatu (2017). To know more about the SPBD network please visit: www.spbdmicrofinance.com
To learn more about Fiji Bloom visit: https://www.fijibloom.org/
To find out how you can support Fiji women through SPBD visit: https://www.kiva.org/lend partner=562&status=fundRaising&sortBy=expiringSoon