South Pacific Business Development’s newly relocated branch in Sigatoka is now open to its members.
The office services SPBD members from throughout Nadroga-Navosa and Serua.
“As our SPBD membership grows, this new premises will better cater for our members’ needs,” said SPBD Director, Lorraine Seeto at the April 29 opening ceremony.
She acknowledged the region’s contribution to Fiji’s economic and national life.
“Apart from providing fresh fruits and vegetables due to its highly fertile vegetation, it’s also a bustling town and Sigatoka is the principal urban centre for the province of Nadroga-Navosa. The town is also the principal centre for Fiji’s coastal tourism belt – the Coral Coast – which hosts many of Fiji’s leading hotels and resorts. Sigatoka is also commonly dubbed the ‘Rugby Town’ due to the provincial rugby team’s influence on the Fiji national rugby scene. This is Iliesa Delana’s hometown, Fiji’s and the South Pacific’s first gold medalist in the Paralympic Games in 2012,” she said.
The new SPBD office has dedicated training facilities for its members.
“Previously, we had to hire space to conduct training. Now, we can cater for our office and training needs under one roof. We can meet all our members’ needs better and we encourage members to come and visit your Centre Managers here as well,” Seeto continued.
The Sigatoka branch has four field officers, a Team Leader and three Centre Managers, and a support staff member, who look after 60 centres and more than 900 members, Seeto revealed.
Assistant Roko Tui of the Nadroga-Navosa province, Ilaitia Kurisaru told guests at the opening that he was sincerely grateful for SPBD’s hard work in “trying to eradicate poverty by empowering women in rural areas with the opportunity to start, grow and maintain sustainable, income generating micro-enterprises.”
“We all want a life that is problem free and stress free,” he said, continuing that in order to achieve such a life we need to manage our time, manage our resources, establish short- and long-term goals, and learn to say no sometimes.
He shared that saying yes to traditional obligations most often contributed to the decline of villagers’ [financial] well-being.
“In a typical Fijian setting, we constantly have gatherings and occasions by which we cannot say no to. This is however contributing to the decline of our well-being. The culture of saying yes is always common in our everyday lives.
“What SPBD is doing is by far one of the amazing things ever,” he said. “SPBD is able to lift up the lives of each underprivileged women to have better access to other resources which will have a positive impact for themselves and their own families.
“We hope for more services to come in the future which will improve the livelihoods of the so-called Nadroganians.”
Seeto revealed the organisation is also looking at “launching new products, launching a SPBD app, relaunching our Fiji Bloom programe, evaluating a sanitation project with our business partner, fostering more partnerships, and serving our members better. This year, we intend to have the SPBD Businesswoman of the Year Awards in the third quarter,” she told Centre Chiefs and guests in Sigatoka.
Uciwai-Momi Centre Chief, Siteri Waqaicelua
Siteri Waqaicelua helped bring SPBD to her community after she moved to Uciwai after leaving her job as the secretary to the former CEO of Fiji Airports Limited.
She was motivated to get SPBD’s assistance after seeing the living conditions of some people in the sugarcane farming settlement.
“When I went to church one day, my name was called out to do Sunday visiting. I walked into these homes and then I felt so bad – my heart hurts to see the condition of living that we have.
“I started asking around where I can get some support to help the ladies and then I ended up with SPBD. A friend of mine recommended SPBD to me.”
After visiting SPBD’s Sigatoka branch, she called a meeting.
“On the day we started, one of the lady’s husband is a taxi driver was sitting there listening and then he asked, ‘Can the men join SPBD?’ I said ‘No, this is for the ladies’ and then he said ‘Okay, if you all agree today to join this organisation, I’ll pay for your registration fees.’ He paid for that because he could see the value. He was listening and he was moved.“
Now the Centre’s 15 members’ businesses include cupboard canteens, mat weaving, fishing and crabbing.
“As for me, I have a canteen. There are three things that I do which are handicraft, screen printing and baking, even flower arrangement. Through SPBD, it has helped to draw out my talents that I didn’t know exist within myself.”
She says the Centre has grown significantly.
“Ladies have built new homes. Right now, two ladies are building their homes – from a Fijian bure to a two-bedroom house. There’s a lady who just got a $7,000 loan from SPBD a month ago. She’s extending her home. It’s a rewarding experience. It motivates me. I pushed myself to do those things. For me, it’s just serving them.”
She says while the group would benefit from some literacy training, “The thing is, we’ve managed. We’ve managed to help them maintain their business and manage their sales. For me personally, saving was one thing that I didn’t do much of when I was working.
“We are thankful to SBPD for teaching us how to save money. When you get your money, you think twice about spending it.”
She believes SPBD has made the community stronger.
“It has brought families together. When we first started, the men in our families would say, ‘this is a lot of money to pay’. So, we started educating them, letting them know that in the long run, you will see, and they give us their 100% support. Whenever we have functions in the community, they will be there. For me personally, it’s just watching the ladies grow, in terms of what they already have. To me, that’s the rewarding part of it.”
Vatukarasa Centre Chief, Karalaini Tulou
Vatukarasa Centre Chief, Karalaini Tulou says joining SPBD means she has money in her purse and can decide what she does with her earnings without having to ask anyone.
She encourages other women to join SPBD, saying the membership helps her earn money to meet her traditional obligations and to save for the future.
Tulou moved to the village after her husband retired from his civil service job in Suva. However, she had heard about SPBD during trips home before that and travelled from Suva to Vatukarasa for six weeks for SPBD training.
“My business is in catering particularly for office meetings. I chose catering because I love baking. I bake in the morning and [then sell] on the roadside,” she says.
Tulou is now catering for workers involved in road construction close to the Centre, with a contract that will last for two years.
She admits that while COVID-19 was challenging, the Centre’s 14 members did what they could to make repayments, continuing to sell food and sewn products.
“My daughter is studying two majors at the University of the South Pacific and this is her final year. I’m proud of her. She wants to join SPBD too, to support her in her education. My children know what SPBD has done for me and my family.”
Narorovou Centre Chief, Vonosia Raibuluwai
The ten members of Narorovou Centre have a wide variety of businesses on Fiji’s coral coast.
Some are into handicraft work, others sell produce and food in Sigatoka town, and others run canteens in their villages, says Centre Chief, Vonosia. During COVID, members adapted. Some cooked meals to sell in town and others looked for kai (freshwater mussels) to take to market.
“My business is in handicraft work, and I also sell my products at Outrigger [hotel],” Vonosia says.
“During COVID, my husband helped me with planting kumala, cassava and cucumber in order to sell it in the market and pay my SPBD loan payments.
“SPBD has helped me and my family build a new house and help with my children’s school fees. I have three children – my eldest son is 19 years old; another son is 12 years old, and my daughter is 8 years old. My daughter attends Gospel School for the Deaf in Suva.”
While it has been hard during COVID “we don’t lose hope because SPBD is helping our family in the village.
“I thank SPBD for helping our businesses for the last two years,” Vonosia says.
Fiji Development Bank and SPBD continue partnership
The Fiji Development Bank (FDB) has provided a further loan of $1.5 million to the South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) Microfinance aimed at increasing SPBD’s capacities to reach out to the women micro-entrepreneurs.
Speaking at an event to mark the collaboration between FDB and SPBD Fiji, the Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Rosy Akbar commended SPBD for strategically developing leadership skills, forging ownership and commitments, building teamwork and communication skills, manoeuvring future capital security, innovative thinking and accountability together with financing the micro-enterprise projects.
“It is indeed pleasing to see that corporate entities have placed a key focus on empowering women as entrepreneurs in support of the Government’s commitment to strengthening the economic participation of all Fijians and in particular for women, as one of its major priorities,” she said.
FDB Chief Executive Officer Saud Minam said FDB is honoured to partner with SPBD in creating a positive business environment for micro-enterprises.
“By financing SPBD Fiji, FDB is targeting the strategic sector of the economy – ‘the micro-enterprises.’ This on-lending to SPBD will support those customers that are in need of access to finance as well as those projects that have the highest multiplier effect, both economically and socially,” he said.
“Thank you SPBD for the opportunity for a good strong partnership in terms of providing the lifeline for economic activity.
“We are proud to be the only bank in Fiji to reach out to these customers through avenues such as this collaborative endeavour.”
Members of the Valelevu Sisters In Action Centre joined the event, testifying to the impact of SPBD on the lives of its members.
Centre Chief Lewaseini Takayawa said the loans extended by SPBD had helped women become financially independent and support their families and children’s education.
Members from the Vesivesi, Naitaqiri and Matanakilagi Centres were also present at the event.
FDB has been an SPBD strategic partner since 2014.
In 2014, FDB provided a $2 million loan to SPBD aimed at increasing SPBD’s capacities to reach out to the women microentrepreneurs in rural areas.