SPBD: Where every day is women’s day

SPBD General Manager, Elrico Munoz with members, during a Centre visit.

As women across the Pacific reflected on International Women’s Day recently, we asked two SPBD leaders about the importance of women’s empowerment at the organisation.

“Women’s empowerment is part and parcel of what we do,” says SPBD Chief Operating Officer, Polly Kelekis.

“Helping women start and build businesses, being there to encourage them, giving them the training, all helps build their confidence which leads to the empowerment piece of it. I have seen the change with women who are new members versus older or existing members, who are more engaged, have suggestions for improvements; you can tell they are more confident in what they are doing.

“You see it in the pride when they are introducing themselves, and giving tours of their villages and businesses. And we hear it from so many members, they are empowered to earn their own income, contribute to their families. We see women who have mothers who are businesswomen, and they want to be like mum. So, it is having an impact on the next generation.”

Kelekis says empowerment extends to the SPBD team as well.

“We’re empowering our women and staff members. Women are well represented in our senior management team, amongst general managers across the region. For example, our GM in Tonga started out in the back office; then she had the opportunity to go and help launch SPBD in Vanuatu. Six years later, she’s the GM. But she started in the back office like me.”

SPBD Fiji General Manager, Elrico Munoz agrees, saying the strategy of increasing women’s inclusion across the economy is empowering in a number of respects.

“For us, it is not just about financial inclusion. It is about being included in the whole economic system,” Munoz says. “It means being able to contribute to family decisions and the coffers of the whole household. It is about not just being dependent on whoever is the head of the family.

“And they are also able to support the other women at their Centre and make an impact in their community. Many of our members have developed their leadership skills and they have become community leaders; they have been able to influence how the village addresses issues such as domestic violence.

“The women’s groups are not only for loans and savings. They actually share their personal problems, their experiences and they are able to band together and say, ‘this is not right’.”

Frequently asked questions

My family and relatives do not always respect my stock and business and take things for themselves without asking. What can I do?

This is a common problem faced by many SPBD members, especially those running canteens and food-based businesses.

You can try clearly explaining to your family what positive contribution the business you are running is making to your household, so they understand why it is important to run it as professionally as possible.

For example, if you explain that you were able to use your profits to buy school uniforms or fix part of your home, it might help them understand that when they take your stock, you don’t have as much to sell and your profits will drop.

Some of our members make sure their stock is also kept in a secure, locked place, so they can control access.

SPBD PROFILE: Polly Kelekis

Polly (left) talks to SPBD member, Milika Rokomada at the Nausori market.

Polly Kelekis joined SPBD in 2011, initially concentrating on the Micro Dreams Foundation, which raises funds for relief and recovery efforts, and supports SPBD’s growth in different markets.

She quickly became involved in operational matters at SPBD, eventually becoming Chief Operating Officer.

“We’re such a small team, and we wear lots of different hats,” she says of SPBD’s head operations. “It was a very seamless transition to the role, working very closely with [SPBD founder and President] Greg Casagrande helping to define the strategic priorities of the organisation.”

Kelekis sees microfinance as a way of marrying her interests in finance/business and international development. She already had six years’ experience in microfinance before joining SPBD, and remembers when she first heard about the sector from a friend.

“It just sounded perfect. I get to go do international work, but I’m helping women entrepreneurs to run their businesses, so I can use my business skills as well. It has really been the type of job where it’s very meaningful. You wake up every day and know you are doing this because the members are working really hard to improve their lives. So I’m going to wake up and work really hard to help the teams and the women. That’s what it’s all about.”

While Kelekis has worked with a much larger, global microfinance provider, she says the SPBD model has been specifically developed to be relevant to the South Pacific, ensuring its sustainability.


Nabouwalu 2 Centre Chief, Beda Anjali, is a vibrant and dedicated woman who owns a restaurant located right next to the Nabouwalu port.

The owner of ‘Nabouwalu Seaside Tasty Halal Restaurant Enterprise’ exudes a friendly and humorous personality that immediately puts her guests at ease.

“I have always dreamed of owning a restaurant,” she says. “I told myself that no matter how, I would operate a restaurant.”

The business is a far cry from her old role in Labasa, where she used to be a bailiff clerk.

However when she married 18 years ago and moved to Nabouwalu, her path changed.

“It was a struggle, but I used to do vegetable farming and sell them,” Anjali said.

“I just started operating this restaurant a month ago, and it feels really good; I enjoy it,” she said when we interviewed her late last year.

The restaurant was previously owned by her father-in-law , but had closed down. Anjali has revived it at the same spot as the original business, which is popular with people getting on and off vessels at the wharf.

Anjali has been a member of SPBD since 2016 and says it helped her with her new venture.

“I always go after the loan from SPBD so that I can kick off my business, or when I’m stuck somewhere, I can take out a loan and run my business,” she said.

She has also tapped into training offered to members, and says it has been very useful.

Anjali’s entrepreneurial mindset and dedication has also earned her the Centre Chief position at Nabouwalu Station 2, a role she says is challenging but rewarding.

“When I was elected to be the Centre Chief, my role was to look after the members and keep our
centre in a good condition. When members take out loans, the payment to SPBD should be on time.”

She says loan procedures are simple, and if applications are successful, funds are received in just two-to-three weeks.

The mother of two has already started inspiring her daughters to have an entrepreneurial mindset. “When they come down from Labasa on school breaks, they are managing the restaurant, and my elder one manages the finances,” Anjali said.

As she looks towards the future with the support of her children and husband, three words spring to her mind: ‘empowering other women’.

“I would also like to empower women wherever I go, just as I was empowered, I want to empower others.”

Word and Excel training for members

The training facilitators with SPBD members.

Six members within the SPBD Microfinance Fiji used the HELP Loan facility late last year 2022. The HELP Loan package includes a desktop, a new colour printer and a pocket Wi-Fi. The loan enables the members to be registered under the SPBD Fiji Bloom program as well.

The members were provided training on Word and Excel to assist them to effectively use the desktop. They learnt how to type and prepare formal letters with Word and to prepare cashflow using Excel for their business. The ladies were taught that to be able to compete with the modern world of business, they need to know at least the basic principles of computing.

The components of the training were simplified in order for the members to fully grasp the concept of using technology for their business.

The training covered: –

  • How to write a formal request letter for loan application or brief report
  • How to prepare an annual projected cashflow using Excel
  • How to calculate Gross Profit on a monthly basis
  • Cost Price, Selling Price and Cost Margin calculations
  • Costing Product in bulk on Excel

Mr. and Mrs. Sharma of RBMS partnered with SPBD to facilitate the training. RBMS facilitated the sessions on Saturday in February and March with SPBD members, free of charge. This was indeed a very generous gesture from the private sector to upskill the knowledge of the microentrepreneurs. SPBD intends to explore other avenues to enhance the skills of its members.

Current SPBD members who attended the training included Asena Senibiaudamu (Vesivesi Centre), Kasanita Tupou Nasorowale (Natakala Centre), Viniana Loloyavura (Valelevu Sisters In Action Centre), Olimiva Tabua (Kasavu 2 Centre), Vika Lalaciwa (Navatuvula Centre) and Suliana Vateqe Ranavue (Waimanu Centre).

The feedback from Asena Senibiaudamu, Centre Chief of Vesivesi Centre, was very encouraging and rewarding. Senibiaudamu is a very familiar face at the SPBD headquarters in Suva. She found the training “very useful for her business.” She is able to calculate her profit and keep records of expenses and revenues on her desktop. “Information is available at a click of a button.” Her business is more professional now as she can provide her quotes using her desktop and can printout a copy for her customers.

Generally, the members found the experience an eye opener and great opportunity to be innovative and successful in operating a small-scale business, trying to compete with the fast-growing micro business owners in their village or communities.

Mr. and Mrs. Sharma.

Meet the member: Viniana Loloyavura

In a busy part of Valelevu, Viniana Loloyavura has a well-visited vegetable stall. Her loyal customers, local residents and workers from the nearby factories and warehouses, trust the freshness and quality of her produce.

Prior to joining SPBD in 2015, Loloyavura only sold cassava, working in a business her mother had started.

She had been employed in a food processing factory, “but I learnt from my mum that she made more money than me. So, I learnt from her that it is better to run my own business… rather than working [at the factory]. Working there, I had less money.”

Loloyavura joined SPBD’s Valelevu Sisters In Action Centre, when her sister, who was already a member, moved back to the village. She used her first $500 loan to expand her business, buying a wider variety of vegetables from farmers.

She has taken several loans since then, continuing to expand the business, and to pay for her three children’s schooling: “I bought school uniforms, school bags and school shoes, school books.”

But it was the purchase of a car, with the assistance of another larger SPBD loan, that was a game changer, especially when internal borders closed during COVID-19.

Loloyavura used the car to travel to Sawani and Wainadoi to buy directly from farmers, who were unable to travel into Suva.

“If I didn’t go there, I wouldn’t have had any vegetables.” And if she didn’t have a car, keeping her business going would have been even more difficult.

She is also a graduate of the pilot Fiji Bloom SME program, which seeks to support businesses to graduate from micro businesses.

“It opened my eyes into growing more businesses…they helped us learn more about how to run our businesses.”

Her husband is from Kadavu. “I see there’s no business there so I would like to go and run a business in Kadavu. I want to go and open a supermarket there. They’re using the fibre [boats] and they have to go and look for benzine [fuel]. I’d like to go and sell the benzine to them.

“I need my husband to go there to work,” she says with a laugh. “I’m going to train him.

“I’d [also] like to go and run a vegetable farm there, so it can supply me.”

While we talk, Loloyavura does not stop from straightening piles of produce and serving customers. Her eye is always on the business, and on the future.