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Agents of change

Filipe Naigulevu
Friday, March 02, 2018

THE stereotype of women's position being predominantly in the household is profoundly becoming a thing of the past, particularly in the Pacific landscape.

And with the tides of change, women have risen up to their potential making waves in respective spheres of society, whether it be business, corporate world, education and the sporting arena to name a few.

While there are still some disparities present such as opportunities and access to finance, many rural women in Fiji are becoming agents of change through entrepreneurship enabling them to financially support their families and building a brighter future.

This is evident with the many Fijian women entrepreneurs and micro-entrepreneurs that have dawned over time.

A classic example of this is the more than 9000 women micro-entrepreneurs — mostly from the rural areas — who are part of South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) — a microfinance network that operates in Fiji and the Pacific.

The network provides these women micro-entrepreneurs with unsecured financing and savings options to start and develop their own businesses.

This has seen many success stories from women entrepreneurs across Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Taveuni and Ovalau.

One particular story is that of Makirina Wati, a micro-entrepreneur who owns a small canteen business at her small home at the HART (Housing Assistance and Relief Trust) community in Wainibuku, Nakasi.

While some of her neighbouring residents at the Wainibuku HART rely on social welfare assistance and employment at garment factories, 43-year-old Ms Wati had taken the bold step to establish her own small business out of the little capital she managed to secure.

"I initially started off my canteen business with whatever little money I had, but it was sort of not successful at first, as it had its ups and downs," she told this newspaper during the Sisters in Business market day last month.

"I reside at the HART in Wainibuku, and this is right inside away from the main road so sometimes it is hard for my neighbouring residents, especially the small kids to be sent to the shop.

"So I saw that opportunity to set up my businesses and what I provide in my canteen is mostly what is needed during time when people can't visit the main shops."

While the canteen business also had its fair share of challenges, Ms Vuli — originally from Lakeba in Lau — sought the assistance of SPBD in securing a $1000 loan to boost her newly found business.

"I secured a $1000 loan from SPBD which was used for my canteen and also I bought an oven for my sideline businesses in selling pastries from time to time," she said.

Ms Vuli also developed a new trade of jewellery making from her friends, a sideline business which has enabled her to generate extra income.

"My loan with SPBD, I pay $24.04 weekly, sometimes I don't earn much from my canteen, I manage to pay it through my income from my jewellery business," she said.

Her jewellery set are made from vanguard sheets and recycled materials such as used calendars — turning trash into cash.

"My sideline business is making jewellery such as necklaces and earrings.

"I have seen this sideline business is useful for me," she said.

"Sometimes I don't earn much from my canteen business or as we know the slack days, the money earned from my jewellery helps me with income."

The necklaces and earrings set — which are sold for $12 each — are done with much precision that it gives out a unique look.

"I use vanguard sheets, I bought them and it was taught to us how to do it with precise measurements.

"It depends on you whether you want to roll the vanguard sheets into big or small rolls which will determine the outcome of the product," Ms Vuli said.

"I usually use three vanguard sheets along with beads and other accessories which I purchased in town.

"It is then soaked in varnish which makes it solid and shiny and is later sunned for its durability.

"I also use calendars and other materials which we sometimes discarded after it has served its initial purpose.

"This includes A4 paper covers, the plastic cover that binds it together before it is opened.

"These sorts of items are discarded away, but sometimes these very little things can be used to generate money for the livelihood of our families."

Earnings from her canteen and jewellery businesses have also supported her family — which includes her three children and husband.

This includes sundry expenses such as their weekly rental income and its associated levies.

"One of my children is still schooling and my two daughters, one of them has accompanied me today for the market day and I have also taught her how to do this and how to manage a business," she said.

Ms Vuli said she has also found the benefits of being a part of SPBD for over two years now.

"I'm a part of the SPBD Naulu Koro Centre and it has helped me a lot, especially when I needed capital to help boost my business," she said.

"Some people say SPBD is bad, it brings a lot of burdens, but I have been with for two years and I have seen the benefits.

"All that you need is just honesty, honesty with the little things in life to accomplish bigger things."

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