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Small town everyday entrepreneurs impact lives

Losalini Vuki
Thursday, March 08, 2018

AN annual award to honour the hardwork and entrepreneurial spirit of Fijian women was held at the FMF Gymnasium in Laucala Bay, Suva last month.

The event was organised by the South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) Microfinance (Fiji) who through their financing support mechanisms, support women micro-entrepreneurs.

Guest speaker at the event, outgoing United States Ambassador to Fiji Judith Cefkin said while each woman's story was unique, all have benefited from support from their families, friends, and mentors — people who had believed in their abilities and had given advice, time, and sometimes sacrifice to help them on their path.

"Getting started in any new adventure, including business, can be overwhelming, and often the first step is the most difficult to take," said Ms Cefkin

"The encouragement of those who believe in us, who are going through similar challenges, and who themselves have overcome them, can give us the confidence to take that first step, keep walking, and not look back. That is why organisations such as South Pacific Business Development are so important."

She said not only could they give women that first financial step towards setting up or growing a business, they provided a safe environment for women to learn from each other and empower each other for the betterment of the whole community. Because it is the whole community that benefits when women are given the space to grow their talents. Not only are the effects visible today, but the efforts you are making now are setting an example for the next generation to learn from. Your children, nieces, and nephews see your hard work and understand that they can achieve the same success."

Ms Cefkin said in the United States, they had seen that women who dared to take on these challenges could reach amazing levels. "One of America's best-known female entrepreneurs, Oprah Winfrey, grew up in poverty in a small rural town," she said.

"She ignored the voices of those who told her that women, especially women of colour, could not succeed in media. She took a risk to start her own TV show, which grew into a national broadcast reaching over 10 million viewers. Today, she is known and respected as the owner of her own media company and a philanthropist who has raised over $50 million dollars for charitable programs, including girls' education. But it is not just celebrities like Oprah who inspire women and girls. It's small town, everyday entrepreneurs who can have the greatest impact on their families and communities."

She adds the United States government strongly believes, and proves through our foreign policy, that in countries where women are empowered, the whole country succeeds.

"We work to promote stability, peace, and inclusive development by empowering women politically, socially, and economically around the world," said Ms Cefkin.

But it is important to start early and stay focused. If we start with our young girls, supporting their education and giving them positive reinforcement, they will grow and succeed. And in turn, they will inspire a new generation of girls to do the same. But it is equally important to expose our sons and grandsons to women's success. If they grow up in an environment in which women are valued, encouraged, and given the same opportunities for success, they will encourage their daughters, sisters, and wives to reach for the stars. That is why I believe that events like this one are so important - that so many of you have taken the time and, in many cases, have travelled from far away to celebrate the achievements of the women of Fiji."

Over the past three years, Ms Cefkin said we had seen women seizing opportunities in the political sphere, with Fiji's first female Speaker of Parliament and first female opposition leader arising out of the past elections, along with other women in ministerial roles.

"We are hopeful that the upcoming 2018 election will see more female candidates running for office," she said.

"At the same time, women are leading in business. Fiji's economy is strong and is projected to get even stronger in the coming years. Now is the time to get involved in public service, start a new business, or seek new opportunities."

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