Aussie NFP is helping female entrepreneurs to fly in Fiji

Posted on 18 Jun 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Fiji market stall owners

An Australian not-for-profit is playing a key role in helping Fijian female entrepreneurs tackle the challenges they face.

The Sydney-based for-purpose organisation Good Return has partnered with Merchant Finance to help women who are struggling to access finance to build their own businesses.

Their loans are aimed at female farmers, processors and other women-owned agricultural businesses that help generate jobs for marginalised people.

The newly launched EmpowHER AgriLoan is a specialised loan for women-owned businesses in the fruit, vegetable, and marine sectors and is designed to help women to purchase equipment that will help the businesses expand and thrive.

Women running businesses in any part of the supply chain are eligible, from suppliers to growers, transporters, processors and retailers.

Fiji-based Merchant Finance is administering the loans while Good Return is guaranteeing the loans via its Impact Investment Fund.

Ginger beer made with local ginger being served to customers in Fiji
A woman serves ginger beer made with locally grown ginger to customers in Fiji.
“This partnership with Merchant Finance is an important step in breaking down the barriers women in Fiji face when they are striving to grow their businesses.”
Good Return CEO Shane Nichols

Fijian entrepreneur Talei Tora is familiar with some of the financial and cultural barriers that women face when starting a business in Fiji.

Talei struggled to get her ginger beer business, GingerLei, off the ground in 2017.

“The biggest challenge [for women in Fiji] is believing in themselves and that they can start and manage a business and still do all the things that are required of her in the home,” she said.

“I think the barriers that exist are the patriarchal notions that a woman's place is in the kitchen and in the home.”

Talei said access to finance was another challenge because women often don’t have enough savings to invest in starting a small business, with what they earn directed towards their family instead.

Despite being an anomaly in her community, Talei believes there is a lot of untapped potential among Fijian women who lack the resources and mentoring to use their innovative thinking in business.

“If women were given the same access as men to resources, finance, and mentoring then it would be much easier to start a business,” she said.

“We need to encourage, inspire and mentor women to innovate, because goodness knows that is what they do every day with their families, and the same thinking could be used to starting a business.”

Good Return CEO Shane Nichols said the organisation's team in Fiji had identified many women in agriculture facing obstacles in expanding their business and struggling to counter the high risks of working in farming.

“This partnership with Merchant Finance is an important step in breaking down the barriers women in Fiji face when they are striving to grow their businesses,” he said.

“Too often, women are left out of the banking system or banking staff do not understand their needs. And this means a vital part of the community is not able to contribute to economic growth and resilience.”

Mr Nichols said the loan initiative was timely given the Albanese government’s recent update to its foreign aid policy, which includes a strong focus on the Indo-Pacific and new gender equity and climate change requirements for foreign aid spending on projects worth more than $3 million.

Merchant Finance CEO Veilawa Rereiwasaliwa said empowering women in agriculture was crucial for the growth and development of the sector.

“The loan targets existing businesses who want to scale up and the guarantee by Good Return allows us to provide financing to customers who have a strong business case but insufficient collateral to get a loan normally.”

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