Women microfinance clients in Fiji share their happiness
In our line of work, there are often discussions around the real benefits of microfinance for low-income households. And it's true that in some parts of the world, microfinance has questionable outcomes. But when you're facing the beneficiaries of microfinance services and listening to their stories, doubts about the benefits of microfinance completely disappear.
I experienced such situation last December while visiting some of the communities served by SPBD, our microfinance institution partner in Fiji.
I was attending centre meetings to meet with SPBD clients and ask them some questions about the diverse activities we are developing with our partner in the country. In one of these centres, after answering my questions, the centre chief spontaneously began to speak of their experiences with microfinance and to thank SPBD for all the benefits they provided to their community, and more particularly, to women. Then one by one, several clients started sharing their stories, their feelings and their expectations for the future.
I would not be able to transcribe all that was shared with me that day, but can provide a summary of their testimonies.
“6 months before, we were nothing, but now we are business women!” This is the way they started introducing themselves, before continuing, “this microfinance initiative has showed all the talents in us, with just 300, 500 or 1,000 Fijian dollar loans.”
It is true that most of the women present during the centre meetings were unemployed before SPBD and Good Return started providing them with financial and non-financial services. Now, they have developed their own activities such as growing crops and selling them at the Sigatoka market, fishing, canteens (local small convenience stores), handicrafts, and growing kava (the traditional beverage from the Pacific Islands).
And the women are not short of ideas to develop new business opportunities. Activities such as opening more canteens in the village, promoting local handicrafts to near-by hotels and buying a car for the centre to deliver produce were some of the ideas shared. But you could see in their eyes that they had even more and more in mind!
The women are so proud of what they have been achieving so far and are grateful for the opportunity provided by SPBD, when no other bank would have considered them.
And they look forward to growing with the institution, especially when the next plan in mind is to provide them with money management training, in cooperation with Good Return.
In their opinion, the culminating moment of their year has without doubt been the nomination of their centre for the ‘Best Centre’ category for the Business Woman of the Year Awards, during the Anniversary celebration of the institution. In this category, this centre was competing against two older centres from the Suva area, when they have been active for only 6 months! Unfortunately, they didn't receive the main prize, but they learned much from the experience, as they realised what was achievable through microfinance and good business and money management.
As some of the women revealed to us:
“Friday was the greatest moment of my life. It was an honour to be part of the celebration.”
“Without SPBD, we would not be part of that moment.”
“I saw some clients who were older than I was. And when I heard about their experience, I knew that if they can do it, I can do it too!”
The women were so happy to be a part of the nominees this year that they created a song especially for SPBD and sang it in front of everyone during the festivities. And now, they are even more motivated to win the first prize next year! Thanks to the great work from the Sigatoka Branch, this might become a reality. Meanwhile, we wish them all the best for their achievements this year.
Celine is Good Return's Sustainable Energy Program Manager and was in Fiji in December 2012.