This week is the 2014 Anti-Poverty Week. Poverty is devastating wherever it’s found: whether it be in Australia, the US, Africa or Asia. It exists in poor countries as well as rich, generally affecting the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. Across the globe, at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.
However, one region houses a disproportionate share. And it might surprise you – especially after visiting some of its renowned tourist destinations.
Two-thirds of the world’s poor are Australia’s neighbours, here in the Asia Pacific.
The Asia Pacific is home to 3.7 billion people, and 1.6 billion of them live in extreme poverty – or less than $2 a day. It’s a staggering number, one that’s hard to comprehend. The other major region with rampant poverty is sub-Saharan Africa, which has 596 million people living on less than $2 a day. That’s just $730 a year. Even in a dual income household, what kind of prospects does that leave you with? (You can explore these numbers further at the World Bank.)
Many in the Asia Pacific are unskilled and uneducated and lack access to basic resources that you and I take for granted here in Australia. Away from tourist hot spots in metropolitan areas, millions of people in rural areas live in conditions of extreme poverty, where the tourist gaze and money never reach.
At Good Return, we focus on combatting poverty in the Asia Pacific because this is where most of the world’s poor continue to reside. Moreover, it is home to more than 60 percent of the world’s people suffering from hunger and undernourishment – some 543 million.
You can make a difference this Anti-Poverty Week. Fund a loan to woman living in the Asia Pacific and help her help herself by giving her the ability to start or expand her business and support her family. And while you’re at it, why not donate it? That way, when she’s paid the money back it can be recycled and used on programs that help develop skills and education in the region. Let’s end the poverty cycle by teaching people about money management and sustainable living, so that they can lift themselves out of poverty for good.
In fact, we got our Program Director Shane Nichols to explain exactly how skills development and microfinance go hand in hand:
October 2, 2014
The SPBD Business Woman of the Year Awards was a rather special occasion this year, marking 5 years of SPBD in Tonga. It was held over three days with a Saturday evening cocktail party, Sunday church service, and the main parade and award ceremony on Monday. The whole event was a fantastic showcase and celebration of the spirit and efforts of the thousands of women-entrepreneurs here in Tonga.
Having been here for 7 months, it was something I could really appreciate and enjoy. I even did a traditional Tongan ‘haka’ dance with the staff at the award ceremony that we’d be practicing for weeks. Of course I was put right up the front and had the cameras on me, while I tried my best to remember the hand movements. I was far from good but it was great fun.
There was one part during the three days that really summed up the incredible experience I have had here working with SPBD. On the Sunday after church, a number of us (including Greg the CEO) were invited by Siunipa Nimo and her center to enjoy a feast in their village, where we were spoiled with food, singing, and laughter. Siunipa is a previous Business Woman of the Year who leads her centre so well, proud yet humble, she sat back and enjoyed herself.
One of the women stood up to talk to Greg and the rest of the staff. She brought all of us to tears, “we may not have much to give, but we are proud” she said. She told the story of how just that week she had the opportunity to go online, visit the SPBD website and read Greg’s story, which got big Greg teary.
The celebrations were a good reminder of why I am here in Tonga, and made me proud to be a part of it.
Good Return’s partner TPC in Cambodia has recently commenced financial education awareness training to University students. The purpose of the training is to raise the student’s awareness of financial matters and help put them on the path to future financial success.
Together with the Training Team at TPC, I had the privilege of facilitating a session on how to use debt successfully. The students where an impressive bunch. Following along closely and asking some insightful questions.
I have experienced many “firsts” in my time in Cambodia. From meeting the most amazing entrepreneurial women take action to lift themselves out of poverty, to sitting on a mat under a mango tree observing a financial education class to living in my first high rise apartment (that does not have a lift, but gives me some great daily exercise). But I experienced a new first on this day – my name affixed to my chair at the front of the room.
Jason is Good Return’s Field Support Officer based in Cambodia.
When I first see Tulia Rogoiruwai, it is in her role as Financial Education Facilitator (volunteer community coach), and she is busy giving a report to her centre on the performance of their financial diaries. She is confident and in her element, pointing to charts she has made herself to coach her fellow centre members on how to fill their cash flows correctly. It is clear that the other members respect her and are trying to absorb what she is saying.
I sit down with her after the centre meeting and am struck by her story. She is 34 years old, married to a farmer, and is the mother of two boys (a 21 year old stepson and 11 year old son), who joined Good Return’s partner SPBD Fiji a year ago when they opened a centre in her village.
Life before she got her loan through SPBD was tough, she says. “I’m from a very poor family. We struggled on the farm [growing taro, cassava and other vegetables to be sold in the village]. My husband was always going around the village trying to find additional work, but it was hard.” After she got her first loan, she started a baking and sewing business catering to others in her village. “I can now support my family, with the help of my husband. My husband was also trained as a baker too, so he helps me in my business a lot.”
Since joining SPBD, she is excited that she can contribute to village community funds as required, which she could not before. This meant being shunned by other villagers, who would accuse her of not pulling her weight. School fees also used to be a struggle, but now they are even able to afford small luxuries like a television!
It is clear she is proud of her achievements, and so she should be. Tulia is an inspiring coach, going above and beyond with her centre members trying to teach them how to manage their cashflow. Some of the women have never been to school, but she does her best to teach to their level and in a way they can understand. They have witnessed Tulia improve her situation, and realise that they too could achieve the same turnarounds. She keeps track of their scores each week for the financial diary (‘not done’, ‘incomplete’, ‘completed with errors’, or ‘well done’), so they can see how they improve over time. Tulia is a natural teacher, and is positive about the impacts of financial education training on her members. She tells me “By teaching them about cash flow, they can reduce their spending. Even after one week we can see how their expenses reduce… Now they save and think about the future.”
While it’s clear to me that money can’t buy happiness, providing a small amount of money with the right purpose can definitely improve the lives of people like Tulia.
Malo e lelei!
I have spent some time during the past couple of weeks developing a 2-3 hour training program for a number of special SPBD clients. These are members who have been specifically chosen by their borrower centres and centre managers to take a unique role within their centre. They are SPBD’s Financial Education Facilitators.
These women have demonstrated their ability and understanding in the Financial Education process thus far. They are members that are highly respected by others within their centre and embody the commitments that SPBD asks of its members. They are committed to their centre, their business and ultimately saving for future improvements to their household and livelihood.
They will be responsible for collecting and checking financial booklets for their centres and acting in a mentoring and coaching role in order to increase the ability of members to complete their financial booklets. They will be able to assist members for the other 6 days and 23 hours of the week that a centre manager is not at the borrower centre.
This has huge benefits for SPBD as well as the individual centres. We hope that in providing special training to these Financial Education Facilitators, that the knowledge and benefits will more quickly filter to others in the centres. In doing this SPBD is providing a quality product offered by no other lending institution in Tonga.
The Financial Education Facilitator will also assist the Center Manager in recording the completeness and correctness of the financial diary. This will assist the centre manager and SPBD to analyse the outcomes of the Financial Education Program and monitor its impact.
Ultimately if all of SPBD’s clients understand how to record and analyse cash flows; the importance of saving; debt management; and good spending habits these can be very powerful tools, when coupled with a loan, to pull themselves out of a less desirable situation.
At the centre of all of this is the new financial booklet, which has started being distributed across the borrower centres in Tongatapu (Tonga’s main island). It holds all current loan information (term, loan size, interest components, weekly repayments, time left on loan and amount owing), savings information, general information, and the weekly cash flow diaries.
We began training the Financial Education Facilitators last week, and will finish the first lot of training this week. I look forward to seeing how this program develops and travelling up to Vava’u (another island group) in the coming weeks to train the Financial Education Facilitators and staff there. I will keep you updated with these developments and some more photos.
On Tuesday evening I attended a public conversation on ‘Free and Fair Elections’ run by the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum at the University of the South Pacific. It is an interesting time in Fiji in the lead up to the elections in September. A lot is riding on these elections (the first in 8 years, since the last military coup) as the first step for Fiji on the road to democracy. A lot of changes have been made by the ruling government about the way the elections are to be run.
I don’t pretend to understand the political situation here, nor do I have an opinion on who would be the best leader of the country going forward. I have noticed that the election campaign is quite different to what I’m used to in Australia- there are no public debates, or even public discussions of political party manifestos, and the media is quite tight-lipped due to media restrictions.
The public conversations that are held, like the one I attended on Tuesday, provide an opportunity to be informed on the election process and the issues and challenges surrounding it. The conversations began with speeches by three experts- the UNDP Parliamentary Advisor for the Pacific, a leader in the Fiji Women’s Rights movement and a Commercial/Constitutional lawyer.
The good news is that everyone believes it will be a peaceful election process. There is definitely room for improvement – despite a lot of media campaigning, people are still not sure how to vote on Election Day. Voters will need to memorise their candidate’s number, as candidate names will not be printed on the ballot paper, and voters are not allowed to bring in any written material into the voting booth- but on the whole the elections seem that they will be free and fair.
The important thing to note is that the elections in September are the beginning of the road to democracy for Fiji. The elected Government will face a number of challenges- especially promoting women and minority groups in Parliament and changing laws to allow freedom of the press, which emerged as two major issues with the current election campaign.
I will be watching the results of the elections with interest, whatever happens!
I was recently asked how it is that we at SPBD reach out to new clients, and what these clients biggest concerns are. These are important questions, because it is essential that clients do not take out loans they will struggle to repay, otherwise they can drive themselves further into debt and poverty.
This means that whilst I have to manage the quality of my portfolio to make sure I meet my targets, I do not push the ladies to take loans or become clients of SPBD. We usually expand through word of mouth, for example, when ladies in the village see how well SPBD clients are doing and they want to join, we ask the new ladies to join the weekly centre meetings. If there are more than 10 potential new clients, I go through the new members training with them during the centre meetings in the village. If there are less than 10, we ask them to go to the branch office to attend the training there. The training explains SPBD’s services, what they’re signing up for and the like.
The biggest concern of the ladies in the centre is trying to cover for members who can’t meet their loan payments (SPBD uses the Grameen group lending methodology, whereby centre members agree to act as guarantors for each other). What really holds them back is if one member leaves the village without completing her repayments, then the whole centre has to put in to pay it back for her. It is quite a hard situation for the members, but I always encourage them not give to up hope, and keep coming to the centre meetings to get through the difficult period. Once they finish the payments, the centre will continue to grow and improve, as they have proven they can overcome challenges.
In order to pay for the extra repayments, we encourage the centres to fundraise. We ask the centre to initiate the fundraising, although sometimes I have to help them to organise it. Often it is in the form of ‘kaci’ (card raffles), or they will sell cakes or pies in the village. They put the profits into their group funds so they can pay off the defaulting member’s loans. This often works in paying back the ladies’ loan. The other Centre Managers ad I also try to contribute to their fundraising.
One thing this has taught me is that I always need to be honest with my members! Sometimes there are delays with the loan approvals, and it is tempting to start blaming others for the delays, rather than admitting that it has not yet been assessed and passed it on for approval. Giving bad news with the right reasons is important.
Vaseva is a community banker in Fiji with Good Returns partner SPBD. Read more from Vaseva here.
Hello, kumusta? My name is Fanie Guarnes and I am a community banker with Good Return’s partner, SECDEP, in the Philippines. There are many things that I love about my job. I love to serve clients and experience other municipalities, I find it very rewarding when problems are overcome, and I enjoy the level of flexibility my job gives me.
I am also excited to repay my own loan ($1,228.50 AUD) which was used for house repair for my mother, so that I can get another loan from SECDEP to buy a house for my own family. I am the oldest in my family and my father died when I was 15, so I am responsible for supporting my sisters’ education, and my mother.
Although most days pass pretty smoothly at the centre, occasionally we can get a bit of a fright. The other day, when attending one centre to collect payments, a client couldn’t make a repayment as the town had their largest fiesta of the year. Normally, the other members would cover for her but everyone was low on finances. I explained that she would need some form of collateral for the loan and suggested the television. When the husband walked into the house everyone thought he would be bringing the television out but he actually walked out with a knife tucked into his shorts. Apparently there had been a prior disagreement between the husband and some of the members in the centre. It was quite a scary day for everyone.
Luckily, incidents like this are very rare. And when they do occur, SECDEP has processes in place to ensure everyone’s safety. I feel very privileged to be able to work for SECDP and Good Return. My mother was a client of SECDEP and my sister received an educational scholarship from SECDEP, so I saw the positive effects of their work on my own family at a young age. It made me want to work for them so that I too could help contribute to the lives of others, and I am very pleased to now be able to help my community.
The 2014 SPBD Tonga staff offsite was a huge success. We had all the staff from the 4 island groups come together, form teams and get involved in numerous team building activities and discussions across 2 days. We stayed overnight at Vakaloa beach resort and were treated to beautiful weather, LOTS of food and traditional evening entertainment. There was lots of laughter throughout the weekend, and silly outfits were definitely encouraged.
The offsite soon became the SPBD staff ‘offside’ as the T-shirts we had printed were misspelled, which was ironic since the theme of the weekend was communication. Despite this, everyone got really involved in all the activities and some of the staff (including ‘Ofa and Fua) couldn’t wait to get up on stage and dance once the music got going in the evening!
It was great to spend time with the staff from the outer islands and get to know them a little better. The weekend was one I will never forget, and I am proud to be a part of this organisation and amazing team of people.
Zac is one of our fantastic FSO’s. Read more about his adventures in Tonga.
But firstly, what is the PPI?
The PPI is a simple country-specific poverty scoring tool which has been developed for 54 countries and used by more than 200 organisations involved in poverty alleviation. The tool is being promoted by the Grameen Foundation for institutions which want an objective way of targeting beneficiaries below the poverty line and tracking them across time.
Good Return has been working closely with SPBD Fiji and the tool’s developer Mark Schreiner for the better part of the last year to create a PPI Index for Fiji. We are so excited that it is finally being launched!
As part of its rollout, Good Return’s Social Performance Specialist Muhammad Awais travelled to Fiji to conduct two national training sessions- beginning with a one-day Launch workshop held the Pacific Financial Inclusion Program (PFIP) offices in Suva. This was followed by an intensive four-day Training of Trainers workshop held at SPBD’s Head Office.
The launch workshop brought together stakeholders from across Fiji- including Government departments such as the Poverty Monitoring Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation , the Bureau of Statistics and the Reserve Bank of Fiji. Corporations and development organisations attending included Westpac, Life Insurance Corporation of India, SPBD Microfinance, the Market Development Facility, PFIP, Fiji Development Bank, the Australian High Commission (DFAT), Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS), the National Council for Small and Microenterprise Development (NCSMED).
It was a day of learning and lively debate about how the PPI can be used to accurately determine poverty levels and use this information to target poor households and track changes over time.
The hardest concept for the trainees was regarding the methodology of PPI. The PPI uses proxy indicators derived from the current national Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES), which means that tiny fraction of the questions (only 10 out of 440) has been selected as statistical indicators to determine the likelihood of a household being below the poverty line. These questions are non financial, verifiable and are likely to change over time- for example, ‘Are any washing machines available for use by the household?’
Awais used a great metaphor about cooking rice in a pot. If you want to know if the rice is cooked, you taste a small portion with a spoon. You don’t need to eat the whole pot of rice to check if it is cooked! the taste test is a good representation of the whole pot. Likewise with the PPI, we are only asking households a few questions, but these are quite accurately able to predict the likelihood of poverty. Now we are cooking with gas! (Well maybe, that is one of the indicators on the survey!)
Stay tuned for more on the PPI in future blog posts!
Esther is our wonderful FSO in Fiji. Read more from her here.