The key to SPBD’s Financial Education Program: Financial Education Facilitators

Posted by on 11:47 am in Field Support Officers, From the Field, Tonga, Volunteering | 0 comments

The key to SPBD’s Financial Education Program: Financial Education Facilitators

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.

Malo, Zac

Fiji: the road to democracy

Posted by on 10:00 am in Field Support Officers, Fiji, From the Field | 0 comments

Fiji: the road to democracy

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!

Free and Fair Elections 1

Doing honest business

Posted by on 12:14 pm in Community Bankers, Fiji, From the Field, Responsible Microfinance | 0 comments

Doing honest business

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 (third from right) with her fellow Centre Managers at the staff teambuilding event

Vaseva is a community banker in Fiji with Good Returns partner SPBD. Read more from Vaseva here.


Community banking in the Philippines

Posted by on 12:08 pm in Community Bankers, From the Field, Philippines, Responsible Microfinance, Skills Development | 1 comment

Community banking in the Philippines

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.

Fanie July

SPBD Tonga Staff Offsite 2014

Posted by on 2:54 pm in Field Support Officers, From the Field, Tonga | 0 comments

SPBD Tonga Staff Offsite 2014

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!





Building the tallest tower with straws



Fua and ‘Ofa dancing

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.


Stirring the Pot: A Culinary Approach to Measuring Poverty

Posted by on 2:06 pm in Field Support Officers, Fiji, From the Field, Poverty | 0 comments

Stirring the Pot: A Culinary Approach to Measuring Poverty

Last week was the launch of the Progress Out of Poverty Index (PPI) for Fiji. You can read about it in the media here or here.

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.


Riding in the rain

Posted by on 10:31 am in Cambodia, Community Bankers, From the Field, Skills Development | 0 comments

Riding in the rain

Rain, rain and more rain.


One of the challenges of providing small loans in rural Cambodia is that at this time of year it rains!   Of course, the rain is needed by most of my clients to grow their crops and it makes the countryside turn into a bright green colour.  But it also means that I spend a lot of time under my rain coat and riding my motorbike slow when visiting my clients.


I have been a Community banker with TPC since April 2013. I am currently in my third year of a Bachelor Degree in Accounting, which I attend part-time on weekends (when I’m not working). My role with TPC mostly involves talking to people about TPC products (like loans), meeting village leaders to get information about clients, completing needs assessments / cash flow analysis to assess applications, dispersing funds for approved loans, and doing collections two weeks per month. For me, the best thing about this job is meeting with and taking to people from the villages, while the hardest thing to deal with is when people struggle with loan repayment. It’s great to see how all the trainees support each other though when someone is struggling. I have really seen how the combination of loans and training help people improve their living conditions, and the sense of community that is there.


Dream job just got better

Posted by on 10:00 am in Cambodia, From the Field, Skills Development, Village Trainers | 0 comments

Dream job just got better

Being a trainer is not only my favourite job, but also my dream job.  My first job was a primary school teacher when I was 19 years old and then I become a secondary school teacher at age 21.  I taught my students Maths and Physics.  After this, when I was working as a Loans Officer, I saw many problems people had due to lack of knowledge and skills in financial management. That’s when I realized how important training is to effective microfinance.


My current position as Client Training Specialist with TPC means that I manage a team of 10 community trainers delivering financial education to rural based low-income Cambodians.  But recently, I had the opportunity to deliver financial education awareness training to university students.   It was very rewarding to see the students engaged in the learning and improving their skills in financial matters.




I have now been with TPC for 2 years, and it has been an incredible journey. Every day is different. That isn’t to say there are never any roadblocks or challenges. Travelling to rural classes in the rainy season can be very difficult. The roads are quite slippery and there have been times where it has been dangerous and we have had accidents on the motorbike which can be frightening. Difficulties in travel between rural centers also means that we can arrive late or cut into meal times which can frustrate people. The positive far outweigh these challenges though, especially when we see the improvements in the lives of our trainees and when they express how much the training means to them. I feel very privileged to be able to take on this role on our communities and look forward to many more years with TPC.



Banking in Tonga… and having a whale of a time

Posted by on 11:17 am in Community Bankers, From the Field, Skills Development, Tonga | 0 comments

Banking in Tonga… and having a whale of a time

Hi everyone, my name is Fua and I am a Good Return Community Banker in Tonga.

Tonga is a very tight community, and we all do our best to help one another. Something I really like about this job is that it gives me the ability to pass on what I have learnt to others. I enjoy sitting down with my members each week and talking about things like money management. I studied accounting at St. Joseph’s Business College here in Tonga and know the importance of keeping a track of my money. Some of my members have never had the opportunity to finish their schooling or even go to school, so it feels nice to be part of an organisation that values education as part of its program.

I always try to lead by example and share my goals and dreams for the future with my members and discuss the importance of saving. My goal right now is to get married as soon as I can, so I am saving every week. I encourage my members to save each week so that they can reach their goals. I take my job very seriously, because I know that my members look to me for guidance, but I also love having a laugh with them. It is especially funny when Zac (the Good Return FSO in our community) comes to visit my centres; all the women get very excited and always ask me if he is married!


It’s winter here in Tonga at the moment, and it’s my favourite time of year. The whales have just arrived and there are lots of celebrations and festivities, including the King’s birthday. The cooler weather certainly makes my job more comfortable. The summer is much harder to work in; it is so hot and humid and it rains all the time. Sometimes I show up to my meetings soaking wet! The women that I meet and talk with every week are what keep me going. I know that my job is to help them, and hearing about their successes is what really makes this job worth it.







Being a Trainer in Tonga

Posted by on 2:52 pm in From the Field, Skills Development, Tonga, Village Trainers | 0 comments

Being a Trainer in Tonga

Malo e lelei!

My name is ‘Ofa, I am 23 and am a Centre manager and team leader for SPBD in Toga. I feel very lucky to be a member of my team- both staff and trainees are so dedicated and motivated and I am always inspired by them and learn so much- even though I am supposed to be the teacher!

At each of our centres, all trainees are split off into groups, who they complete their training with. Last year, one of the borrowers had a great idea: that everyone should wear their team colours! There is a yellow group, blue group, green group etc…. and the idea has really caught on and stuck. If someone shows up in the wrong colours, they are in big trouble with their team mates! It is quite funny, but also great that they are so involved and committed to the training and to their group.


Team colours!

There has been a lot of excitement at our centre lately. We were very lucky to be the first centre in Tongatapu to receive SPBD’s new financial booklets- because of the great enthusiasm of our members! I use these books as a training tool, to coach and motivate my members. I am so thankful that we have these new booklets; it makes my job a lot easier! The women can record their cash flows; see their loan and savings information and other SPBD policy information. Before the booklets, my members had to draw their own cash flow diary every week and a lot of them would ask me “Ofa, why are we doing this?” It was much harder to motivate them. Now that the women have their booklets and financial goals written down, they come up to me and tell me why it is good for them: “Ofa with the booklet and training you give us I know where all my money is! I can save for my goals!” It is so great to hear.