In many ways, Seini Finau is a typical Tongan woman. She makes a living from weaving, and has a radiant golden smile that is both warm and embracing. She is a mother of one, and has adopted other children. It is her goal to be able to support her family and send all of her children to school, which is an aspiration among many Tongan mothers. Last year, she took out a loan with SPBD Tonga (Good Return’s partner) to be able to expand her business and achieve this goal.
I spent a brief afternoon in Seini’s centre, where she is centre treasurer, talking to her about SPBD’s financial education program. Over the past 3 months the centre’s clients have undergone training and begun recording business and household cash flows.
“Financial education really helps the women” says Seini, “before training, we used to spend everything we have but now we can see our expenses, which helps us reduce spending and save for the future.”
I hear this story over and over again in Tonga. A number of centre managers have explained that this is something engrained in Tongan culture. They say that it is natural for Tongans, living off the land and sea, to consume what they have as they can never be sure when they will have more later. This behaviour can be problematic, however, when unexpected expenses arise (the cost of a funeral is more than a year’s income for the average Tongan!) and many can fall into unmanageable debt.
“It [recording cash flow] helps keep discipline,” explains Seini. “When business is slow, I can see how to balance this out. Knowing how to save is important.”
It is this discipline, from learning about how to record cash flows to financial inclusion through microfinance, which has enabled Seini to send her children to school.
Financial education and even an understanding of written mathematics is not something that is typically learnt in Tonga. Many women are skeptical at first, and may see time spent recording cash flow as time not operating the business or helping their family. This can make it challenging when introducing financial education in the centres. Seini, however, is a great example of the positive impact that financial education coupled with microfinance can have on the lives of Tongan women.
Zac is Good Return’s Field Support Officer in Tonga and is centre in the above photo!
April is the Month of Microfinance, a worldwide initiative to educate, build awareness and hold fundraising events for client-centred microfinance. It is a grassroots movement run by student organisations to learn about, challenge and evaluate microfinance practices through education and conversation. Objectives include forming a diverse learning community, fostering conversation and asking questions about client centred microfinance to ensure that what drives microfinance institutions is creating value for the client.
It is wonderful to see so many young people passionate about microfinance and committed to learning more. As a twenty year-old, I can vouch for the fact that many students are passionate about the need to alleviate poverty, but are unaware of how microfinance helps the poor. The Month of Microfinance creates a platform for educating the passionate and critiquing the current practices of microfinance organisations to ensure client protection.
Good Return’s programs in the Asia Pacific are focused entirely on the client and the best way to sustainably lift communities out of poverty. While our loans are the tip of the iceberg, what lies beneath the surface are skills development, livelihood training, financial literacy training, microfinance capacity building, client protection and social performance management.
Visit the Month of Microfinance webpage to read articles from microfinance institutions around the world about strategies for client-centred lending. Join the #MicrofinanceCanBe campaign by expressing what you believe microfinance can be when it is at its best, when it is client-centred. Visit the campaign’s page and watch their video to be inspired.
Happy Month of Microfinance!
Lauren is Good Return’s volunteer Events Coordinator and is currently studying at UTS.
I’ve successfully survived my first week and weekend in the Philippines!
For those of you wondering what I have done this week and, more importantly, what I have spent my first weekend doing, read on.
To start off with, I’ve had a crash course on transportation and walking in Iloilo city. That might not sound that exciting, but it is! The most unique experience would definitely have to be the ‘Jeepney’, a personalised ‘stretch limo’ type van that accommodates up to 20 people or more. The destination of the Jeepney is displayed on the front, but when they are zooming past it is very difficult to see – especially when you have eyesight like mine. However, their drop-off and collection points are the same so by familiarising myself with their locations, I don’t have to depend on my poor eyesight.
Conveniently, the fare is the same for all destinations: a mere 7 pesos, which is the equivalent of $0.17 cents! To stop the bus and disembark, you must yell out the Tagalog word (the local language) “sa lugar”! But with my poor pronunciation skills, let’s just say I was probably the topic of conversation for most people that day.
Sugar, called asukal in Tagalog and azucar in Spanish, is everywhere! Perhaps it’s the colonial legacy of the Americans, or a taste that the local people have become so accustomed to that now it’s unavoidable. Either way, I can see myself getting frustrated as my daily challenge so far has been trying to steer clear of it! I’ve been defeated perpetually, however, and have succumbed to sugary delights every meal. Bread with sugar for breakfast, banana coated in sugar, coconut coated in sugar, coffee with sugar, sandwich with sugared cheese, juice with sugar…
For an individual that prides myself on eating a balanced and healthy diet, I’m finding this my biggest challenge to date. I’m already craving my regular healthy snacks at home: quinoa, chickpeas, feta, cheese, kale, brown rice, bourghal wheat, tabouleh, olives, hummus, chorizo… I’m drooling thinking about it all!
But hope remains, I have discovered a saving grace called is talabahan! Talabahan is the Philippines very own oysters. As a lover of seafood and oysters, this has become my new diet to conquer all things sugar. Coupled with fresh vegetables, which are in surplus, it makes for a delicious meal. I’m also excited to be more adventurous and try more local Philippine food (but not balut just yet – this is boiled egg with a developed duck embryo inside, served in the shell with a bit of salt).
I had my first ‘mall’ experience yesterday where I visited the newest and largest shopping mall in Iloilo. Thinking it would be a conventional activity, I soon realised I arrived during a 3 day graduation sale. The masses of people, screaming children, and sales were a little too much for my acclimatising state. In an attempt to keep face, I went to the place that felt most natural: the shoe department! After being lost for some time, I remembered my initial purpose was to buy kitchen utensils for my new apartment. After learning the ins-and-outs of kitchenware and having very attentive staff assist me, I had a complete kitchen set for one. I discovered a delicious juice outlet: Buko (coconut) Fruitas, Philippine’s equivalent of Boost Juice. It also serves coconut desserts, making use of the whole coconut and various coconut mixed juices.
I’ve discovered you only have to walk 500 metres before you stumble across a historic church or beautiful colonial Spanish building. Church is a large part of Philippine culture and most Sundays are a day of worship, spent with families over a nice meal. I’ve started writing a list of ‘must visit’ churches that have been recommended to me, which will I’ll talk about in future blogs (stay tuned).
All in all, it’s been an insightful week. I was fortunate to be able to start the week off visiting some of SECDEP’s clients in the field. They were the recipients of Good Return’s microfinance loans and financial training which will enable them to build their livelihoods and recover from the recent typhoon. I met the enthusiastic loan officers, the borrowers who could see their lives transforming before their eyes, and the vital financial literacy trainers who ensure this microfinance process is a long-lasting sustainable one.
I’m excited to start the week off more comfortable in my surroundings, having now moved into my own apartment, and to begin on some of my work objectives. There are going to be some interesting and exciting times ahead!
Zena is a Good Return Field Support Officer and is currently in Iloilo in the Philippines. Read her first post about arriving in the Philippines here.
Bula! My name is Esther, and I have just joined the Good Return team as the Field Support Officer (FSO) for Fiji. I’ll be keeping you updated with my life in Suva and work with Good Return’s Fijian partner organization South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) over the next 12 months. My first lesson about Fiji started before I arrived, when it took 6 weeks longer than expected to process my visa. Welcome to ‘Fiji time’!
This is my first visit to Fiji, and I have to say that first impressions were astounding. Beautiful green, lush, mountainous landscapes of the interior surrounded by coral reefs and white sand beaches. Almost all of my fellow passengers from Melbourne were destined for a beach resort (or several), but not me.
Like my fellow FSOs that you have already met, my work with Good Return is to support SPBD in building organizational capacity and in establishing robust, comprehensive financial education programs for its microfinance clients. Despite the idyllic surroundings, 40% of the Fijian population is estimated to live below the poverty line, the majority of these being the women who SPBD Fiji works with. I am sure I will learn a lot along the way and I hope you will too.
I was fortunate enough to visit a Grand Centre Meeting in my first few days, held in a picturesque seaside village. SPBD Fiji is emphasizing 2014 as Financial Education Year, and hence about 60 clients from about 6 different villages in the area came together for a special quarterly training session. The ladies looked gorgeous in their bright ‘sulu jamba’ outfits, and sang beautiful hymns before and after the session.
I was lucky enough to meet two winners of the Annual Business Woman of the Year awards who gave speeches at the event. Here I am with the two of them and Nathan (SPBD staff member). We are enjoying our delicious lunches of fresh fish, cassava and breadfruit. (Read more about the Business Women of the Year at this previous blog post.)
That’s all I have to report for now, more soon. Moce!
Esther is a Good Return Field Support Officer and is currently in Fiji.
Our amazing volunteer Annika has recently had the opportunity to speak to students at her alma mater Wenona High School. This is what she had to say about it:
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Ending Poverty for Women and Girls Through Economic Empowerment. I spoke about the contribution that Good Return was making, through microfinance and skills development, in promoting the economic advancement of women living in poverty in the Asia Pacific.
It was a great privilege and experience to be representing Good Return and speaking to the girls at my high school about the importance of microfinance in helping women to pull themselves out of poverty – it was also a little surreal walking back into the grounds of my high school which I hadn’t been in, in over 10 years!
Good Return is so appreciative of the opportunity to speak to these girls, and of their enthusiastic response. If you are a school teacher or student, we encourage you to get involved and support Good Return at your own school – we would love to hear from you!
Shanti Giri, 40 year old mother of two, lives in Jhapa, Nepal. Her husband, Nir Bahadur Giri, is a farmer who works on his neighbour’s fields. They have little land of their own and their home is small and worn down. Despite long, laborious hours spent in the fields, they have little money and are barely able to manage their children’s school feels on top of daily living expenses that reach far beyond their economic capacity. Having only recently moved to the village, Shanti finds it difficult to associate with her neigbours because she feels shy and embarrassed. Shanti and Nir Bahadur are considering taking out a loan from a money lender and have been having meetings to consider their options. The interest rates, however, are incredibly high and render repayment practically impossible.
Two days after one of these meetings, Shanti meets a member of Nirdhan Bank. On a whim, she decides to visit the bank and enquires about their loans.
Flash forward to November 2013
Shanti Giri, now 43, has taken out a number of loans with Nirdhan Bank, Good Return’s microfinance partner in Nepal.
From the first loan, Shanti purchased two female goats. After one year she had saved enough money to repay the loan, and took out a larger one. With this loan, she bought two milking cows, which provided 20 liters of milk every day.
After only a few weeks, people from all over the village began to hear of Shanti’s milk and suddenly everybody wanted to buy it – so much so there wasn’t enough! People started to visit her house to buy the milk before it went on sale, and Shanti began making friends with the other villages. She found she was no longer shy or self-conscious. Nir Bahudar was able to quit his work on the fields and began helping Shanti in cattle development. They easily repaid the second loan and now have 4 cows.
In addition to taking out the loan, Shanti began attending Good Return’s livelihood workshops. In these workshops, she learned how to manage her finances and run a successful business. She says the most helpful lessons were on business planning, marketing, book keeping, profit and loss and clean environment. “From the workshops I learn many things.” She says. “I learn to speak frankly with other women in the village about business and money management.”
When we ask her what life would have been like without the loan and training, Shanti becomes very serious. “Financially we were in a very low position. Before the loan we had a big problem just to manage the food and lodging. We were not able to pay the school fee.”
Now, the Giri family not only has the money to pay for school and living expenses, but enough to install a solar home system. After attending an environmental workshop, Shanti realised that she wanted to help reduce pollution in the village. The system they have installed means that not only do her children have enough light to study, but they are doing it in an environmentally sustainably way.
When we ask how she feels now, Shanti gives a little smile. Things have been “turned around” she says. She has friends in the village, a flourishing business, and enough income to live comfortably. But Shanti isn’t stopping here. “Now I can teach or train my neighbours and other villagers about cow rising,” she says. “I can even help other families when they have tiny problems. I can lend the money in a less interest rate.”
Shanti’s story is inspiring and empowering. It illustrates the difference a person can make in their own life, given the opportunity. Above all, it shows how supporting a woman can transform a village.
Hello GR blog readers! We are excited to introduce you to Zena, who has just arrived and is making herself at home in the Philippines for the next year. Along with Jason and Zac, expect regular updates about her life overseas working as a Good Return Field Support Officer with our partner SECDEP.
It’s been a whirlwind welcome to the Philippines, but 3 days in and the adrenalin is finally subsiding, having been replaced by normal sleeping patterns. I have been fortunate to accept a role with Good Return, working as a Field Support Officer in Iloilo, Philippines for 1 year, alongside their local partner St. Elizabeth Community Development Program (SECDEP).
I arrived to Iloilo from Melbourne, Australia on Sunday evening, after a near miss of my connecting flight from Manila. I was then invited on a field trip the following morning at 6 am, where I was able to meet some of the recipients of Good Return’s microfinance loans, some of which were used to buy materials for boat construction, crab nets, and seedlings for a market garden.
I witnessed a remarkable resilience in the individuals I met who had lost their ability to earn an income in some way or another, either through the loss of their assets or their livelihood as a result of the devastation caused by the recent typhoon Haiyan (stay tuned for a follow-up blog on one of these remarkable women I met). Despite my tormenting tiredness it was an extremely humbling day and one that reminded me of the power of collective action, and indeed one of the very reasons why I wanted to work with Good Return.
My initial interest in Good Return was provoked from a previous trip to Bangladesh, where I was first exposed to the concept of microfinance – term that often goes hand in hand with the name Professor Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been responsible for combating global poverty through the practice of microfinance.
Simply put, microfinance is a financial service that provides small scale loans to individuals, in this case women, in order to start-up businesses or supplement their household’s (usually husband’s) income, through improving their socio-economic status and social capital. Unlike most aid provided by multilateral and bilateral NGOs and countries, it has a duality that makes it a sustainable alternative and hopefully one that will help in reinventing current perceptions around development, through recognising the benefits of accepting private capital as an alternative to foreign aid.
This duality that microfinance provides is in the form of skills building. This is compulsory training given to all clients in receipt of a financial service, in the areas of financial literacy, budgeting, borrowing and savings, small business management and tailored training depending on their business. To anyone who has grown up with access to a bank account, you may be wondering why such training is necessary. Well, most of these clients haven’t been able to access financial services before due to their financial status, often living below or on the international poverty line of $1.25 per day and living rurally with no access to further education or know-how.
The result of a holistic approach like this is a transformative one where people can be lifted out of poverty simply by recognising their existing capacity and potential through provision of the tools and training to effect change in a sustainable, non-prescriptive manner. I believe this capacity building approach, through skills building is the most effective way of eradicating poverty and one that can create long-lasting social change, whilst building their social capital and instilling a sense of community.
Knowledge is power and I believe microfinance is a true reflection of this through its ability to not only change one’s financial status but to leave them with lasting skills and knowledge which can then be passed on to future generations.
Stay tuned for updates on my new life in the Philippines!
Zena is a Good Return Field Support Officer and has just arrived in the Philippines.
Today, March 20, is the International Day of Happiness.
The idea of celebrating a day of happiness came from Bhutan – a country with a very low GDP per capita, but ranked among the happiest nations in the world. The story begins with the King of Bhutan, who in 1972 grew tired of countries being measured purely by their gross domestic product. As a result, he coined the term Gross National Happiness (GNH), which is an alternative measure of national and societal prosperity. The GNH provides a more holistic outlook, where spiritual well-being of citizens and communities is given as much importance as material well-being.
Last year, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution, “Happiness: Towards a Hollistic Approach to Development,” thereby recognising the pursuit of happiness as a universal aspiration embodying the spirit of the Millennium Development Goals. The International Day of Happiness recognises that happiness is a fundamental human goal, and calls us to improve the well-being of all peoples. By designating a special day for happiness, the UN aims to emphasise the importance of economic growth being inclusive, equitable, and balanced, so that that it promotes sustainable development and alleviates poverty in a holistic way. The UN also acknowledges that in order to achieve global happiness, economic development needs to be accompanied by social and environmental well-being. This means education, training, encouraging people and building relationships. Ultimately, it means helping others and showing compassion.
Giving and helping others is a big factor on the happiness scale. Action for Happiness, a UK non-profit organisation, has compiled a list of the key elements to happier living, based on scientific studies and surveys of what makes people feel the most content and satisfied with their life. They then condensed their key findings into the acronym GREAT DREAM, which stands for Giving, Relating, Exercising, Appreciating, Trying out, Direction, Resilience, Emotion, Acceptance and Meaning.
Obviously all of these this are important, but at the moment we’re going to focus on giving – the first word in the ‘GREAT DREAM’ acronym. At Good Return, we’re all about giving – and it turns out giving is not only beneficial for the receiver, but for everyone involved. A recent study published in the Review of Personality and Social Psychology has claimed that helping others provides a sense of meaning, increases life satisfaction, increases feelings of competence, reduces stress improves our mood, and can help distract us from our own troubles. It’s something we all know at some level (who hasn’t experienced that feeling of joy when you give to someone and know how much they appreciate it?) but it’s also helpful to be reminded — especially when we feel under-appreciated and as though we are in a giving slump.
Those people who live in poverty are some of the most appreciative in the world. For those who have very little, being shown that people care is incredibly uplifting. Obviously, happiness doesn’t mean being rich. Many of the happiest people are quite poor by Western standards. But it does mean having the freedom, economically and socially, to be empowered. When we give to people who need it we break down barriers and show others that we value them. In doing so, we become part of something bigger than ourselves, which is incredibly freeing. Our happiness and the happiness of those people we touch through our actions is infectious — the number of people reached by the happiness generated by a simple act is potentially limitless.
“Let us reinforce our commitment to inclusive and sustainable human development and renew our pledge to help others. When we contribute to the common good, we ourselves are enriched. Compassion promotes happiness and will help build the future we want.”
– Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General on the International Day of Happiness 2013
One of our favourite yearly traditions are our International Women’s Day breakfasts hosted in partnership with Clayton Utz. This year we were fortunate to have Avril Henry, HR consultant as our keynote speaker and Kate Jordan, Partner in Charge of Clayton Utz Sydney as our special guest.
We wanted to share these challenging statistics about gender equality in Australia from Avril:
- Women occupy 12.3% of ASX200 directorships
- Women occupy 9.2% of ASX500 directorships
- Women make up 3% of Chairmen of the ASX500
- Banking, insurance and food have a higher number of female directors
- Software, energy and mining have the lowest numbers, varying between 7% and 3%, with transport at 0%
- Pay equity has gone backwards, not forwards with a pay gap of 17.6%
And a quote from her most recent newsletter:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Martin Luther King
Let’s genuinely level the playing field and let’s smash the glass ceiling, embracing what both men and women have to offer which is equally unique and valuable! Happy International Women’s Day to all!
Kate Jordan, Partner in Charge of Clayton Utz Sydney and Good Return board member, shared her highlights from the recent Women of the World: Trek to End Poverty trip to the Philippines. We promise a great blog post about the trip soon, and if you’re inspired to travel with Good Return and see our programs in action, register your interest here.
Thank you to all who attended the breakfast, and we look forward to the second breakfast in Melbourne next week. Happy International Women’s Day!
Hello Good Return blog readers! We are very excited to introduce Jason to you, who is one of four new volunteers representing us in the countries where we work. Jason has just arrived in Cambodia. You will be hearing from the other volunteers as they arrive in Fiji and the Philippines in the upcoming weeks.
It’s been three days since I landed in Cambodia and I think I’ve only just getting over all the logistics of moving here. It’s hard to believe that only two weeks ago I was in Hobart!
I’ve gone from one extreme to the other… The crispy Westerlies that batter down from behind Mount Wellington in Hobart. To the gigantic sun that beats down on Phnom Penh. One thing that Hobart and Phnom Penh both have in common though, is the rivers. Hobart has the beautiful Derwent River and Phnom Penh has the famous Mekong River.
But I didn’t come here just to see another river (although I am looking forward to a sunset cruise on the Mekong!) I’m here for microfinance.
Let me introduce myself
G’day, my name is Jason Weise. I have just started a twelve month volunteer assignment as a Good Return Field Support Officer in Cambodia. I will be working with one of Good Return’s Cambodian microfinance partner organisations Thaneakea Phum (Cambodia) or more commonly known as TPC.
TPC is a microfinance organisation that provides loans to enterprising people who are poor, in order to provide them with economic opportunities to transform the quality of their lives and their communities. TPC works mainly with entrepreneurial women to help fund or expand their micro-businesses.
Over the next twelve months I will be helping TPC to gain accreditation for implementing client protection policies that ensure that borrowers needs are at the centre of everything they do. I will also be assisting the financial literacy training program and helping TPC define and report on their social goals.
I am looking forward to sharing my adventure and experiences with you right here on this blog. If the last few days are anything to go by, it’s going to be quite a ride.
Jason is a Good Return Field Support Officer and has just arrived in Cambodia.