During the pandemic, a Lautoka-based family had a unique home business idea—selling fashion-forward facemasks. In 2021, as Fijians returned to work, husband and wife team George and Olga Kumkee saw a rising demand for reusable face masks. Seizing this moment, George used his graphic design skills to transform protective wear into a canvas for personal expression. George and Olga's customers could design their own masks to express their quirkiest ideas.

Now boasting a team of 23 designers and machinists, Kumkee Print and Designs has evolved far beyond its initial face mask venture. The couple's mission is to nurture the artistic aspirations of their community, especially the younger generation. For this reason, the Kumkee's encourage their customers to pitch their own ideas, and then the Kumkee team work to bring them to life.

In September 2023, Olga joined the Fiji THRIVE program, a collaboration between BSP Fiji and Australian Business Volunteers (ABV). Olga attended a three-day training workshop led by ABV business coaches Louise Nash and John McKenna, which covered a range of core business skills, including finance, marketing and strategy.

Olga found the "business canvas model" provided by ABV’s business coaches helpful for future planning. She was excited to come home and share this with her husband and friends. "Since the training, I've not only improved my business, but I also feel confident offering advice to other business owners now," said Olga.

From the Lautoka office, the business has expanded its product range to include clothing, offering a variety of fashion, sports and corporate wear for both men and women. The team intends to launch a swimwear line as well. Their most popular products are sports shirts for students and teachers. The Kumkee's create matching jerseys for their sports events from the students' drawings.

Image: Students of FNU NATABUA in their custom-made Bula Shirts

Olga and George encourage young people's creativity by turning their drawings into beautiful wearable motifs. Their son, Alfred, proudly wears designed sports shirts during club games, sparking curiosity among other parents. Alfred encourages everyone to have something special crafted for them.

Olga and George's journey serves as a great inspiration for creativity and resilience. Their mission is not just about business success but also about motivating others to pursue their dreams without fear. As Olga puts it, "If you have a dream, anything is possible; all you have to do is go for it."

Header Image: Olga and George wearing their custom designs.

Ranjana Malti manages 'Nature's Finest' from her family farm in Dilkusha, Nausori, on Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu. Nausori is next to the Rewa River, Fiji's widest and longest river, which provides a gentle cooling breeze most days. Malti's day begins at 6 am, tending to her chickens, and she continues tirelessly packing and making deliveries, often not stopping until her children are home from school in the afternoon.

Image: New kids arrive at the farm.

In 2023, Malti joined Fiji THRIVE, a joint local business development program by Australian Business Volunteers and the Bank of South Pacific, Fiji. Malti was frustrated that there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. ABV mentors Kaylene Benson and Shean Gannon encouraged Malti to step back from the whirlwind and look for simple efficiencies, for example, making deliveries on two days instead of five. Since this change, she has more freedom and is already on her next endeavour—producing natural milk-based cosmetics from the goats she recently purchased.

The star of Nature's Finest is their exceptional honey. What began with a small loan from her mother-in-law and four hives has burgeoned into a thousand in just over a decade. The dry climates of Sigatoka and Nausori provide the ideal conditions for their hives; excessive rainfall can hinder bees from foraging on flowers, leading them to overconsume their own honey. Recently, she made a life-altering discovery: she has a severe bee allergy. Reflecting on the past decade, she considers herself incredibly fortunate to have avoided a reaction. 

In 2020, with her husband now managing the hives, Malti bought a hundred retired chickens in a post-COVID sale at a price of three birds for $15. Over three years, she has grown this flock to a staggering six-hundred and eighty, which she solely manages alongside her flock of ducks.

Image: Nature's Finest Honey Logo.

Image: Nature's Finest Honey Logo.

Despite her accomplishments, Malti is humble, acknowledging that she still feels like "one-quarter of an expert," continually learning from fellow farmers and online resources. She has streamlined egg production through self-teaching and trial and error, learning when and how the best laying happens.

A common request in mentoring with ABV is how businesses can determine their actual costs and create a sustainable profit. Malti needed help finding a costing system that accurately reflects the quality of her products while maintaining affordability, which she now has the financial tools to do.

When we asked Malti how she's managed to keep expanding her business year after year despite setbacks, she said, "I can make something out of anything."

Image: Cows gazing on the farm paddocks.

Image: Ranjana's team working on the land.

To give an idea of how Shean Gannon ended up volunteering with us, his story starts with a passion for business, adventure, and a deep commitment to making a difference. From growing up on a dairy farm in the small town of Tinamba, nestled in the heart of Victoria's Shire of Wellington, to the far reaches of Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tanzania, Shean's journey is one of growth and transformation. 

After studying civil engineering in Melbourne, Shean embarked on a successful career in the construction industry. With his education and entrepreneurial spirit, he moved to Fiji with his young family and started his first company. From this, he had the opportunity to work on construction projects throughout the Fiji Islands, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Kiribati and Tuvalu for AusAid, World Bank, Defence Force, and Fijian government departments. 

After this time, Shean moved to Tanzania, East Africa, for 3 years to volunteer at the school of St Jude; "I enjoy a challenge, and I enjoy the interaction with people who are always eager to learn," he says. Shean grappled with adapting to a new culture and navigating unfamiliar territory. However, he is always up for a challenge; he learned to speak basic Shawali and embraced his work teaching. 

Seeking to further expand his horizons and take on a new challenge, Shean joined ABV (Australian Business Volunteers) in 2019, and his commitment took him on two remarkable international assignments, first as a mentor in Lae, PNG and then to the shores of Suva, Fiji, for the launch of the Fiji Thrive Program, "Both were great experiences, but Fiji was my favourite, as I feel at home in Fiji." 

During his recent trip with ABV's Fiji Thrive Program, Shean put his experience of launching successful small businesses to work, collaborating with local entrepreneurs and mentoring them through the program. One lesson he learned across different cultures was the importance of valuing one's time. Shean has encountered many small business owners who underestimate the worth of their labour, "We had one designer who would only charge $12 for three or four days of work," he says. Shean encourages and empowers business owners to take the time to understand their financials and ensure that they pay themselves a fair wage. 

Shean shares why he chooses to volunteer with ABV, "What makes ABV stand out is the research they put into the projects they are sending volunteers to," he says. "When you go on an ABV Assignment, you know you will deliver something meaningful, and you will have the support to do it."  

Shean loves the innovation and the level of opportunity he can access with ABV, "You know the work you're doing; the mentoring is building something sustainable that will have a greater benefit in the long term." Shean attributes this to the unique collaboration between ABV and the private sector, "It's not every day that not-for-profits work with other businesses and large corporations so effectively." 

Beyond his work with ABV, Shean found joy in sailing, and is a member of the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard. Wherever he may find himself in the world, Shean remains dedicated to volunteering, driven by an unwavering belief in the importance of giving back.  

One month into delivering ABV’s  latest business capability development program with the Pacific’s largest regional bank, Bank of South Pacific (BSP), ABV’s Skilled Business Professional Kaylene Benson says the Fiji-based program has already exceeded expectations.  

Preparing for her trip back to Australia following an intensive workshop period for 21 promising local business owners, Kaylene describes the program, FijiTHRIVE, as achieving 10 out of 10.  

“It’s actually widely exceeded expectations and shows what you can bring about when you elevate people,” she said.  

“One of the participants said they’ve been unable to sleep with so many ideas. She’d stayed up all night on her plan. It’s pretty good proof of the energy and focus that people have found.”  

The intensive workshop series in Suva is just one part of the 12-month program that provides small business owners with ongoing individual coaching and business mentorship by ABV’s experienced business volunteers.  

A co-designed program with BSP focusing on real-time support needs of their clients, the facilitators meet with each participant before the training to ensure that ABV’s comprehensive training materials and business management tools are specifically tailored to meet the needs of the individual businesses involved.  

“Some have come to us as sole traders who are still working out what their business offering looks like, and others have an established cash flow and customer base,” Kaylene says.  

“It’s all about listening to where they’re at and taking them to that next level. That can mean identifying what’s not profitable or looking at new avenues of operating altogether.”   

Viviane Wade (pictured below), owner and director of Suva based refurbished furniture and home decoration store, says the ability to have external input and support has been invaluable. 

“FijiTHRIVE is phenomenal,” Viviane says. “They’ve shown us ways to look at our business in a different light. It was nice to step out and look at your business from an outside perspective looking in.”

With a number of women-led businesses, FijiTHRIVE draws on the potential of micro and small to medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to deliver locally-owned and inclusive economic growth for Fiji in the years to come. 

Find out more on FijiTHRIVE and register your interest to volunteer with ABV today. 

Pictured in header image: Aachaal Reddy from Sweet Sip, Liz Mackinlay ABV CEO, Shivanagani Kumar from Satrupa's Investments.

Skilled Business Volunteer, Kaylene Benson, is back home after following an intensive three-week program equipping 25 promising Fiji business leaders under our latest program with BSP Financial Group LimitedFiji THRIVE.

As she says, it comes back to bringing out the best in people. "When you're able to elevate people with the support of the region's largest bank, the British High Commission, and the expert training we're providing on the ground, it just brings out the best in them and their business."

Each program participant will receive ongoing tailored mentorship from Kaylene and her colleague over the coming six months to lift their businesses to the next level. We cannot wait to follow the transformation that these locally-led, and largely women-led, businesses bring about for their families and community!

BSP Financial Group Limited (BSP) in partnership with Australian Business Volunteers (ABV) today launched Fiji THRIVE, a co-designed business development program for locally-owned, including women-led, businesses in Fiji.

Drawing on the vast potential of micro and small to medium sized enterprises (MSMEs), the program will commence with providing training and mentoring to 25 promising Fiji business leaders over the coming six months to equip them with skills to build the foundation that they need for future business growth. During year 1, the program will build out across Viti Levu, with the ultimate goal to reach MSMEs across Fiji through a multi-year partnership between BSP Fiji and ABV.

BSP Relieving Country Head Mr. Maikash Ali said, “This programme is the latest under the BSP Group’s partnership with the Australian international development organisation, ABV, and we are delighted to deliver it as Fiji THRIVE, tailored to our business environment.”

The acronym THRIVE means, “Together, Helping [to build a] Resilient, Inclusive [and] Vibrant Economy” which captures the essence of this program earmarked as key to unlocking Fiji’s entrepreneurship and women-led businesses for more resilient and sustainable communities.

“Each year BSP supports social and environmental programs that enrich our communities, and we couldn’t be more excited about the far-reaching impact that this program has to offer. After all, by banking on these local businesses, we are also helping Fiji grow,” Mr. Ali said.

Working in the region for over 40 years, ABV CEO Ms. Liz Mackinlay said while this had long been a proven model for sustainable development, it was the calibre of the training, alongside ongoing coaching and business management mentoring delivered by trusted ABV Skilled Business Professionals (SBPs), that underpinned it for success.

“This exciting program sees a collaboration between BSP, ABV and the British High Commission, with endorsement from the Government of Fiji, which is an excellent example of a public-private partnership”. Ms. Mackinlay said.

“We’ve delivered some 500 programs in over 30 countries, and time and time again the success of these boils down to how locally-driven the programs are for the unique contexts of the communities in which we are invited to walk alongside,” Mackinlay said.

"Program participants will gain access to strong business management coaching and ongoing mentorship relationships with our Skilled Business Professionals (SBPs) who come with years of expertise in the region and in driving forward successful companies.

“Being able to co-design the practical business mentorship programs with BSP stakeholders while also drawing from direct support of business management experts really hits the mark and should be a more common approach in development programs.”

Providing valuable support to the program, British High Commissioner, Dr Brian Jones said, “the new Fiji government asked me to prioritise partnership with locally owned, inclusive growth through the MSME Business Sector, and I’m elated to do that.

“I’ve met some fabulous Fiji entrepreneurs and businesspeople here and linking them up with the experience of ABV and the financial support of BSP will give their businesses a solid head-start. It will give Fiji’s economy a much-needed injection of diversity, creativity, and opportunity.

“The UK is a world-leading incubator for innovation, and my team are here to help if some of these businesses seek to find partners, investors and a market for their goods and services in the UK," Jones said.

Directly aligned with goals set out in the Fiji National Financial Inclusion Strategy 2022-2030, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Cooperatives, SMEs and Communications, the Hon. Manoa Kamikamica welcomed the program and its strategic intent.

"Access to finance is a key challenge for many MSMEs. Therefore, it is fitting to see a financial institution taking a lead role in developing these MSMEs through such initiatives which will ultimately build them to access finance for their business," Minister Kamikamica said. " I also urge participants to strive towards achieving exponential commercial independence and entrepreneurial growth. This is your opportunity to learn and apply the knowledge which is imparted to you".

The MSME Development Program, known as Fiji THRIVE will engage local entrepreneurs in a 12-month program of coaching, mentoring and on-site training from ABV Skilled Business Professionals with funding support from BSP and the British High Commission.

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