Happy Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises Day! Today, we celebrate the businesses that are the backbone of our economies.

As mentors to small businesses, Australian Business Volunteers have a front-row seat to their challenges.

One participant in our program Gulshad Begum, entered the fiercely competitive world of Facebook selling and carved a niche for herself through integrity and persistence.

Launching her brand, Optimum Image, in 2014, with the support of her husband Zahir Ali, she was inspired by the rising trend of Facebook sellers importing goods but saw a significant gap in quality.

Gulshad faced substantial barriers, particularly in finding a reliable supplier who could deliver quality products at an affordable price.

"I would never want to sell something I wouldn't wear myself," Gulshad said. Driven by this principle, she contacted numerous suppliers until she found the perfect match. Overcoming the challenges of the customs process, she finally received her first shipment.

With no dedicated space, she transformed her sitting room cupboard into a makeshift showroom, inviting friends and family to view and purchase her garments.

Exposure became her key strategy. "I created my Facebook page and made friends with one and all, anyone I came across, I just made friends," she recalls. 

Through her efforts, Gulshad's sales grew, and she built a home office off her sitting room. In 2018, after 20 years in the printing business, her husband established his own office supply company and started sharing the home office space.

Despite having to share her space with toner cartridges and stationery, Gulshad cherishes their collaboration. "Sometimes on his way to service an office, he will take a delivery for one of my customers. I keep his books as well, so we work well together," she said. 

Balancing work and family life remains a challenge for Gulshad. She juggles customer calls, school projects, and last-minute requests, often going the extra mile for her clients.

Image: Gulshad and her husband Zahir.

"The other day we had an urgent call from a mother who needed a lion picture for her son's assignment. I printed it and handed it to her myself at the school gates," she recalls with a smile.

In 2023, Gulshad attended the Fiji THRIVE small business program, a partnership between BSP Financial Group Limited and Australian Business Volunteers (ABV).

This program offers bank customers like Gulshad essential business training, coaching, and mentoring delivered by ABV’s skilled business professionals who have experience working in a range of Pacific cultures, including living and working in Fiji. Gulshad found the sales skills she learned invaluable.

"The advertising tactics that I learnt with ABV were very beneficial," she said. The course also instilled a new discipline in her financial management, helping her separate personal and business finances and manage margins more effectively.

Despite her modesty, Gulshad is ambitious. Her future plans include setting up a larger space and possibly opening a shop for Optimum Image Clothing. Her eldest child has shown interest in fashion, hinting that the family business may soon become a shared passion.

This article was featured in the Fiji Times.

The night before virtually interviewing ABV mentor David Campbell and mentee Moana Korikalo, a 6.5-scale earthquake hit Vanuatu. Despite being woken up by her home shaking in the night, Moana showed up on time to chat with us with a positive attitude. "That's who Moana is; she always follows through on her commitments," David remarked. 

As the Retail Head of BSP Financial Group Limited's Vanuatu branch, Moana guides clients through their business growth and steers them towards success. We matched David and Moana in May 2022 under BSP's leadership development program. Moana picked David for his impressive profile that showcased his extensive sales and business development expertise. On David's suggestion, they took a personality test to get to know each other. They found they were both 'protagonists'–the people who get things done. 

Moana has been with BSP Financial Group since 2010 and is now in her 7th year as the retail head of Vanuatu. She manages a team of 59 staff—each day brings something new. Moana's real love is helping people; she initially started as an executive assistant at BSP and, in her downtime, would head downstairs to help customers at the bank. She quickly realised an assistant role wasn't for her; she needed to be with a team. 

Moana embraced the chance to participate in the BSP/ABV mentoring program. Her main goal was to enhance her leadership skills, and with David's help, Moana has improved her confidence in leading her team. Moana's excellent communication skills are crucial to managing her multi-lingual team, who speak French, English, and Bislama. 

David travelled to meet Moana for the first time in September 2023. "It felt like reuniting with an old friend. We have become great buddies over the years, and I felt comfortable immediately. I know our friendship will continue after this program," said Moana. 

David met Moana's team at the bank and got to see the other side of his mentoring at play; "I asked the team for feedback on what was and wasn't working, and the level of candour was pretty refreshing", he said. 

Moana has led her team to great personal and professional achievements. She shared a heartwarming story of how proud she was that one of her branch managers passed her driving test after seven years of her writing it into her 'development plan.' 

Moana's leadership style has transformed throughout the mentoring program. Moana said, "My confidence and how I approach situations is so different, thanks to David's guidance. When people ask me how I've done it, I simply say, 'Meet my friend David.'" 

ABV volunteers Matt Stone and Liane Arno went to Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea, to present the YES Grow program, which helps small businesses owners develop essential skills for sustainable growth.

Matt and Liane have been volunteering across the Pacific with ABV since 2006.

The YES Grow program has also been delivered in Port Moresby, Jiwaka, and Lae, as you may have seen in our updates. Accompanied by Carol Nokop from the BSP team, Matt and Liane visited some of the participants' businesses to learn about their services, including Enoch Stevens' Puma Service Station and Delilah Gori’s craft market.

During their visits, Carol had a perm done with the lovely Maria Kulunga from Binzqe Hair Salon. They also stopped by Anton Pugu's general store before finishing their day at Sir Mara Haus for a session on funding sources with the program's participants.

They had the pleasure of meeting the Governor of the Western Highlands Province, Wai Rapa who came to see the participants.

Matt and Liane look forward to maintaining a close connection to the businesses as they implement the lessons learned.

YES Grow is a program delivered in partnership with BSP Financial Group Limited in PNG, Fiji and Samoa.

In celebration of National Families Week, we want to express our heartfelt gratitude to all our participants and partners for their contribution towards the success of Apeketon Business Hub. This year's theme, "Embracing Diversity, Strengthening Families", resonates deeply with our mission. We are excited to share some updates from the Family Money Management sessions, which are a testament to our collective efforts in building economic resilience in Lihir.

Our mission to build economic resilience in Lihir involves strengthening families through financial empowerment and income stability. The Family Money Management sessions help families manage their income, set savings goals, and create budgets that align with their financial objectives.

The April sessions drew participants from Zuen and Londolovit villages, and the cohort included members of all six major clans in Lihir. 

The Bank South Pacific Lihir Branch and Niu Ailan Savings and Loan Society presented during the training sessions. They encouraged attendees to prioritise their savings to facilitate their short-term and long-term financial objectives.



Merleyne Soralien, who participated in the second program, shared her feedback,

"I am delighted to have attended this training. I engage in informal market sales, I struggled with managing my finances effectively. This training has been immensely beneficial, equipping me with the knowledge and skills to budget and save money efficiently not only to sustain my family but also achieve my future savings goals."



This program is in partnership with Lihir Gold Limited (LGL), a subsidiary of Newmont Corporation

"Storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool. We all, as humans, learn through storytelling," - Susan Goldie.

Susan Goldie has dedicated her life to humanitarian work, including mental health education, better end-of-life care, poverty reduction, and economic empowerment.

Susan joined us as a volunteer in November 2023 and has started working with our Nauru team on capacity building of local small-medium businesses. Susan's work supports the Nauru Private Sector Development Roadmap program, a 4-year partnership between ABV and the Nauru Chamber of Commerce to help foster closer collaboration across private, public and community sectors in support of Nauru's National Sustainable Development Strategy.

A key opportunity for Nauruan small businesses was the Miss Pacific Islands Pageant, held in Nauru in January 2024. This important regional pageant celebrating Pacific cultures was a landmark event for Nauru to host, and many small businesses, such as vendors, sole traders, and goods and service providers, stepped up to the challenge. 

The previous year's Miss Pacific Islands winner, Josie Nicholas, advocated for increased youth involvement in sustainable tourism. This youth-led approach to building sustainable tourism resonates with the vision set by the Sustainable Tourism Working Group, established in 2023 as part of the Roadmap's implementation, to support closer collaboration between private sector, government and community stakeholders to achieve shared sustainable tourism goals. 

Susan played a crucial role in conducting workshops for local vendors, volunteers, and hosts in preparation for the Pageant. These hybrid workshops, a highly tailored iteration of ABV's signature YES Program, were co-delivered by Susan with another ABV volunteer, Marcus Alexander, along with Jennifer Harris, the Nauru Chamber of Commerce's Business Hub Manager. The workshops covered essential aspects of customer service, work health and safety, and financial tools to start and grow a business. 

Image: Volunteers Liane, Matt, Susan and Marcus facilitating workshops from online with Jenn Harris (Nauru Business Hub Manager)

One of Susan's unique approaches includes educating through her lived experience. "Storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool. We all, as humans, learn through storytelling," she said. In her other community roles, Susan uses storytelling as a way to break down mental health stigma by delivering talks in schools and sharing her lived experience as a carer for someone with a mental health condition.  

Outside of ABV, Susan is a board member of a community-owned mortuary service that supports people who struggle to pay for their loved ones' funerals and connects local organisations to better serve their community's needs in times of grief and loss.

Beyond her humanitarian work, Susan finds solace in Taiko drumming, a mind, body, and soul workout she discovered during her first trip to Japan. "The drums can be so large that you need a crane to bring them in; it's an amazing art form. I leave the studio after drumming feeling so refreshed and clear-headed."

Susan was excited to join ABV and contribute to sustainable change-making. "The theme of all my volunteering is to build capacity and empower people, which very much aligns with ABV's mission, and that's what drew me to the organisation," Susan said. 

When asked what made Susan choose ABV, she said, "ABV is working in such a streamlined way; no one is indispensable, and people are valued. ABV continues momentum but never becomes the destination; they are the wind in the sails of the next community."

We feel privileged to have a volunteer with such diverse and meaningful experience. Thank you, Susan!

Image: Susan and her daughter hosting the Vinnies Community Sleepout in Western Sydney.

ABV, in partnership with BSP Samoa, has launched a program to support Micro, Small, and Medium businesses in Samoa. The YES Grow program offers a three-week workshop series with six months of ongoing online coaching and mentoring provided by ABV's experienced Skilled Business Volunteers. 

The program aims to help businesses in Samoa succeed by providing mentorship, access to resources, and networking opportunities. This collaboration between ABV and BSP Samoa has been in place since 2018, and successful programs run in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

"We are thrilled to partner with BSP Samoa to introduce this transformative MSME Mentoring and Coaching Program," said Liz Mackinlay, CEO at ABV. "Our goal is to equip MSMEs in Samoa with the tools, knowledge, and networks necessary to thrive in today's competitive landscape." 

Through customised, sustainable, and practical solutions, YES helps businesses reach their full potential and contribute to Samoa's sustainable economic growth.

This partnership is part of ABV's broader efforts across the Asia Pacific region, bridging business expertise with community needs. By empowering local businesses, ABV and BSP Samoa aim to drive growth and innovation in Samoa and support the development of a strong and vibrant local economy.

Image: Representatives from the businesses of the YES Grow Program attended the launch event.

Big Congratulations to the February graduates of our Family Money Management program! Run by dedicated local staff at the Apeketon Business Hub in Lihir, Papua New Guinea, this initiative equips families with essential tools for financial planning, budgeting, and saving.

It's truly inspiring to witness participants taking concrete steps towards their savings goals, paving the way for brighter futures for their families. Empowering communities to thrive begins with imparting financial freedom through knowledge and skills.

This program is in partnership with Lihir Gold Limited (LGL), a subsidiary of Newmont Corporation.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                          

Celebrate International Women's Day with ABV!

Overview:

Australian Business Volunteers (ABV) is hosting 'Conversations across the Pacific,' an online event for International Women's Day. It will be an inspiring afternoon dedicated to recognising the success of women leaders in the Pacific and the profound impact of women supporting each other. 

ABV's CEO, Liz Mackinlay, will guide an engaging 90-minute conversation, where we'll showcase the success stories of three remarkable mentees in the Pacific.

At this event, we will explore this theme of amplifying Pacific women's voices through ABV's innovative programs with BSP Financial Group Limited (formerly Bank of South Pacific) through three stories:

  1. How BSP Fiji YES Thrive program strengthens entrepreneurs in Fiji. 
  2. How BSP YES Grow takes established businesses to the next level in Papua New Guinea.
  3. How the BSP and ABV mentoring program supports and develops talent across BSP's Pacific operations.

Keynote speaker: Leata Alaimoana - Queensland Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner.

As the Queensland Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner, Leata is responsible for driving the Queensland–Pacific trade strategy. Leata is committed to supporting sustainable enterprises and businesses in the Pacific, helping to create economic opportunities and deliver positive social outcomes for communities across the region. Leata's dedication to the Pacific extends beyond her professional work, as she actively supports and advocates for causes that work towards improving the livelihoods of Pacific people. Leata is passionate about empowering Pacific Island communities and ensuring their voices are heard and needs are met in the spaces that matter most.

Moderator: Liz Mackinlay – Australian Business Volunteers, CEO.

"I've been to many events for International Women’s Day where we discuss fantastic ideas, but often they don't translate into action. This year, ABV is all about amplifying the voices of Pacific women. We are uplifting their success and creating stronger connections and more opportunities for Pacific women in business," said Liz Mackinlay. 

Key Takeaways from event:

  1. The Power of Women-Led Businesses and Leadership: Discover how Pacific women drive innovation and business success.
  2. SME Development for Economic Growth: Understand how focusing on small-medium enterprise (SME) and leadership development can contribute to economic growth in the Pacific.
  3. Transformative Community-Wide Benefits: Learn about the positive impacts of encouraging entrepreneurship on families and communities.
  4. Woman-to-Woman Mentorship: Explore the transformative power of volunteering, specifically through woman-to-woman mentorship programs

Event Details:

🔹 Friday, 8th March

🔹 Online Event

🔹 3:00pm – 4:30pm AEDT

Registration link: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/iwd-conversations-across-the-pacific-tickets-817638126647?aff=oddtdtcreator

Online delivery: Due to the global nature of the celebration and to encourage our Pacific networks to join, this event will be hosted virtually.

For more information, please contact:

Moneesha Reynolds, ABV Marketing Manager

E:Moneesha.reynolds@abv.org.au

About Australia Business Volunteers (ABV):

Australia Business Volunteers (ABV) is a leading not-for-profit organization dedicated to connecting business expertise across the Asia-Pacific region. ABV works with a diverse group of organizations to deliver customized, sustainable, and effective solutions.

About BSP Financial Group Limited:

BSP Financial Group Limited is a prominent financial institution in PNG, offering a wide range of banking and financial services. BSP is committed to supporting the financial needs of individuals and businesses across the country.

In February, dedicated volunteers Zarah and Philip collaborated to lead the YES Grow program in Lae, Papua New Guinea.

Lae is the capital of Morobe Province and is the second-largest city in Papua New Guinea. It is located near the branching of the Markham River and at the start of the Highlands Highway, making it a main corridor for trade and commerce.

ABV has expanded YES Grow in partnership with BSP Financial Group Limited to include more areas of PNG. Small businesses are the backbone of a strong economy, which is why this program focuses on supporting regional entrepreneurship in areas like Lae. Over three days, participants learn essential business basics like finance, marketing, and business planning.

Zarah and Phil found immense fulfilment in the experience, "Delivering YES Grow was incredibly rewarding. We had varying levels of business expertise among participants, from startups to well-established ventures, but everyone valued the new tools and frameworks for future growth," said Zarah.

One participant, Merilyn Moss Henry, Director of Novelty Car Hire, said, "Knowledge is power. We actually got the best from the best. I personally learned and gained a lot from this workshop, which I will apply to my small business and I expect to see big difference and progress in my business adventure."

Zarah looks forward to staying connected with participants through online mentoring, emphasising the importance of this work to strengthening PNG's economy together. She said, "We're excited to continue supporting everyone in reaching their goals, one step at a time."

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.

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