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.
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.
The island nation of Nauru is nestled in the centre of coral cliffs surrounded by rock phosphates—striking peaks that emerge from the clear water. With this backdrop, Christmas celebrations vibrantly decorate and complement the beautiful landscape.
In December, you will see brightly coloured lights dotted around the island, illuminating households and hanging among the pandanus and coconut trees. Most Nauruans follow Christianity and attend church services to mark the special significance of this time. Being a small place (around 13,000 residents), the island operates with a lot of community spirit, sharing responsibility for cooking, visiting elderly residents, and caring for children.
It is common for families to wear brightly coloured (sparkling or floral, sometimes matching!) outfits in red, green and white Christmas themes and adorn headdresses with flowers like frangipani. Celebrations are hosted in venues decorated with tinsel, lights, colourful fabrics, palms and plants, where groups perform in the spirit of entertainment or for a friendly competition.
Songs like Joy to the World, Silent Night, and Glad Tidings are usually heard throughout the air when you drive around the island, as Christmas carols are very popular in Nauru. Christmas is one of the seasons that the older relatives are visited with songs and gifts, usually organised by various church communities, these includes youth and young children at the forefront singing.
Christmas feasts might include roasted whole pork, BBQ black noddy bird, and coconut fish (sashimi mixed with coconut cream and lime juice), a specialty dish as coconut grows well in the tropical climate, and the fishing industry is a core part of Nauru. Families each take some cooking responsibility, serving and sharing delicious foods.
We are fortunate that one of our team members, Jennifer Harris, shared some images for this post of Nauru’s celebrations. "You can feel the happiness in the air," she says, "driving around the island is a real treat on Christmas, and I get so much joy from the children loving this time of year.
Raga Leana was a featured speaker at Inspire, a joint event with ABV and Lihir Gold Limited in Lihir, Papua New Guinea. The audience comprised 75% women, and the event aimed to inspire local female entrepreneurship. Raga reflected on the significance of this event, stating, "This event was so important to me because I always tell the women around me that they don't need a formal education to start a business. You can dream big but start small with what you have."
During her speech, Raga emphasised being a "self-starter," as she believes it best describes her approach to life. She shared how this concept goes beyond business and began with small personal goals she dreamed of after becoming a homemaker at a young age. Everything she does now honours the creativity and determination of her younger self.
Raga's "passion for fashion" led her to teach herself how to sew by repurposing secondhand clothes. Her early designs are still worn by her 24-year-old daughter, a testament to Raga's craftsmanship. Observing her community, she noticed a gap in the current market, stating, "Printed fabric is the same everywhere, but everyone wants to be different. Women, especially working women, want to stand out in their clothes." Raga began to hand-paint designs featuring symbols of Papua New Guinea's rich cultural heritage to set herself apart.
Raga started receiving local orders through her Facebook page, Auna Tiares. The Facebook business market in Papua New Guinea is thriving, and as Raga's page grew, she also gained interest from customers in Australia. From this experience, Raga believes that a solid social media presence is an excellent stepping stone for any start-up.
Next for Raga is to create a line of bedding, tablecloths, and other homewares, all featuring her distinctive PNG designs. When asked about her life outside of work, Raga laughed and said that her business is not just a means of earning income but also her hobby. Every day, she enjoys her work by doing what she loves.
Raga expressed her gratitude for Inspire;
"When ABV gave me the opportunity to go to Lihir and inspire other women, I thought I might say no because I am not an outspoken person. But when I gave that speech, it gave me a breakthrough with my confidence. I want to put myself out there more now and know I can.
Nellie Varmari (Left - speaking) and Raga Leana (Right)
Australian Business Volunteers (ABV), in conjunction with Newcrest Mining, recently held an Inspire Event in Lihir. The Inspire events focus on local entrepreneurs sharing their stories of success as they built their own small to medium enterprise. The event, held on the 24th October, showcased the talents of two female entrepreneurs, Nellie Varmari and Raga Leana.
Nellie grew up under the coffee trees in the highlands of the New Guinea Island and is now one of the leading operators in coffee. Raga shared her knowledge from running her own successful SME in clothing, jewellery, and food. Forty-four local budding business owners attended, with three-quarters of the audience being female.
These showcases are a part of the Newcrest Mining and ABV partnership to increase economic development in the region, facilitated through the Apeketon Business Hub.