Sitting on the floor of her copra drying house, Noga Sinava explains and demonstrates the process of drying copra.
As she speaks, her hands are moving very quickly with a small knife, extracting coconut flesh from its shell.
She throws the flesh onto a growing pile sitting over a mesh grill and under it a smokey wood fire is helping to dry the copra.
“I started my copra business about two years ago. My husband and I buy coconuts from a farmer, which we dry and then sell to a middleman who picks it up and sends it to Honiara for coconut oil,” she says.
A South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) Field Officer explains that Noga is not only one of SPBD’s best clients but she is also a community leader and is constantly encouraging women to start small income generating businesses to help their families.
She leads by example, operating three small businesses: drying copra for coconut oil, selling fuel to community boats and baking buns and ring cakes (donuts) which she sells twice a week in her community.
The 48-year-old mother of two lives in Mendana settlement on Rendova Island on the out skirts of Munda in the Solomon Islands. To get to her settlement, one must take a 30-minute boat ride from Munda which can cost between SBD $240 – $500 (USD $30 – $64.38) a day depending on fuel consumption.
There are no banking services out here and most monetary transactions are dealt with either in cash or on credit from friends and family. Many Solomon Islanders like Noga reside in small villages with 60% of the population living in communities with less than 200 members. Providing financial services for a sparsely dispersed population can be very expensive for banks who prefer to have ATMs available in a few urban centers. The majority of the adult population in the Solomon Islands has never used a bank account or any form of formal financial services. This makes SPBD’s services crucial to a country where only 34% of the population is financially included.
Over the past two years, Noga has taken three loans from SPBD and is currently repaying her third microloan which she used to purchase sacks of coconuts from a farmer to start a copra business.
Her first loan was used to buy supplies to help her start a small bakery. It took her 26 weeks to repay this loan and she immediately proceeded to her next loan to start another small business, a fuel depot.
Every Tuesday, SPBD come to her village to collect her loan repayments, her savings and spends an hour with her going over financial management tips that has helped her grow her business. SPBD provides each customer with a financial booklet – financial diary that gets them to set savings goals, track their expenses and loan repayments and each week a new business tip is shared with the women.
Noga is one of the 17,655 women (as of September 2017) that has taken out an unsecured microloan from SPBD to help them start, grow and maintain sustainable, income generating micro-enterprises.
SPBD is a private incorporated microfinance company that entered the Solomon Islands and began operation in 2014. SPBD uses Grameen group-lending methodology to enable micro-savings, provide micro business loans of around US$400 to rural women entrepreneurs to start or grow a small business, and also offers extensive financial literacy training integrated into its microfinance program with ongoing support. SPBD field officers travel to villages of their clients every week to enable regular convenient, affordable loan repayments and savings to empower rural women to improve their livelihoods and quality of life.
The Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP) has been supporting SBPD with its microfinance expansion to rural Solomon Islands since 2015. PFIP is a Pacific-wide programme that has helped over 1.6 million low-income Pacific islanders gain access to financial services and financial education. It achieves these results by funding innovation with financial services and delivery channels, supporting policy and regulatory initiatives, and empowering consumers.
PFIP is jointly administered by the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and receives funding from the Australian Government, the European Union and the New Zealand Government.
A PFIP grant of USD $185,057 to SPBD has helped it reach 10,890 of its total Solomon Islands portfolio of 17,655 loans (September 2017). This grant is not only helping to bring more women into the financial inclusion sphere but also helping to eradicate poverty, provide more economic opportunities for women that will in turn enable them to afford the high cost of education and bring about more development to rural Solomon Islands.