Women in Business celebrate fruits of hard work

 

Inside the newly opened Women in Business processing facility at Nu’u

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – WEDNESDAY 23 AUGUST 2017: The success of the Women In Business Development Inc. (WIBDI) developments continues with the celebration last Friday of the opening of a new processing facility at Nu’u.

The facility is to process organic value added agricultural based products for export.

“Today we are marketing all the organic certified products we produce and thanks to Sam and Flur, owner of Sea One Expresso in Christchurch for their invaluable assistance,” said WIBDI’s Vice President Sheree Stehlin at the opening of the facility.

WIBDI’s  26 year journey has assisted and helped many small businesses operated by women in rural areas, but not without obstacles but that has never stopped WIBDI  from moving forward.

Sheree Stehlin said as WIBDI embarked on her maiden journey, Samoa was hit by two major cyclones followed by the taro leaf plight that destroyed Samoans stable food and its devastating impact on the economy.

In 1995, WIBDI changed her focus from their original mandate, and turned to help those vulnerable in the community.

Sheree said the biggest challenge was finding business ideas that would work and after many researches, they realized that God had already given them what they need to work on.

“And that was agriculture which was declining bad,” she said.

So for many years, WIBDI had operated from small units at Nu’u and  at members farms, but of  last week, the new well equipped $1million tala processing facility was opened, where products will be produced, packaged and exported.

She said what WIBDI did was added value products attractive to the markets.

“To do this, we need lots of patience, support and most importantly, the need to be open to making many mistakes and learning from them,” said Sheree.

“We were out of our comfort zone but we were driven because we were in a much better position to help those in such unfortunate situations,” she said.

In 1996, WIBDI utilized coconuts and began a project called Virgin Coconut Oil, and in 2008, that respected international beauty products manufacturer, The Body Shop International company discovered and opened its doors to their products.

Then came the discussion about the possibility of processed and exporting large quantities of products, and this began the process of dreaming for a facility, which became a reality last week.

“WIBDI has proven that we have developed a model of development that works and we have been approached by individuals and organisations, even Governments around the Pacific region, and we have trained and supported people from 11 Pacific countries.

Sheree acknowledged Oxfam New Zealand and New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade as the core funders for WIBDI for many years.

“NZAID core funding set up many years ago and support from many people was the key to the success of many NGO’s locally and regionally,” said Sheree.

“Today is about our farmers and by including them in the value chain and as much as possible ensuring that they get a fair return for their hard work.”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi acknowledged WIBDI’s work especially in assisting rural women businesses.

He remembered when WIBDI came to him after the Ministry of Women spoke against their initiative to weave the fine mats ie toga, under the Iniini Samoa project.

It was from this incident that the Government established a committee to look into the development and perfection of Samoa’s fine mats and its traditional value and status as a measina.

The Inini Samoa project was launched and today, the Government spent millions of dollars in the annual Fa’alelega Pepe event, which highlights the importance of Samoa fine mats or Ie Samoa.

He said it was WIBDI coined the word Ie Samoa or Ie o le Malo and dropped the Ie Toga as the fine mats was called then.

He also acknowledged WIBDI for spearheading the organic farming projects.

Tuilaepa said organic farming was rubbished by the Ministry of Agriculture in the past  on the belief that it does not gain much, however, the speed with which WIBDI is working now and the number of international markets they have had shifted Government’s focus to include organic farming.

“Organic products are vital and good for health, another reason for investing in it, especially now Samoa has a scientific research facility to test everything,” said Tuilaepa.