Running a business with your heart is not necessarily a trait they teach future business leaders.
But one of Samoa’s most successful businessmen might have something to say about that.
When it comes to big hearts, the Managing Director of the Samoa Commercial Bank (S.C.B.), Lemalu Ray Ah Liki, is up there with the best of them.
His bank’s most recent scheme to offer unsecured loans to some of the poorest people in the community is a perfect example
But giving to the community has never been a foreign concept for Lemalu. Even when people who are in search for help are lined up passed the S.C.B. Main Office doors right up to beach road, the man in charge always finds a way to accommodate all.
From his quick jump to action to donate to the victims of the Savalalo Fire to supporting different sports communities through donations, Lemalu’s helping hand is well known.
“We love to support the sporting community, the churches, the business organizations and many others who are in real need of our assistance,” he said.
“The biggest contribution this year was $100,000 to the Samoa Rugby Union just last month. When we start a plan, we try our best to develop it even further.”
But what really got people talking, was the loan scheme, which catered to the low to no income earners, those who would normally be turned away by other banks.
Launched in October, The Small Development Loan Scheme for the Low Income Earners (S.D.L.S.) aims to increase productive investment, productivity of low-income families, employment, export and living standards of the population.
“This year alone I read the Observer and saw a lot of people in the rural community, who need help,” Lemalu said.
“I saw people in the farming community and others below the high income level. I don’t call them poor but I do call them the unfortunate people of the community who are unbanked and can’t access different financial products because of their situation in not having an official source of income.”
“So I thought that we can have a scheme to assist the really, really struggling bunch; especially the families who have children but don’t have any jobs.”
“They may have the land but they don’t have the capital to develop their farms.”
After seeing and reading about the hardships of many in Samoa, Lemalu quickly though of a plan to aid those who struggle to find ways to financially develop their lives.
“I opened a new window immediately after that for the low income people who would like to have access to funds to help develop their farming activities,” he said.
“They can develop their vegetable and taro plantations or build their small businesses. So this new window is guaranteed through some of the share holders who have some funds in the bank.”
“That’s what we launched. The people used to find it very hard to borrow because they had no source of income from employment but they rely on their farms or other products in their small business.”
“So this window gives them very low interest rates and low affordable repayments. I think we’re up to $700,000 and $100,000 for those who are very low income earners.”
His only hope, through the scheme, is that others will jump onboard to help those in need.
“This is just us, we love to give back to the community and help out in every sector of the economy,” he said.
“We have land, our people, but very little capital to assist these people and that’s where we come in. I really hope that the Development Bank, N.P.F. or any other financial institution will jump onboard and help this sector of the economy.”
“We will be working together with the farming society and the agriculture department in the New Year because we would really like to improve agriculture production and productivity of our people mainly in the rural community.”
And in the end, Lemalu says that he hopes that the help they give will eventually inspire those hard working people to become even more productive.
“Giving them some money may inspire them to do some worthwhile work in farming,” he said.
“The only thing I want it for our people to productive and increase production. That’s why we have opened this new window; I want them to pay back these funds.”
“That’s everything on this new scheme. This will help them quite a bit.”
But what inspires such heartfelt actions?
Lemalu says that growing up in his family wasn’t a walk in the park and he understands that life is not easy at all.
This understanding makes it easy for him to relate to others who suffer and then help out where he can.
“You know, people don’t really know my family,” Lemalu said. “We were brought up in a very hard way. When we were young we used to walk very long distances between school and home.”
“Some days we would get a lift from the lumber trucks driving back and forth, I am talking about the 60’s. Once we got home, one of us would go and do some chores, the other would tend to our small store while the other went and started on the cooking.”
“Sometimes I would think that my dad was abusing us because we were working at a very young age growing up right to when we finished form six.”
“We were very productive, we were brought up in a hard environment and when we got back from our scholarship we would already know how hard life was because we were used to working.”
“We worked hard and we are successful people; as long as we are comfortable, our children are comfortable, and the goal for us to continue to provide employment to our people and contribute to the economy of our country.
“We need to lift the living standards of our people. That’s the Ah Liki family.”
On the other hand, Lemalu just likes to help people which he understands will eventually help the country thrive.
“I like to help people, I like to create employment and lift the living standards of our people,” he said.
“Everyone wants a class house, beautiful car and all that but some can’t afford that. You need to live within your means. If you don’t do that then you will be in trouble and stressed.”
“You have to live within your means and that is important. You can’t keep doing fa’alavelaves when your money is small. So I try and counsel people about finance.”
“Another important thing I keep telling people is to try and be productive because it will allow you to go far.”
Lemalu concluded by saying that this will not be the end of the line for his help. He will continue to work with the community and help where he is needed.
“All in all, we will continue to work with the community and with the clients,” he said.
“Our bank is different from the other banks. If I see a business suffering then I will try to salvage that business by reducing the interest rates and reduce the repayments to enable them to make the business work again until they are able to pay the debt.”
“In that way, they are happy, the bank is happy. But the other banks, they sign the agreements, you fail then you will be penalized.
“That’s my style and it’s different from the norm and the way other banks are run.”