Twenty six years ago, was when the founding members of Women in Business officially became a Non-Governmental Organisation. The idea of having a significant space for a processing facility was just a mere thought, an out of reach dream.
However on Friday, Women in Business Development Incorporated (W.I.B.D.I.) officially unveiled their Processing Facility in Vaitele Uta. It was a moving and joyous occasion especially for past and present members and their supporters.
W.I.B.D.I. president, Peseta Arasi Tiotio opened the event and the Keynote Address was delivered by one of the organisation’s long time supporters, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.
He praised the organisation for their resilience and positive impact they have had on rural farmers and their families all over the country.
The atmosphere was one of jubilation and in signature W.I.B.D.I. fashion, every attention was paid to detail and guests were treated to goody bags filled with boutique-style beauty and food products made by W.I.B.D.I. and their international partners C1 Expresso and The Body Shop.
The contents showcased the high quality workmanship that went into their products.
W.I.B.D.I. has every reason to be excited.
This processing facility will greatly enhance and boost production mass and quality control for their clients which will be able to significantly increase their earning potential in being able to meet local and international quality standards.
Vice President Sheree Stehlin also delivered a speech thanking their supporters. As a former president of W.I.B.D.I, Stehlin knows the trials and tribulations that the organisation has gone through to get to where it is.
Clearly moved, Stehlin honoured all the women and men who had paved the way by going back 26 years ago to their humble beginnings.
Although it had originally begun as a group to empower and support women in business, it grew to be much more as they discovered that the needs were urgent on a national scale and extended beyond their initial vision.
In Stehlin’s speech, it was evident that the road to success had not been easy as she described their initial experiences.
“We were totally out of our comfort zone but we were driven because we were in a much better place than those who were not able to earn an income where they lived.”
W.I.B.D.I. in its nascent years were dealt with the blows of back to back cyclones and the taro leaf blight in the early ‘90’s which completely obliterated the staple food and main export crop affecting the cash-earning power of people living in rural Samoa.
It was in this pivotal moment that saw W.I.B.D.I. change its focus when they realised that to empower women in business, they had to take a bottom-up approach by strengthening those who were the most economically vulnerable in Samoa such as the rural families who depended on the plantations for their livelihood.
It took time to decide on their business plan of how to uplift rural families out of poverty but W.I.B.D.I. decided that the answers lay in returning to agriculture - Samoa’s traditional and primary industry that was on the decline. They took calculated risks which eventually paid off.
They launched their project to produce organically certified virgin coconut oil and recognised the earning potential for women in reviving fine mat weaving traditions which on another level, served to preserve and protect Samoa’s Measina that was in danger of being lost.
The Prime Minister was specifically acknowledged for throwing his support behind them from the beginning when he saw the potential to help support rural people needing to earn cash and also, in returning the fine mat to its original form.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, the Prime Minister said;
“W.I.B.D.I. covers the whole country but concentrates on people in the rural area.
They have been there for a much longer time promoting organic farming. The copra that comes out of those identified farms, is contributing to maintaining Samoa as an organic farming country."
Their contribution has been very good in that they were also responsible for the governments’ decision to do away with the rubbish ie toga.
It was they who drew the attention of government for the need to have support for their efforts to throw the rubbish we used to have and concentrate on the much more finer, fine mats.
So it’s a very different organisation, much more of “a doer” than a lot of other organisations. They do things that many organisation don’t do - they are much more practical.”
Stehlin paid tribute to W.I.B.D.I.S. first president, Eleitino Michele Meredith and also the co-founder and current Executive Director, Adi Tafuna’i for their vision and leadership. She also congratulated all the women who were founding members for the exceptional work they had done for the organization and for Samoan families.
Acknowledgement and thanks were given to their funders in particular EIF for the building as well as their core funders Oxfam NZ and NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Stehlin revealed that N.Z.A.I.D’s funding relationship with W.I.B.D.I. will be coming to an end - a few years earlier than expected and according to the N.Z. High Commissioner this will be due in part to them realising that W.I.B.D.I. is at the cusp of becoming more commercial in its orientation, H. E David Nicholson said to the Observer,
“We have supported them (through the N.Z.A.I.D. programme) for 25 years and as you heard, we were core funders. We are bringing that support to an end, because part of our support has been to help them become more commercial in their orientation and to operate on their own. We were instrumental in funding the connection for the virgin coconut and getting it into The Body Shop - things like that.
So we have had a quite a big contribution to their ongoing development over the years and we are still considering applications for new business with them as well.”
Stehlin wrapped up the formalities on a positive note, planting the promise of tomorrow’s prosperity to those present in a call to be motivated, hopeful and recognise the potential in Samoa’s economic future.
“Let’s work together to develop Samoa and build our economy to a place we know we can reach. We live in a beautiful country that has much to offer this world.”