Young, female and running a business: Tailani Salanoa

When she told her parents she wanted to be a chef, Tailani Salanoa was told the hours are gruelling, the pay sucks, and to go for something else. But today, she runs her own kitchen, in Le Petit Café, alongside the Mailelani Samoa gift-shop. 

Ms Salanoa is 25, and has been surrounded by her parents Kitiona and Sylvie Salanoa's soap business her entire life. She said at first that meant she wanted nothing to do with Mailelani, or any other business for that matter.

"But then I took a gap year in Switzerland and that's when I realised how much I knew about it and when I saw people's reactions I thought oh, that's actually a pretty cool that we're doing, with local ingredients and local farmers.

"I wanted to do a school of hospitality in the hotel industry in Switzerland and then I changed my mind from one day to the other... I called my mum and told her I want to study business."

She spent six months absorbing three years-worth of business know-how in New Zealand, and returned to work as a marketing director for Mailelani: developing client relationships and building the companies brand. She said talking to people and sharing her story is something she has become passionate about.

This international women’s day, Ms Salanoa said she is reflecting on what women have to go through around the world, just because they are women.

"For me, I remember how privileged and blessed I am to live in this country, and to be where I am," she said.

"There are things happening around the world that I don't even know about, and there is no way that in some places you could just sit around in a café, and just chat. 

"Even being in Samoa, it's not easy for everyone but we are really blessed to be in this country."

The fa’aSamoa (Samoan way of life) value of sisters being the apple of their brothers eye is a beautiful one, Ms Salanoa said, as well as Samoa's Christian values.

"To me what that means is you're not going to poke your eye out - you have to respect it, take care of it, you have to nurture. I think it's really beautiful that it's in our culture.

Not every woman in Samoa is held in this regard, however. Ms Salanoa has seen how abuse and violence plagues Samoan women, and how the situation has worsened since she was young.

"From the movies, to McDonalds after the last screening - I would not do that if I'm not with another five or six people, which is really sad... I would never go to the seawall if I was alone in the morning."

The way her parents run their business has helped staff feel safe there, and they often open up about issues they’re facing at home. Sometimes that means her family can help them if they need it, which Ms Salanoa said can make all the difference, like for one woman who dared to speak up and managed to successfully take her issues through the courts.

"Here is a place where [staff] can come and ask, or talk or say whatever issue is going on that they don't understand. We let them know this is a safe place.

As a young businesswoman, Ms Salanoa said she is acutely aware of the opportunities available to her in Samoa. If she had been in Switzerland, her mother’s homeland, she said she would never be running her own café at 25.

Her parents always encouraged her to live a life she loved, and when she was ready her family had the means to support her to start a café. Ms Salanoa acknowledged not everyone will have those privileges, but believes there is a way for everyone to achieve their goals.

"As a woman in business, if there is something you want to do, whether it is opening a business, growing a certain crop, just go for it. 

"I don't want to say nothing's stopping you, I don't know what situation everyone is in. But it's not something you should keep to yourself or hide, because there is always someone around that is going to listen to what you are interested in doing."

Ms Salanoa said either way, share your ideas with everyone and talk about goals and dreams, in case the right people are listening.

"Who knows, there might be an opportunity for you to achieve your dream.

"That's how it started with me - I mentioned it once to my mum, and how many years later, she brought it back up!"



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