Creating Opportunity for Women in Papua New Guinea

11.07.2016 | Michelle Chen

This past September was my second time visiting Papua New Guinea (PNG), known as “the land for opportunity.” From my experiences there, this phrase is no exaggeration. PNG is a country full of untapped (natural) resources, talents, and compassionate people who love their country and are devoted to their families. But, despite these advantages, gender inequality is crippling development in PNG.

Driving around town in Port Moresby, you can see street vendors selling all sorts of locally made goods and products. At a recently established Market Expo, you can purchase beautiful “bilum bags” and coffee beans, among other items, from the highland regions that are unique to PNG. But these products have untold stories behind them in that many were handmade by women whose meager income is solely dedicated to supporting her family while her spouse’s income is not shared. When and if the family is taken care of, these women are left with nothing else to spend, undercutting their independence and leaving them vulnerable to their spouses’ abuse.

To address this issue of gender inequality and give women in PNG a chance to succeed, CIPE has embarked upon an initiative jointly funded by the Office of Global Women’s Issues (GWI) of the U.S. Department of State, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia. This two-year initiative aims to support women’s economic empowerment by improving the entrepreneurship ecosystem in PNG.

CIPE’s initiative consists of three major components. The first component involves establishing a Women’s Business Resources Center (WBRC) in Port Moresby, which serves as a resource hub for local businesswomen who are in need of assistance in entrepreneurship related matters. The second component aims to help selected universities in PNG improve their existing curricula or establish new entrepreneurship curricula by working with William Davidson Institute (WDI) at the University of Michigan. The third component focuses on improving the capacity of the PNG Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PNGWCCI) so that they can provide effective support to women in the local business community. This initiative is timely because the government of PNG has passed legislation in February 2015 to promote Small- to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

The WBRC, which is now fully equipped, staffed, and operational, is easily accessible by public transportation and is minutes away from the new Market Expo where hundreds of women conduct businesses. The Grand Opening of the WBRC is scheduled to take place on November 14, 2016 where stakeholders, local businesses, donors, and CIPE representatives will celebrate this groundbreaking achievement. CIPE is proud to be the lead implementer of this innovative and groundbreaking initiative that GWI and DFAT have made possible. Indeed, this milestone would not have happened if it weren’t for GWI and DFAT’s commitment to creating opportunity for women in PNG.

Once officially opened, local women, students, and interest groups can utilize the resources provided at WBRC. Through regular training workshops, individuals will learn about the “how-tos” in business development and entrepreneurship. CIPE has already reached out to several potential workshop speakers including officials from the Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) to come and explain business registration process in PNG. There will be monthly networking opportunities for women to share their success stories and experiences. A mentorship program will also be available for those who desire to be paired with successful businesswomen so that they can learn through a one-on-one coaching experience. Furthermore, the WBRC is equipped with computers and Internet access, allowing users to conduct researches and print entrepreneurship related materials. These services are extremely rare in PNG, especially at a public location such as WBRC where security and baby-sitting services are also provided.

My trip in September, however, focused largely on the second component of this initiative. During this visit, Professor Julie Felker from WDI and I met with nearly 85 individuals including Professors, faculties, students, and alumni from the University of PNG (UPNG), Pacific Adventist University (PAU), and Divine Word University (DWU). The purpose of our four-day meeting was to assess the needs of each university with regards to their current entrepreneurship curricula, if any. This visit could not have been more successful because all three universities were overwhelmingly interested and committed to participating in this initiative. What impressed me the most was that the Schools of Business were not the only departments enthusiastic about incorporating entrepreneurship curricula into their programs, other academic units such as the School of Law, School of Math and Science, and School of Medical and Health were also incredibly interested in this idea. What I heard the most from these meetings was “we need to change our mindset in our teachings and capitalize on this opportunity to enable our students to think outside of cultural norms!”

While there is a high level of entrepreneurial spirit among teachers and students, all three universities need extensive help in developing a new entrepreneurship curriculum. WDI and CIPE, with continuous consultations with the universities, are developing a draft curriculum for each school, which will be completed by the end of November 2016. WDI’s second visit to PNG in early December will focus on a five-day train-the-teachers workshop based on the draft curriculum. During this training, feedback of the draft curriculum will be collected to help further refine the content. CIPE and WDI aim to return to PNG in spring 2017 to conduct another follow up training workshop to help teachers deliver the new entrepreneurship curriculum.

It is truly exciting to see how CIPE’s initiative is helping to improve the entrepreneurship ecosystem in PNG and to empower women so that they can become economically independent. While not a direct success story of this initiative, CIPE was recently informed that it is one of a few international organizations that truly helps to empower local citizens in PNG by cultivating local leaders and professionals rather than hiring expatriates. Both the WBRC Manager Mona Endehipa and Country Coordinator Eli Webb are PNG nationals, and the guidance and assistance that they receive from CIPE on a regular basis have helped them grow their professional skills and abilities. Under this initiative, Mona is about to take on her first-ever task, with the help of CIPE, to develop a mentorship program for local businesswomen. Opportunities for professional growth such as this mean a great deal to PNG citizens, especially women.

Michelle Chen is a Program Officer for Asia at CIPE.