Women’s Business Resource Center Helps Women Entrepreneurs in Papua New Guinea Succeed Against the Odds

Children and women make up the majority of market life in Gerehu, Papua New Guinea. Photo by Ness Kerton for AusAID.

Women in Papua New Guinea face distressing obstacles to achieving leadership roles in business, politics, their communities, and their families. Two-thirds of women there are victims of domestic violence, according to reports. Women and girls are frequently treated like property, and it is not uncommon for them to be bought and sold. Men are twice as likely as women to hold a formal job. It is also very difficult for women to access credit, receive bank loans, and even open a bank account.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others have identified a potential solution this problem: women’s economic empowerment. Research shows that when women have greater economic opportunities and better access to financial resources, they face less risk of becoming victims of domestic violence. If women are able to engage in commerce and earn their own paychecks, they will no longer be financially dependent on their partners. Boosting women’s economic opportunities and gender equality leads to gross domestic product growth, increased income per capita, and greater competitiveness for countries, according to the World Bank.“Stronger women means stronger families and a stronger Papua New Guinea,” explains Eli Webb, CIPE’s Country Director for the nation of about 8 million people, located near Australia. “Economic empowerment is enabling women to start and manage their own businesses, escape gender-based violence, and break through cultural and socioeconomic barriers.”

Toward this end, CIPE has launched the Women’s Business Resource Center in Papua New Guinea. It is a State Department-funded initiative that encourages, enables, and rewards women’s entrepreneurship. At the Center, women of all backgrounds can access business services, training, and support — free of charge and in a safe environment with round-the-clock security. Free childcare services are provided so that mothers of young children are not excluded.

Opened in 2016, the Center has already played a powerful role in the lives of hundreds of Papua New Guinean women. In a patriarchal society that treats women as second-class citizens, the Center provides them with crucial support, skills, and information to help them succeed as entrepreneurs. Below are true stories and real names of women who have benefited greatly from services that the Center offers:

Dolarose Namani Trawen, Founder, 3ABCD Tailoring

When Dolarose started her own business three years ago, she had two objectives: to make money and be her own boss. However, she soon realized that there was more to being an entrepreneur than the bottom line. Instead of viewing her competition as a threat, Dolarose decided that identifying an industry problem and finding a solution is a healthier and more sustainable approach.

Through the Women’s Business Resource Center, Dolarose gained valuable information, training and networking opportunities that otherwise would not have been available to her. She participated in the Center’s WECREATE business competition, receiving coaching from Center staff and finishing as one of the top three winners. Also, through the Center, she received the competitive Australia Awards scholarship for a six-week training course to improve women’s entrepreneurship skills.

Dolarose is currently starting a new line of business in which she wholesales unique and traditional Papua New Guinean designs and prints. Her competitors will become her consumers and primary target market. In addition to her goal of making 3ABCD Tailoring a globally recognized brand, Dolarose hopes to empower other Papua New Guinean women to achieve success.

Glenda Bakula Waiutm, Director, Siliva Vogo Limited

Glenda faced a particularly difficult challenge as a woman in the heavily male-dominated construction industry. Through networking and training sessions at the Women’s Business Resource Center, she was able to connect with other women who have encouraged her to remain persistent and focused.

As a result of her determination, Glenda won three contracts with the Bank of PNG, PNG Department of Education, and Telikom, a telecommunications company. Through a networking session at the Center, Glenda learned about the Australia Award scholarship, which she was awarded. Thanks to her involvement with the Center, Glenda is working toward rebranding her company to better align with her vision.

Heather Vanua, Founder, Amaka Small Business Consultancy

Amaka Small Business Consultancy provides coaching services to entrepreneurs who want to turn their ideas into a small business. When Heather first started her business, she struggled to find clients and did not know how to grow her client base. As a new and small player in the business consultancy space, she was in urgent need of more exposure and marketing.

Through the Women’s Business Resource Center, Heather was able to host her first-ever information session regarding Amaka’s services and trainings, and has since hosted two additional information sessions at the Center. She has gained eight women coaching clients, as well as confidence in her ability to coach other women entrepreneurs.

Heather values the Center for creating a space for women to meet one another and share ideas and advice. “I would like to see the Center being made accessible to all women who are planning to start or who have started (their business) but are struggling to grow, including women with disabilities,” she says.

Amanda Tau, Co-Founder, Pacificana

Amanda’s growth as an entrepreneur has undergone a complete shift in mindset and purpose. Initially, she just wanted to provide quality clothing and accessories at an affordable price. But attending training sessions at the Women’s Business Resource Center allowed her to meet like-minded women who possess a passion not just to run a business but to make a difference in their communities.

Amanda found it empowering to meet and work with women entrepreneurs who share similar struggles and successes and to know she is not alone in the entrepreneurial journey. The trainings and networking opportunities helped Pacificana, her clothing, and accessories business, to become a well-known local business. Also through the Center, she received an Australia Award scholarship in women’s entrepreneurship.

Amanda realized along the way that there is so much more to running a business than simply making a profit. Pacificana’s mission is to provide unique cultural designs to make people look good and feel good. Beyond that, Amanda strives to encourage women and young people to become entrepreneurs who contribute positively to PNG society.

Zha Agabe-Granfar, Founder, Verge PNG

Recognizing that PNG has exponentially increased its connectivity to the world through the advancement of consumer technologies, expansion of mobile access, and the proliferation of social awareness through online engagement, Verge PNG works with clients to facilitate engagement with online communities.

In an effort to increase the knowledge of women entrepreneurs, Zha delivered a pro-bono workshop at the Women’s Business Resource Center on improving branding presence in the digital space. The Center gave Zha a platform she wouldn’t otherwise have to share knowledge with other women entrepreneurs.

“From meeting women who want to set up a home business to women who work in large corporations, the Women’s Business Resource Center is a fascinating hub,” says Zha, who runs her branding solutions company out of the Center.

Sarah Yun is a Program Officer for Asia at the Center for International Private Enterprise.