The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), through its flagship program in Papua New Guinea (PNG) the Women’s Business Resource Centre (WBRC), hosted a virtual event to launch its second survey report on the impact of COVID-19 on 144 women-owned and -operated Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) around the country. There were also discussions about a new business support service developed by CIPE that will be offered to women entrepreneurs across PNG.
During the Nov. 5 event, CIPE PNG Country Director Eli Webb presented the key findings from the survey. It was no surprise that all women entrepreneurs – irrespective of education level and business industry – were struggling, with more than 75% reporting significant problems or suspended businesses. Yet there were also some unexpected findings. A surprising finding was that some survey responses showed signs of economic recovery, with 23.1% of women entrepreneurs noting positive or no impact, which was a higher percentage than expected. The survey also revealed details about the most urgent needs among surveyed women entrepreneurs. The most urgent needs, listed in order of priority, were found to be access to finance, access to markets, business skills trainings, access to information, and business coaching.
Some of the discussions centered around the economic recovery and resiliency of businesses to quickly adapt to business disruptions and how the PNG Government and private sectors should respond.
The event also featured a panel discussion, moderated by Jane Kim, Program Officer from CIPE’s Asia and the Pacific Team, with renowned industry experts including John Pora, the Chairman of the SME Corporation Board. He shared his insight on the efforts undertaken by the private sector to improve customer service via Government agencies through better coordination. Pora also highlighted the importance of the inclusion of a women’s working group that represents women in the informal economy so that they are heard and included in these efforts.
Also on the panel was local designer and businesswoman Annette Sete, the Manager and Creative Director of Lavagirl Fashion Label and Maku Gifts. She shared insight from a business owner perspective on the impacts of COVID-19 on business. Annette explained that her business had seen significant growth since 2019, despite the pandemic. It has been able to create more employment opportunities for people in the community. Her Kokopo-based business also expanded to other regions including Port Moresby, Lae, Goroka and Mt. Hagen. Sete also highlighted some of the areas that require more attention, such as the need for dedicated SME rates to enable SMEs to access finance and the need to make foreign currency more accessible so that the need for imports is minimized and the lack of knowledge on how to access finance and what is available out there for MSMEs.
Some of the discussions centered around the economic recovery and resiliency of businesses to quickly adapt to business disruptions and how the PNG Government and private sectors should respond. Additional comments were shared by local MSME leader, Ernie Gangloff, who noted that:
“Larger businesses were able to adapt to COVID-19 challenges because they had processes and data available to determine the next phase or where to cut costs. They were able to adapt and keep the doors open, whilst SME Businesses were hit hardest as most only had limited revenue streams and when these were impacted by COVID-19, their ability to change course was difficult.”
Although the findings demonstrated that there were significant impacts on business operations, more than half the respondents interviewed indicated that they had strong confidence in the survival of their businesses. This shows how resilient and innovative businesswomen have become during the pandemic. As one WBRC beneficiary who was on the virtual event explained: “It’s heartening to see it’s not all pandemic doom and gloom for women entrepreneurs.”
Following the release of the key findings and recommendations from the first survey commissioned in July 2020, CIPE has been working on shaping some of its programming and design of the WBRC Business Support Programs to build business resiliency for PNG women entrepreneurs. The 2020 survey findings had revealed that the pandemic had not only altered the business environment of PNG but had amplified acute difficulties faced by women-owned and –operated businesses. One such barrier reported by the survey respondents was the lack of access to accurate, timely, and language-sensitive business support resources that would help them endure the crisis.
CIPE has been working on shaping some of its programming and design of the WBRC Business Support Programs to build business resiliency for PNG women entrepreneurs.
CIPE’s initiatives have included a Business Adaptation Coaching Program launched in early 2021 and the formation of a PNG Hotline Coalition. Additionally, a nationwide business support hotline that provides business-specific information to entrepreneurs and Online Haus Buk, a digital library of resources, were officially launched at this event. These efforts are consistent with CIPE’s belief that access to information is a key component to economic empowerment, especially that of women, which requires building linkages between educational, civic, political, and economic empowerment, where civil society and SMEs become a leading force to remove barriers and empower women to shape the future of their own countries.
CIPE’s response to the needs of vulnerable women entrepreneurs impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through commission of this survey was made possible by the incredible support from the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Economic Governance and Inclusive Growth (EGIG) Team.