Women-Led Businesses Lead a Stronger Recovery in Vanuatu
Recovering better by supporting women-led businesses
The Vanuatu Resilience Business Council (VBRC), a Connecting Business initiative Member Network, decided to work with women business owners to support a resilient recovery.
The Phoenix Women in Business project targets strong women in the communities to accelerate economic recovery and job creation. Through business and leadership capacity development as well as grants, women business owners have been equipped to grow their businesses and impulse positive social change in their communities.
When Cyclone Pam devastated the Vanuatu islands in 2015, Feby Mai Ben lost almost everything she owned. Her house, located near the beach, was completely wiped out, buried under the sand. With her husband, they had to rebuild everything from scratch. The family now depends almost exclusively on Feby’s earnings as a painter and tailor. Using a manual sewing machine, Feby makes traditional colorful dresses that are popular among inhabitants of Vanuatu island, and a key part of the local fashion economy. Besides her sewing business, Feby is also a respected local leader, actively engaged as a spokeswoman in workshops and meetings for her community.
“While I have unique hand-painting skills and I can sew, it’s the new business skills that have really transformed what I do” says Feby. She learnt to determine the right pricing for her work, and thereby grew her business beyond what she had thought possible.
If you want to eat traditional food from Vanuatu, Riso restaurant in Port-Vila is the place to go. Sophie Tariliu cooks nalot (a traditional puree of boiled root vegetables), ginger fish soup or bunia (vegetables and meat stewed in banana leaves) using mostly fire and stone.
Sophie and her husband opened their restaurant in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, pushed by the economic crisis experienced in the island. Because she uses locally grown ingredients, Sophie’s business is supporting a network of local farmers and producers. The place has managed to attract a crowd of loyal customers enthusiastic about its unique concept.
“I love sitting with the customers to chat,” says Sophie. “So many people come and share their ideas about local food. It’s constantly giving us inspiration for new recipes to introduce to our customers.”
A mother of five and a grandmother, Sophie is a strong independent woman who is determined to manage her business on her own. Through the VBRC Phoenix Project, Sophie was able to purchase better kitchen equipment and larger refrigeration capabilities to take her restaurant to the next level.
Leilani Vatu never went to a baking school. She learned to bake and decorate wedding and birthday cakes by watching videos on social media, and gets her clients through her Facebook page.
The youngest participant of the VBRC’s Phoenix Project, Leilani benefited greatly from the training, and Foxy Cakes, her home-based business, took off. "If I can do it, then you can do it!" she says. “I pay school fees for all of us, food and everything. With the programme, I learned about finance, how to market our business. The other women in the programme have been very helpful too. They are encouraging me.”
Leilani dreams of opening her own cake shop and is now training other family members to support her in her business.
Chanelle Bjornum Motuliki is passionate about health and natural products. In 2020, she created her own cosmetics brand, Tehya Skye Vanuatu, using locally sourced ingredients to create vegan, chemical-free products. She started selling her goods to her friends and family, but lacked financial and business skills to grow her business. The VBRC’s Phoenix Project offered a wide range of business and life skills, including financial management, leadership development, and marketing. Chanelle’s dream is to expand her business and start selling her products in local shops, hotels and eventually overseas, while training and employing people in Vanuatu.
A first cohort
The first cohort of Phoenix Women saw nine local women business owners present their business plan as part of a graduation ceremony. Having worked with five coaches across different thematic areas over the course of six months, they represent a success that VBRC hopes to replicate with an extension of the project to new groups of women from the islands.
The Phoenix Women in Business program is implemented by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) on behalf of the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC), a CBi Member Network. This project is supported by funds from the Peace and Humanitarian Fund and technical support from UN Women. Learn more about the project here, and follow the VBRC on Facebook.
The Connecting Business initiative (CBi) is working with local business networks such as the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC) to support the private sector before, during and after crises. If you are part of a national business or private sector network interested in collaborating with CBi, please reach out to email@example.com.