Luz offered fascinating insight into gender equality in the Philippines. Luz spoke proudly about the client base of her organisation, St. Elizabeth Community Development Program Inc (SECDEP) which is comprised of 90% women. Passionate about women’s empowerment and serving the poor, Luz manages a microfinance institution with more than 10,000 clients.
When asked to reflect on gender equality issues in the Philippines, Luz spoke of women’s ability and willingness to assert themselves in the workplace. Luz reflected on the gender pay gap in the Philippines, informing the audience “The [remuneration] structures are the same for women and men.” With a pay gap of 30% in the financial services industry in Australia, this insight was revealing for an audience seeking to redress the imbalance in this industry.
Anne Myers, finance and technology industry executive with over 30 years’ experience, gave Australia a C+ for gender equality in the workplace, recognizing that progress had been made but there was much ground yet to cover in the campaign for equality.
Reflecting on interviews conducted with top CEOs for her book Mistakes Happen – Make the Most of Them, Margaret provided expert insight and anecdotes to answer questions from the audience around broadening their expertise and breaking the glass ceiling. Margaret was the first female partner and a national practice leader at KPMG Australia. She was also a member of the Auditing Standards Board in Australia. Margaret’s book demonstrates the power of learning through analysing both successes and failures – the lessons from which she gladly shares. Margaret is also a Director of World Education and chairs our Audit Committee.
Luz recounted the moment she first identified gender bias, citing a childhood experience of wanting to drive a car and being told driving was “the work of a man.” Ever resourceful, Luz persisted, receiving secret driving lessons and surprising her family with her new skills.
Anne Myers was acquainted with the struggle for gender equality from an early age, speaking of the profound frustration her mother felt at having to resign from her CSIRO position after marriage. Anne spoke of the importance of bringing to the attention of our colleagues the unconscious bias which pervades our communication. Often discrimination is a product of unconscious socialization and Anne noted that bringing these issues to the conscious attention of our colleagues in a respectful way can be a positive experience for both parties.
Assessing the progress we have made, Sondra Cortis spoke of dress codes for women that prohibited pant suits, a relic of our not too distant past! Sondra has held a number of senior Finance roles across the Westpac Group. She is currently the Chief Financial Officer of Westpac Pacific and Chairman of the Westpac Bank of Samoa Limited.
The audience left inspired and entertained by our esteemed panelists and wonderful facilitator Amanda Webb. Amanda had the audience laughing and nodding knowingly as our panelists and guests shared their stories. It was an excellent event which highlighted how far we have yet to go to achieve gender equality in the workplace, and in turn inspired all present to strive to achieve that goal. As our speakers left the stage, many discussions abounded regarding what equality might look like and a need to redress expectations placed on men to enable women to thrive.
Good Return would like to thank the panelists for delivering such an enlightening, amusing and inspirational discussion on gender equality. Our panelists generously donated their time and expertise and Clayton Utz provided our guests with breakfast, tea, coffee and a spectacular view! Their hospitality and ongoing support is kindly appreciated.]]>
Both Sao and Mom are rice farmers and mothers to large families. Sao, the eldest, has five children and Mom has six children. Both women feel a large sense of responsibility to provide for their families and secure a steady income. Sao took out a micro-loan, funded by Good Return, for US$400 with the aim of buying a water pump to transport water to her rice paddies. Sao said that after she bought the water pump it was much easier to irrigate her land, which has improved her harvest yield.
In the future, she plans to buy seeds to plant vegetables as she says that vegetables can be sold at a higher price than rice.
For Mom, taking care of her children while also working is a struggle, as her husband is a construction worker who works far from their village and can only return home about once a week.
Mom’s rice field is far away from a water source, so she has also bought a water pump and other farming supplies with her micro-loan. Mom aspires to build a new house, especially with a new kitchen. Her current kitchen is away from the main living area – the walls are made of palm leaves and the floor is dirt. She hopes that improving her farming business will help her to achieve her dream for her home and also support her children to complete university studies.]]>
As I was leaving Australia the Paleo Diet was big news. There have recently been posts on Facebook about the delights of Coco whip a sweet based on coconut water and coconut sugars. So when I arrived in the Kingdom of Tonga, I was curious as to whether Tongans were as crazy about coconuts and coconut products and if they made any money from coconuts.
Coconuts are big in the Kingdom. All components of the coconut are used, either for cooking (scraping and squeezing the flesh to make coconut milk) or making handicraft (the coconut husks) or feeding to the pigs (it is traditional to feed a pig half a coconut per day for every day of its life). Fields of tall straight coconut trees exist all around the island of Tongatapu. In the markets, you can buy a fresh chilled coconut water for $1 TOP. The oil is used as a beauty product on skin and in hair and for massage.
However, apart from a few small containers of oil, I could not find it anywhere for sale. Then I stumbled (rode past) the Tonga National Youth Congress at Sopu and their magnificent coconut oil social enterprise.
Oxfam New Zealand is working with TNYC in this social enterprise which produces virgin coconut oil. The programme provides local people with employment, skills and an opportunity to earn an income. Oxfam has provided equipment including electric coconut graters, which are used to extract the flesh from the nut, and coconut driers, which were installed by villagers and work by roasting the grated coconut flesh on a metal plate over wood-burning fire. The process is very interesting to watch. The dried coconut is weighed before being placed into the new oil press machines, which uses pressure to squeeze the oil from the flesh into special oil collection containers. Organic virgin coconut oil is being sold locally and exported with its partner, Heilala Vanilla. The farmers receive money for the coconuts which they use to support their families. The staff employed at the production site gain skills and earn an income.
On the day myself and a friend dropped in, the TNYC team members were more than happy to show us the process and there was some drying taking place. We were able to pick up a 1.5 litre bottle of organic virgin coconut oil for $18TOP.
A recent post on the TNYC Facebook shows how diversification can happen within a social enterprise. TNYC is using the base product, coconut oil, to make soap. I’ll pop in when they have some ready for sale. It is a shame they are using palm oil and lye in their product, but it is early days. In the meantime, I will use my recent purchase for cooking, body oil and to try some of the other 50 “best uses” for coconut oil.
The Tonga National Youth Congress Incorporated is a non-government organisation that was established in 1991. It integrates all six Island Groups of the Kingdom of Tonga. The organisation is an umbrella body that projects the voice of youths in the Kingdom of Tonga to every level of society from the grass roots to the policy making level.]]>
Located in Cambodia’s south, Prey Kabbas is a district within Takeo province, about a 2 ½ hour dusty drive from Phnom Penh.
The sun was already beating down at 10am as we met with TPC’s local Branch Manager and Credit Officers. March and April are Cambodia’s hottest months with the temperature often making its presence known on your sweaty back at about 40 degrees Celsius. We took some winding roads to the house of TPC Solidarity Group Loan (SGL) client Yorn Srem and witnessed a group meeting.
An SGL loan is provided to people who operate a small business and require up to US$750 for working capital or acquiring fixed assets to improve their business. The advantage of this type of loan to people in developing countries is that no physical collateral is required to secure the loan; instead, a group of 2-7 community members hold joint liability.
At Yorn Srem’s house, the most prominent features were two silk looms filling up half the ground floor. Producing silk garments by hand is a common and important livelihood for women in rural Cambodia. Silk is associated with royalty and many locals wear silk clothes, stitched with intricate golden and silver thread designs, to important occasions such as weddings.
Many members of this loan group produce silk for a living, and receiving the SGL allows them to purchase the tools and equipment necessary to improve production. Yorn Srem, who lives with her husband, Chea Va, and their two-year-old son said that buying and using new weaving equipment meant her production was more efficient and she could spend more time with her family.
The women demonstrated how the silk is made and we captured this on camera.
After the sound of the clacking silk looms faded and the day of talking to TPC clients drew to an end, we packed our camera equipment and hit the road back to Phnom Penh with a refreshing sugar-cane juice in hand, and let the rice paddies guide us home.]]>
The Smart Campaign is a global initiative which exists to ensure strong client-protection practices in the microfinance industry. The Smart Campaign’s Smart Certification acknowledges a gold standard of care across seven client protection principles:
1. Appropriate product design and delivery
2. Prevention of over indebtedness
4. Responsible pricing
5. Fair and respectful treatment of clients, staff ethics, and non-discrimination
6. Privacy of client data
7. Mechanisms for complaints resolution
Certification ensures the interests of financial consumers are safeguarded, keeping clients at the heart of the microfinance industry. This public recognition helps clients and investors select a provider based on their commitment to putting clients first.
Good Return has worked in partnership with TPC to provide technical assistance, strengthening their consumer protection policies and practices throughout the rigorous certification process. Good Return provided technical assistance in the areas of: financial consumer protection, poverty measurement and reporting and financial capability development of clients.
The Good Return Program Team was present at the official award ceremony at the Royal Angkor Resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia. His Excellency KIM Vada, Director General of National Bank of Cambodia, awarded the certificate to TPC’s CEO Mr SOK Voeun, congratulating him on TPC’s commitment to protecting the consumer.
Isabelle Barrès, Director of the Smart Campaign said: “We extend our heartfelt congratulations to TPC. Their willingness to do the work it takes to prepare for and undergo the intensive process of evaluation is indicative of their deep commitment to their clients. They have shown that this bar is achievable in the area of client protection. Their example will catalyze a movement towards certification within the broader industry.”
Good Return’s work seeks to support a safer and stronger microfinance sector in Cambodia, working in conjunction with support from The French Development Agency (AFD). Good Return and TPC are committed to client protection and now, through the Smart Certification program, TPC can proudly demonstrate that commitment. Congratulations TPC!
TPC is a member of the Cambodia Microfinance Association.
A Snapshot of TPC’S Clients
• 84.58% are women (2014).
• 70% of TPC’s clients work in agriculture (2014).
• In 2014 TPC became fifth largest MFI in Cambodia.
• TPC has 170,000 clients with total assets of $110 million.
I was in Laos training a group of trainers from the Lao Microfinance Association and other organisations to deliver training to the sector in microfinance business and portfolio planning. We covered the external environment, understanding client needs, assessing competition, defining products and services, marketing and communications, defining and tracking social goals, planning human resources, financial management and other areas – but what the participants were most enthusiastic about was using a portfolio planning spreadsheet to weigh up the trade-offs between outreach, capital, running costs, liquidity and financial sustainability. Striking the right balance was not easy and it soon became evident that it takes time to establish a viable institution – as some had learned the hard way.
Ms Khammany summed it up - “I wish I had this training before, I could have avoided many mistakes!”
A group of the trainers will commence roll-out of the business and portfolio planning training to a range of microfinance institution managers from across Laos late June. We wish them luck, and we will be there to provide any follow-up support needed.
This happened to us last week in Lao Ngam district in southern Laos, after our staff discovered the tail of a bomb in the garden behind the office where our rural livelihoods team live and work. Although the building had been lived in for many years, we called in a clearance team as a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of our staff.
Sadly this is not an uncommon scenario in Laos, which is still paying the price for its proximity to Vietnam. During the Vietnam war, the US dropped more bombs on Laos than the entire amount of bombs dropped in World War II.
We were fortunate to have access to a clearance team from UXO Laos and only had to wait a few weeks to have the land cleared. Others wait years, or aren’t surveyed or cleared at all due to the sheer scale of the problem. Only a tiny fraction has been cleared to date.
Meanwhile, Lao farmers and children continue to lose limbs and lives on a daily basis. Only a couple of weeks ago, a bomb exploded in the grounds of a local high school – fortunately nobody was hurt on this occasion.
Our rural livelihoods program will be promoting a range of new and improved agricultural techniques to those living in poverty in rural villages in Saravane province – but ensuring land is safe to work on will be a challenge for the program. The UXO clearance teams can only do so much.
World Education, together with other local and international organisations, is working hard to address the problem by engaging in a range of activities including mine risk education, victim medical assistance and livelihood support – with funding from the US government. The Australian government is also funding clearance and victim assistance activities – although the recent decision to cut Australian aid to Laos by a whopping 40% (read more here) means these activities will likely end, leaving a very large problem with no resolution in sight.
After several days of lock-out and clearance of our office surrounds, the UXO clearance team has now reported back. Our team (and all previous occupants of the 2-storey office/residential building) had been walking, gardening and playing soccer on land containing many remnants of ordnance, but no live UXO was found.
Quick facts about UXO in Laos:
The Australian ambassador looked as grim as the rest of us aid and development agency representatives sitting around the table as he outlined, and weighed the consequences of, the Treasurer’s drastic decision to slash by 40% Australian aid to one of the poorest and neediest countries in our region – Laos. Africa fares worse – with 70% of its aid budget gone.
I have been visiting our programs in Laos and was in town when the embassy called a briefing on the budget cuts. It was a glum affair.
If we are to judge ourselves by how we treat the least well off of our neighbours then we as a nation have a lot answer for. Australian overseas aid has plummeted to its lowest level ever.
In his Federal budget speech, the Treasurer claimed that this budget ‘is responsible, measured and fair’.
Certainly our budget needs fixing. But a disproportionate share of cuts, totalling one billion dollars, have been inflicted on those who need it most – and are least able to protest.
Does that sound fair?
Most Australians think we give far more aid than we do. The reality is that our overseas aid program represents a measly 0.22% of GNI, falling far short of the agreed target of 0.7%.
I had spent the previous day out in a rural village in southern Laos, accompanying our team who are busy identifying the poorest households in the community to participate in our government-funded rural livelihoods program. From the original target of providing support to 3,000 households to improve income generation and livelihoods, it is now unclear how many the program will actually reach. We have been told that the previously planned 5-year second phase is unlikely to go ahead. That means thousands of families missing out on much-needed support to improve their incomes and build a better life for themselves.
If, like me, you are outraged that those who can least afford it should bear the brunt of the budget cuts, feel free to share your views with the Treasurer and Foreign Minister. The budget allocations are not yet final and will only be signed off by the Treasurer in late June or July.
With enough public support we may yet be able to claw back some of these unfair cuts.
I am the Community Banker for 14 centres which are located between central Nuku’alofa (the capital of Tonga) and to the east side of Tongatapu (the main island). I conduct 3 to 4 Centre Meetings Monday through Thursday. We also co-ordinate client visits when we are out in the field, to check in with our members about their businesses.
During the Centre Meetings, I collect the loan payments and check the members have completed their financial booklets. I also approve new loans for the members. Once the members repay their loan they can apply for another loan. The loan is approved by the Centre Members first and then I approve the loan before it is disbursed. It is really great to see when a member has repaid a loan and not missed any meetings. When the members complete the financial booklets it gives them an understanding of the cashflow for their business and how to grow the business.
I also conduct training with new members at the office and when I am in the field I support the women to understand how to complete their financial booklets. Each of the centres has an FEF (Financial Education Facilitator) who checks to make sure that the members’ financial booklets have been completed each week.
I really like working with the community, especially the women, and to help build their confidence to manage their loans and managing a good business to support their families. Their businesses include making handicrafts, selling food at the school canteen, and selling firewood.
I am from Vava’u which is the island that is famous for whale watching. I live in Tongatapu with my sister, who has four kids who I love to joke and play with. After work, I help out at home with some chores, including feeding the pig called “Ma”.
I am doing a media course at the moment and when I finish I will be able to create short videos and edit them. I hope to be able to make a video for the SPBD Business Woman of the Year Awards this year for our website.]]>