Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSME) are a core component of economies around the world. To celebrate this role, annually on June 27 the UN marks MSME Day. This year, DT Global is highlighting the work of our New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT)-funded program, Business Link Pacific (BLP), as it champions innovation and entrepreneurship in Pacific Island Countries. Here, we talk with two female entrepreneurs in Fiji, Safuguta Janif of the Fusion Hub and Dipti Sharma of Eventuros Fiji, to discuss their entrepreneurial journey and new working relationship developed in partnership with the BLP program and the yher Pacific Partnership.
The Fusion Hub was born out of Sagufta Janif’s desire to provide a solution to Fiji’s growing waste problem, create a more sustainable Fiji, and contribute to the economic empowerment of Fijian women. The Fusion Hub specializes in reusing and upcycling waste products (e.g., tyres, pallets, plastic and glass bottles, and textiles) sourced from landfills, garage sales, donations, and beach clean-ups into quality furniture and high-end home decor pieces, some of which decorate Fiji resorts and hotels. Sagufta was recently awarded the 2020 Commonwealth Youth Award for the Pacific region for her social enterprise and was the winner of Women in Business’ (Fiji) award for Aspiring Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019.
Sagufta believes that including women in combatting the global waste crisis will lead to the gradual change of attitudes towards consumption and the way waste is managed. As she explains, in remote villages in Fiji, women and children, not men, are largely responsible for purchasing domestic goods and disposing of subsequent waste.
The Fusion Hub primarily employs single mothers to carry out design and manufacturing work. Raised by a single mother herself, Sagufta knows firsthand the economic struggles single mothers in Fiji face. “In the Pacific Islands if you are a woman and if you are all alone, if you don’t have the right education background, you are disadvantaged economically. I wanted to bring these women up,” she says.
To help do so, The Fusion Hub runs a 2 week “Waste-2-Worth” capacity building program for women in which they learn basic joinery skills, common upcycling tips and tricks, basic upholstery, power tool usage, colour schemes, and design techniques. After successfully completing the training program, they are either offered full-time employment with The Fusion Hub or the opportunity to start their own upcycling business and become part of The Fusion Hub supply chain.
Sagufta currently employs seven women, three of whom work onsite and the rest work from home so that they can take care of their kids. The Fusion Hub works hard to give the women a sense of responsibility and ownership over the design and manufacturing process, employing women who are truly passionate about creating social impact.
When thinking about the role gender has played in her entrepreneurial journey, Sagufta said that at first she wasn’t fully aware that it would play such a large role in the success of her enterprise. “I don’t think I ever thought of gender as a challenge but definitely when I was trying to find finance and look for grants, when they saw that it’s a woman coming in doing the pitch for a furniture-making business, dealing with waste in the Pacific it’s like a no-no, women cannot do that, it’s not what they are ‘supposed’ to be doing, so trying to break that stereotype is very difficult.”
In mid-2019, Sagufta was part of a group of female entrepreneurs who participated in the first yher Pacific Islands Accelerator program to support women-led impact ventures that are improving the lives of people living in poverty across the Pacific region. After the first yher Pacific Islands Accelerator took place in Fiji, Business Link Pacific announced a new partnership with yher Pacific. As part of this partnership, BLP provides business advice and networking opportunities. In Sagufta’s case, one of the main takeaways from the yher Pacific sessions was her need for a stronger digital presence, including the creation of a website and a strategic marketing plan aimed at increasing revenue generation. Through the BLP-yher Pacific partnership, Sagufta met Dipti Sharma, owner and founder of Eventuros Fiji, an experienced digital marketing agency and BLP-approved business advisor.
Dipti Sharma launched Eventuros Fiji in 2017. Eventuros specialises in digital marketing, web development, event management, web hosting and design, e-commerce, copywriting, SEO, and social media marketing. Dipti has been a finalist twice in the Women in Business Aspiring Entrepreneur of Year category, and in August 2019 she was awarded with an Asia Women Leaders citation by the Chief Marketing Officer Asia.
Dipti explains that there are both very few digital marketing firms and very few women in the digital marketing sector in Fiji. “When I started Eventuros, our focus was mostly on event management. We are so glad that at this point in time, that we have Business Link Pacific and all these people coming in to provide guidance,” says Dipti.
Dipti’s key advice for fellow female entrepreneurs is that “It’s all about time management. I also want to tell all the girls out there that, don’t ever think that if somebody tells you you can’t do it […], ‘maybe I can’t do it.’ No. You have the whole potential in you […] Sometimes when you can’t find a chair, you’ve got to make a chair for yourself to sit down.”
After meeting through BLP, Eventuros is assisting The Fusion Hub team to enhance their brand using digital marketing tools which will lead to an increase in brand and product/service awareness, and in turn generate more sales of The Fusion Hub’s bespoke upcycled products.
“When I started working with Eventuros, Dipti and her team understood the urgency of supporting these women and supporting the communities that we are working with,” explains Sagufta.
Both Sagufta and Dipti are excited about the new possibilities for business growth in Fiji with the use of BLP services:
“I think the BLP subsidy (grant) is great because having access to those business advisors is quite expensive for an SME. I personally think that BLP has created a space for all the aspiring entrepreneurs and all the SMEs so that we can grow. As an entrepreneur, you wear all the hats. You’re your own marketing person, you’re your finance person, you’re your HR person, you’re everything, and sometimes we get bogged down and it demotivates us. Having business advisors come in and take that pressure away from you really helps you focus on the other aspects of your business,” says Sagufta.