Institution surpasses $US200m in micro loans

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South Pacific Business Development general manager Elrico Munoz and director Jenny Seeto. Picture: FILE

The South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) Microfinance Network has surpassed $US200 million ($F419m) in micro loans which have been disbursed to tens of thousands of women entrepreneurs since its inception in 2000.

According to a statement from the organisation, the SPBD had disbursed 264,000 small loans to low-income entrepreneurs in the South Pacific, 99 per cent of whom were women.

SPBD Fiji director and general manager Rico Munoz said he was very excited with their success to advance financial inclusion through microfinance to improve the lives of people.

“In addition to our financial services, the continuous financial education that we have implemented over the past eight years has brought about more responsible and forward-looking savings and spending habits amongst our members,” he said.

It was stated the SPBD had provided more than 57,000 loans worth $US35m ($F73m) in Fiji alone and employed 45 staff members while operating six offices across the country. Founder and president Greg Casagrande said since its launch in 2000, the SPBD had been on a journey to provide meaningful economic opportunity to underprivileged women micro-entrepreneurs.

“While it took us 10 years to disburse the first $US10 million ($F20m), today SPBD disburses $US10 million worth of loans in less than 5 months – therefore our impact is also accelerating dramatically,” he said.

“I’m so pleased that we just surpassed $US200 million in loans disbursed.”

The SPBD stated its staff would continue to support members through these challenging COVID-19 times, as it has done since 2000.

The organisation planned to expand and bring its successful microfinance products and services to women across the South Pacific.

It also planned to support them to improve the standards of living for themselves and their families. Loreta Umu was a loan recipient of the SPBD.

According to the organisation, she was a retail shop operator and ran a barbecue business in front of her shop on Savaii, Samoa.

Ms Umu joined the SPBD in 2012 and over the years, her success enabled her to access SPBD’s larger Small-Medium Enterprise (SME) financing – yesterday she received her third SME loan.

The organisation stated with their support, she had significantly improved her housing and living conditions.

“I started out with selling fresh vegetables in front of our house and then sold homemade ice pops and barbecue before expanding my businesses to include my small shop,” said Ms Umu.

“I would not have been able to achieve much without the SPBD because it’s very hard to get a loan from banks.

“I strongly believe that SPBD brought us up to where we are now.

“My family and I used to live in inadequate conditions and to improve our living space, I used my loan. So much has become possible with SPBD.

“The benefit has not only been in terms of finance but also things like savings, financial literacy, leadership and independence.”

The SPBD operates in five countries – Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, employing around 169 professionals.

The SPBD has 17 offices and offers 16 products and services, including credit, savings, death benefits, financial education and business skills training to its members.

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