How digital business and finance education has revived the business of a determined woman entrepreneur after the Covid19 pandemic and sparked a passion for financial inclusion in her village.
It was January 2020 and the world was on lockdown. The Novel Corona Virus had swept over the world striking down millions of people. There was a pandemic on the loose. And it was not just human lives that were affected.
The global economy had come to a standstill. Restrictions on the movement of people meant businesses could not sell goods and services.
The results would be devastating for all businesses, sectors and people alike worldwide.
Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) in Papua New Guinea were the hardest hit.
As the hold of the pandemic slowly eased and the world slowly began to re-open, many businesses would struggle to recover without help.
However, embracing innovation proved to be the game changer for many business owners in the recovery process.
Cecilia Pepson, a businesswoman in the Port Moresby Real Estate Industry, is one such case.
Originally from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ABG) and married to a man from the Western Highlands Province, Cecilia owns and manages the Harbor View Apartments in downtown Port Moresby.
She had a thriving business which she started in the year 2004 providing accommodation to expatriates and tourists.
Before the year 2019 ended, the looming pandemic would see all her foreign tenants packed and headed back home overseas.
Just like many MSME owners, Cecilia was not ready for that. She was not a business professional with a college education to help her respond strategically. She was just an entrepreneur that made an income from renting her apartments. As the first months of 2020 came, her revenue stream had dried up as borders were closed and the shutdown of cities became effective.
What pushed Cecilia into becoming an entrepreneur was her desire to support her husband and afford the best education they could for their children.
Her husband was a former diplomat, Ambassador Gabriel Pepson.
For ten years, her children had been exposed to quality education in Europe where her husband was posted as the PNG Ambassador to the European Union. When his term ended and the family returned to PNG, Cecilia shunned the thought of her children missing out on quality education she knew existed overseas. But to do this, the couple would need a profitable business to support them financially. The Port Moresby real estate market provided exactly what they needed.
The business had helped to accomplish her dreams of providing quality education to her children and a dependable regular flow of income. However, after fifteen (15) years in operation, the implications of the Covid19 pandemic set her business on a downward spiral.
As Cecilia contemplated her next move in 2021, a friend from the Bank of PNG suggested she enquire with CEFI for business advice.
Around that time, CEFI was about to implement “The Training and Mentoring Program for Women-Led Businesses.” An initiative by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) with funding from the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), the program provided virtual training on financial literacy, business planning and debt management, and e-commerce to women entrepreneurs.
An important aim of the initiative was to help women-owned businesses recover from the effects of the Covid19 pandemic.
Cecilia was ecstatic to learn about the training and quickly expressed her interest to attend the program.
Within six months of completing her training, Cecilia breathed life back into her business by applying her newfound business skills. By the end of December 2021, her e-commerce skills had brought in tenants for her apartments.
“Using the knowledge gained from the training, I was able to advertise my business online and now have five new tenants renting my apartments” Cecilia said.
Her confidence has grown as a businesswoman.
The training has also enabled her to connect with other women SME owners. The sharing of ideas and approaches to managing various challenges from others has greatly helped Cecilia with her business.
CEFI continued to track her progress. In early 2022, Cecilia was one of five (5) women entrepreneurs that benefited from debt counseling from Mi Bank initiated by CEFI.
This determined businesswoman is also the President of the Lenoke Women’s Association (LWA) of South Bougainville where she is from.
As her understanding of finance and business management increased, she began to see the importance of financial literacy and desired it for her people.
In collaboration with Mi Bank, Cecilia organised for agents to visit her village in May 2022 enabling 73 people in Lenoke to open bank accounts. Those who had mobile phones also activated mobile banking services after opening an account. This was the first time for people in her village to have access to such bank services this easily.
LWA posted on its Facebook Page in May 2022.
“Banking the unbanked…. 95% of the people in Lenoke have never been to a bank. The sheer thought of standing in long queues for hours, to be sent home every day for a week until full requirements are met is a hindrance. Cash is safely tucked into a secret space of their thatched roof until a fire guts the bush material hut. Sending their money straight into the bank is revolutionary”.
LWA is now Mi Bank’s agent serving the South Bougainville area to open more personal savings accounts.
Apart from growing her business, Cecilia now wants to partner with CEFI to expand financial literacy in her Lenoke constituency. She wants her people to receive virtually retail financial literacy training as she did.
Embracing innovation is having a ripple effect on finance inclusion expansion.