The National newspaper/Pacnews
(Buka) Francesca Semoso is making it her business to empower women and youth on Bougainville to build their business knowledge and skills using simple innovative ideas and the resources in their communities.
Semoso is a firm believer that information is power.
A former broadcaster and politician, Semoso has also worked with the Bougainville Women’s Federation to address violence against women and other issues affecting women on the island.
Semoso is an ardent advocate for more women in political leadership.
However, she confesses that she finds her current role as a business skills development trainer equally rewarding.
“It is a project that I have taken a personal touch to,” she said.
“This training is amazing for me as well.”
“These are my people, I’ve lived with them and done a lot of work with them in terms of advocacy against violence, HIV and AIDS, on getting more women into politics so again coming back and talking to women about entrepreneurship and SME (small to medium enterprises) is great.
“I am a real supporter of SMEs because I’ve lived it.
“I got into Parliament, spoke about it and I continue to preach about it.
“Every day I see women turn something into cash so she can bring something back to the table.
“This is my passion and I know having come from a background that had to manage the little that we had to last.”
Semoso said this role had given her a renewed purpose and direction for her community.
She has teamed up with another well-known Bougainvillean woman leader, Roslyn Kenneth, a long-time social development practitioner and gender equality advocate.
The pair are with Think Place Australia, and together, they were able to bring together 46 aspiring entrepreneurs from neighbouring communities in Buka and Arawa to connect and accelerate innovative business ideas at the first Entrepreneurship and Innovation Course supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from 24-28 October.
The participants who attended the training included teachers, women leaders, and mostly young women and men from Hanahan, Malasang and Lonahang, and Arawa area in the Central Bougainville.
Anne Aru, a participant at the training in Buka, who is a baker and teacher, rose to the challenge of improving her business and financial literacy skills at the training.
“I came here so I can learn to be a better businesswoman. I have had better days where I have sold more trays of scones but have been inconsistent with my sales,” she said.
“I hope at this training I can connect and learn from the trainers and other participants on how to improve my business.”
Aru said time was of the essence, from the time she woke up, mixing the flour, making the fire and waiting for the dough to rise, all while preparing for her lessons and daily chores.
Her goal is to eventually buy a proper oven in order to bake more scones.
Stella Larrin is a human rights defender from Malasang No.3, who together with her husband, moulds and sells concrete flowerpots.
Larrin does this for the survivors of domestic violence and other women who need her support.
“I hope that I will be able to take away tips from this training to share with the women who come to me for help,” she said.
“I have been able to do this in the past where I have helped women start a savings account.”
Larrin believes these types of trainings are crucial in Bougainville communities where many women are not financially independent.
For James Mamak, he believes introducing the saving culture to his children early on is important.
His entire family have a product they sell at their home. His wife, children and him all sell something and keep a piggy bank to save money.
He hopes his training will add to what they already have.
He said teaching young people to raise money and create small business opportunities was important given the limited job opportunities on the island.
The training is set for participants to foster employment and entrepreneurial skills to be able to have access to utilise business development skills and services from the Bougainville Innovation Hubs.
Its aim is to develop and sustain viable micro, small and medium enterprises across Bougainville.
The Bougainville Innovation Hubs project is funded by the Government of Japan through a tripartite agreement between UNDP and Autonomous Region of Bougainville (AROB).
Through the Innovation Hubs, women and youth from Bougainville can begin their entrepreneurial journey, improve their financial literacy, and look to resource themselves with the knowledge and skills towards participating in a digitally focused future.