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The Adventures of a SPBD Tonga Intern
The Adventures of a SPBD Tonga Intern
This blog entry kicks off the first in a series of weekly blogs by Alex Li. He will be working as an intern with SPBD Tonga over the summer.
Malo e lelei (Hello in Tongan),
To tell you a bit about myself, my name is Alex and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. I am passionate about microfinance and social entrepreneurship, in general. Back at my university, I established a student organization called the Auckland Microfinance Initiative, which provides consulting services to microfinance institutions around the world.
Thanks to a scholarship from my university, I will be interning with South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) Tonga over the next 4 weeks. My intern assignments include market research and product development on potential micro-insurance, saving and credit products for SPBD Tonga.
The SPBD Network
SPBD is a network of microfinance institutions that has been working in the South Pacific since 2000. Its mission is to improve the livelihoods of women living in low-income rural through providing microfinance services. SPBD provides its borrowers with opportunity to establish and grow income-generating micro-enterprises, build assets through savings and finance essential expenses such as childhood education.
SPBD Tonga is the leading provider of microfinance services in the Kingdom of Tonga. Its head office, which is where I will be working, is located in Nuku’Alofa – the country’s capital. Since it’s establishment in 2009, it has extended loans to over 5,000 rural women and positively impacted over 30,000 lives – roughly about 27% of the population. SPBD Tonga provides financial services to low-income women in the form of loans, savings and life insurance.
The Kingdom of Tonga is archipelago of 176 islands scattered over 700,000 square kilometers in the Southern Pacific Ocean. Fifty-two of these islands are inhabited by its 103,000 people – with the majority of them living in Nuku’Alofa.
My time as a SPBD Intern
For the first week of my internship, I will be joining a SPBD Tonga field team as they conduct daily visits to ‘borrower centers’ around Nuku’Alofa. For those of you who do not know, ‘borrower centers’ are locations where SPBD Tonga borrowers choose to meet with their field officer every week. During these meetings, the field officer will collect loan repayments and savings, issue new loans and check-up on the borrower’s businesses.
Over the past two days, I have accompanied a team of 4 field officers in their daily borrower center visits. During these visits, I have administered a field survey on behalf of SPBD Tonga, as well as learning about their microfinance model. It has been an eye-opening experience to say the least!
Even though it has only been two days, I could not help but notice the profound impact that SPBD Tonga’s work has on the lives of its female borrowers. As I spoke with women at various centers, I was continually struck by their appreciation for SPBD’s micro-loans and how much they have been empowered by the loans. A common theme was that the micro-loans provided them with a sense of dignity and independence. One borrower told me a story of how, thanks to SPBD, she was able to start a successful roadside shop and pay for her children’s school fees.
That’s all from me for now. I will keep you posted about my adventures as a summer intern over the next four weeks. I know that this internship will be an incredible experience and hope that the work I do with SPBD Tonga will have a tangible impact on the organisation’s ability to fulfill its ambitious mission.
Undergraduate Student at The University of Auckland and President of the Auckland Microfinance Initiative