SPBD is a network of microfinance organizations working in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Solomon Islands dedicated to eradicating poverty by empowering women in poor rural villages with the opportunity to start, grow and maintain sustainable, income generating micro-enterprises.

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Adventures of a SPBD Tonga Intern - Part 3

This is the third post in a series of blog posts written by Alex Li, a summer intern with SPBD’s Tonga office. Alex has joined SPBD Tonga to help conduct market research and product development work.
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Mālō e lelei (hello in Tongan),
Despite all the talk about the locals running on ‘Tongan time’, time seems to fly by here at SPBD Tonga. Before I knew it, another week has gone by and I find myself at the halfway point of my internship. Fittingly, I thought that this would be a good time to write another update about my experience in the ‘Friendly Islands’ so far.
As mentioned in my previous posts, I have spent the past 2 weeks travelling to SPBD’s borrower centers and gauging potential demand for various new micro-credit, savings and insurance products.
However, since I have devoted my previous two posts to talking about SPBD’s clients, I decided to mix it up this week and talk about something else – the SPBD team. After spending two weeks working with the team, I have identified three distinct qualities about the SPBD team and culture.
The first thing that strikes me is the team’s dedication to SPBD’s mission of improving the quality of life for low-income Tongan families. Throughout my conversations with the staff, I cannot help but notice their commitment to the organisation’s cause. When I asked them what they enjoy most about working at SPBD, the most common reply was “I really like the fact that my work helps provide opportunities for Tongan women and their families.” A part of this must be by design. SPBD’s routines are designed to constantly remind everyone of our shared mission. For example, every Monday, the team gathers for a morning meeting, where the staff are reminded of the organisation’s service-based mission. I have no doubts that this commitment to the organisation’s mission is one of the main reason why SPBD Tonga has been so successful over the past 4 years.

The second thing that strikes me is that the people at SPBD are extremely collaborative. One thing that immediately stood out to me after joining the team was how everyone was willing to go out of their way to help me. Whether it was help finding information or translating a conversation, I received help every time I asked for it. For example, I have been able to complete my field surveys ahead of schedule by getting the field teams to administer some on my behalf. Their willingness to help has allowed me to finish my research within two weeks, instead of the initial plan of four weeks. This collaborative culture is a refreshing change, especially after spending my last few years in the competitive university environment.

The third thing that strikes me is the friendliness and openness of the SPBD staff. Aside from the constant stream of friendly banter and jokes, I have been welcomed with open arms by the SPBD team. After my first week at work, I was invited to a staff picnic at the beach. The picnic was an amazing experience and I even got to try ‘Pu’aka’ (Tongan roast pig), which I later learned was only prepared on special occasions. This willingness of the SPBD staff to make me feel like a part of the team has made this internship extremely rewarding from both a professional and personal perspective. Needless to say, everyone here at SPBD takes their work very seriously. However, my past two weeks working with SPBD has not felt like… work!

Once again, to anyone reading this blog and considering an internship with SPBD, here’s another
reason to take the plunge. Not only will the work be rewarding, you will also be working alongside an
energetic and inspired group of individuals. Until next time.

Nofo ā (bye in Tongan),

Alexander Li
Undergraduate student at the University of Auckland
President of the Auckland Microfinance Initiative

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