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Why the South Pacific?
The total population in the South-Pacific is approximately 7 million and consists of the following major countries: Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Kiribati.
Most people in the South-Pacific live in rural villages on small islands and live on a GDP of less than US $2,000 per year.
History of Microfinance in the South-Pacific
The Pacific is littered with failed attempts to start microfinance institutions by governments, commercial banks, churches, and volunteer run organizations. There continue to be organizations trying to provide microcredit but these efforts are characterized by handouts and forced solutions.
How do South Pacific Islanders Live?
- Main source of water is rain water (instead of piped water)
- Primary cooking fuel is wood (instead of electricity, gas, or kerosene)
- Primary toilet is a pit toilet
- Head of household is not in paid employment
- Primary lighting is spirit or kerosene based (instead of electricity)
- Children are often not in school full-time
A Poverty of Opportunity
Most families are engaged in a variety of micro-enterprise activities, but success is elusive without access to affordable capital. The commercial banks tend to demand collateral and steady income in order to provide credit. Pawn shops prey on the poor with effective rates often in excess of 500% p.a. Most poor have no access to affordable credit, and have little opportunity of reaching their potential. In Summary: No jobs + No access to credit = No opportunity
Current situation of Microfinance in the South Pacific
There are several recognized constraints to the development of microfinance service providers in the South Pacific:
- Economy: Most countries in the South Pacific have experienced poor macroeconomic performance over the past 10 years. Many obstacles have hindered economic effectiveness, including poor/ineffective government policies, lack of opportunities for economic diversification, small size of the economies, reliance on agriculture, and frequent natural disasters. These present few opportunities for market diversification and specific challenges to microfinance.
- Geography: Most countries are located entirely or partially in the cyclone belt, resulting in frequent natural disasters. The widely dispersed population and location cause the high cost and infrequency of transportation.
- Culture: In many Pacific islands, gifts and loans are regarded as interchangeable, thus loan repayments are difficult to guarantee.
- Political Context: Many countries in the region are politically stable democracies with no political or ethnic strife, including Samoa, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tuvalu. However, some countries do suffer from social and political instability or serious crime such as Solomon Islands. Fiji, although a relatively peaceful country, continues to face political pressure to reinstate democracy after the military coup in 2006.
- Distribution of Financial Networks: Pacific Islands have both formal and informal financial institutions. But few commercial banks are located outside the main centers in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Kiribati. Most Pacific Island Countries rely on credit/ savings cooperatives, credit unions and postal banks.
Despite the challenges faced in providing microfinance services in the South pacific, two providers have achieved success: VANWODS in Vanuatu, and SPBD Microfinance Network in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and Solomon Islands.