Relishing a rare opportunity

Local basket maker eyes overseas market

One of the key objectives of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) is to build and improve the capacity and ability of local businesses to achieve their full potential in business, and therefore in contributing to growing the economy.

To achieve this, the Chamber works with Government partners, interest groups and organizations both national and regionally to work through challenges local businesses face.

One such partnership SICCI has utilized is with the Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) New Zealand.

Over the past three (3) years SICCI has been facilitating the participation of locally owned businesses in the PTI New Zealand annual ‘Path to Market’ programme which is a multi-stage activity also known as the Pacific Path to Market business capability building programme.

One part of the activity, is where New Zealand businesses are brought into direct contact with Pacific businesses and their products, giving the former an opportunity to meet the people behind these businesses, and the latter a taste of the New Zealand market and to personally explore and potentially establish deals.

This year five local Solomon Islands businesses travelled to New Zealand from 6-10 April.

One of them was Charlie Sango from Bethlehem village in Central Kwara’ae, Malaita Province.

For Mr Sango, this was a rare opportunity he says would not have been possible if he hadn’t decided to fill in the membership form and become a SICCI member last year, 2018.

In New Zealand, Mr Sango showcased a range of traditional handmade cane baskets, locally known as loyacane woven handicrafts.

“For small businesses like mine opportunities such as this are very rare, even more because when we are based in the rural areas,” he said.

“That is why I really appreciate the Chamber of Commerce, and for me, their Export Industry Development Department who helped me, enabling me to show case my products overseas,” a satisfied Mr Sango, said upon his return from New Zealand on Thursday (11 April 2019).

Basket weaving has been a family business started by his father, and Mr Sango has been involved in what he does for 21 years now.

Most of that time, the products were sold at the community level, which Mr Sango says was just enough to meet the needs of his family and other commitments.

About five years ago he decided to commercial the idea into a business, and started selling the baskets in Auki, occasionally travelling to the capital Honiara to sell his products.

Today, Mr Sango is the proud owner of RLO Bethlehem Handy Craft, a financial member of the Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a family business that initially started with my nuclear family,” he reiterated.

The impact from his small business has reached outside of his immediate family however, with other villages who have begun basket-making apart from his own community.

“It has a bigger impact on our livelihood. It helps us in terms of paying school fees and building good houses for our families,” he said.

Mr Sango learnt about the work the Chamber of Commerce does in representing small businesses during his visit to a SICCI stall set up during the Police Open Day in Rove, West Honiara in September 2018.

Mr Sango was at the Police Open Day to sell his baskets to members of the public attending the event where he found himself talking to SICCI’s Export Industry Development Officer (EIDO), John Paul Alasia and Media and Communications Officer, Philip Lilomo who had explained the work of the Chamber, and some of the goals in supporting business it was established to deliver.

He also heard about the practical benefits of becoming a member of the Chamber.

A week later, Mr Sango showed up at the SICCI office the Hyundai Mall in central Honiara to complete formalities and become a member.

He was invited as a member of the Chamber, to attend the PTI NZ Path to Market workshop which was run on 18 October last year in Honiara.

The one-day workshop was part of the PTI New Zealand multi-stage programme, aimed at selecting local businesses to participate in a subsequent trade mission to New Zealand.

Although Mr Sango is not currently exporting internationally, he says recent sales in Honiara were about 100-150 baskets.

From selling his homemade loyacane baskets along the streets in Auki and in Honiara, Charlie Sango from Bethlehem in Central Kwara’ae, Malaita Province had the opportunity to showcase his products at the Path to Market tradeshow in New Zealand and explore new markets overseas. Pictured, Mr Sango with samples of his product before flying of to New Zealand last week. PHOTO: SICCI Media.

He went to New Zealand therefore, with the hope to find markets for his products there.

And participating in the Path to Market programme from the 5th-10th April in New Zealand has given Mr Sango the opportunity to explore this market for his products.

China’s biggest online market, who had sent representatives to the Path to Market, met with Mr Sango, and they expressed keen interest in Mr Sango’s homemade loyacane baskets.

“That was the whole aim of going to New Zealand for this programme and I’m really encouraged by the fact overseas buyers are showing interest in my work.

“I will also follow up on this online marketing offer because what I want in the near future is to start sending my products overseas,” Mr Sango said.

SICCI’s EIDO Officer, John Paul Alasia, led the Solomon Islands delegation to New Zealand.

He also commended the five local businesses who showcased their products at the Path to the Pacific Trade Show at The Cloud, the Auckland-based venue.

“This was a great opportunity for our local businesses to test market their products and learn from their experience in New Zealand.

“The capacity-building opportunities such as learning how to better market products through developing values-based pitches, this helped the businesses identify for themselves how to make their products even more attractive.

“Being able to directly interact with the public and potential buyers at the Path to Pacific Trade Show was another positive feature of the programme,” Mr Alasia said.

PTI NZ has had more than 300 companies in the region go through the Path to Market programme over the past 4 years.

The 7-stage programme starts with an in-country workshop. Potential exporters are identified and invited to attend the Auckland part of the programme that includes a showcase event. This year, that showcase event was the Path to the Pacific Trade Show at The Cloud on April 6.

By Philip Lilomo, Media & Communications, SICCI Media