SBN’s First Business Trip draws in Samoa’s diaspora

The Samoa Business Network’s (SBN) first official Samoa Business Trip 14-18 November prompted a notable response from Samoa’s diaspora. 

The delegation in Samoa.

From the outset SBN’s Business Trip attracted enquiries from communities living in New Zealand, American Samoa, Australia and the Hawaii, all ready to heed the call. It was not entirely unexpected for SBN Chairs Jackie Curry (SBN Samoa) and Laura Keil-Hall (SBN NZ) respectively. Samoa Business Network (SBN) provides a platform for Samoan Businesses, Entrepreneurs and Professionals to network and collaborate. SBN was started in New Zealand in 2012 and there are now branches in Samoa and Australia and another planned for American Samoa.

SBN’s first Business Awards in October attracted messages from Samoan business people living as far as San Francisco and other countries wanting to enter or attend.

The huge international interest highlighted the desire of many overseas Samoans wanting to give back to their homelands, leading SBN to open the door wider for 10 business entrepreneurs and eight businesses to join the delegation.

Pacific Periscope spoke with SBN’s Madam Chairs Ms Curry and Mrs Keil-Hall, the SBN Business delegation, the response from Samoa’s local private sector, Government officials and community members.

“We had really good engagement with relevant Government departments and Ministers,” Ms Keil-Hall said.

Their first step was closely working with the recently appointed Samoa Trade & Investment Commissioner Magele Mauilliu Magele, inviting him to lead his first business delegation from New Zealand to Samoa.

Expressions of interest came from a younger demographic of under-45s business entrepreneurs. Amongst them professional speaker, coach and Ex-Kiwi Rugby League player, Brisbane based Sione Faumuina and New Zealand based Entertainer & Professional MC Tofilau Yolande Ah Chong.

The delegation had two Brisbane, one Melbourne, three New Zealand, and four American Samoa based companies. They were mostly from service industries from accounting and business, wholesale, distribution and marketing; freight and supply chain management, fashion manufacturers, representatives from the American Chamber of Commerce and a waste and water solutions company.

Making connections between SMEs, government, relevant individuals and organisations in Samoa was one of the main objectives. Finding potential partnerships was another.

“We’re not pushing them to form partnerships, but we’re bringing like-minded people who want to do business in Samoa,” Ms Keil-Hall said.

The groundwork was laid in August in stakeholder meetings with Samoa’s Government officials.

A key success factor was bringing in the NZ Samoa Trade Commissioner who liaised directly with Ministry officials. As a result, Samoa Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade endorsed the business trip and invited Private Sector organisations and their members to sign up for the three-day programme and meet the SBN delegation.

Samoa’s private sector responded from the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel and the Taumeasina Island Resort to at least 17 associate and supporting sponsors. The Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Health Afioga Tuitama Dr Leao Talalelei Tuitama participated in the programme with a range of Samoa’s Government Ministers, Businesses and organisations.

The delegation had presentations on Samoa’s Business Environment, Investment opportunities and sector opportunities in ICT and Fashion industries. There was a mini-business showcase from local businesses, NGO’s and Government organisations as well as networking and business site visits.

The feedback was very positive, Mrs Keil-Hall and Ms Curry said. Overall the Samoan private sector was very welcoming and receptive towards the business mission.  Samoa’s diaspora is underestimated, said Mrs Keil-Hall. As the Samoa Business Network in New Zealand, they were not limited by geographical boundaries. They could widen the pool internationally to accept entrepreneurs outside New Zealand which resulted in a younger demographic of very innovative entrepreneurs, familiar with online business environments.

However, they were faced with overcoming preconceptions and stereotypes, reassuring locals their aim was not to compete with local businesses, but to bring like-minded people in uplifting the economy for the betterment of Samoa said Ms Keil-Hall.

Including American Samoa also highlighted a commonly held misconception, of the connection ‘across the ditch’ between Samoa and American Samoa. Historically, Samoa has focused on New Zealand and Australia. Whilst for American Samoa it has been the USA. But having the American Chamber of Commerce on the delegation, business opportunities between the two could be developed in future.  SBN were also invited to set up a branch in American Samoa.

More Samoan professionals living internationally could also be used to deliver various projects and programmes. Many Samoan professionals, run successful well-established businesses, but are not always in the loop with opportunities to bid or deliver projects and consultancy in Samoa.  “We have awesome qualified people who can add value,” she said.

Training and capacity development is another area that could be delivered by Samoa’s professional diaspora Ms Curry said.  “They can relate to people in our Samoan language and understand our people’s context, living in the islands,” she said.

The Samoa Government, through the Scientific Research Organization of Samoa (SROS) also has several researched and tested products such as taro whiskey, breadfruit flour, frozen breadfruit, taro chips and avocado oil and some have yet to be taken up by local businesses to manufacture, distribute and export. If local businesses did not take the opportunities, they could potentially be available for Samoa’s diaspora to take up, Ms Curry said.

For now, though, SBN is working towards opening an Auckland office in the short term and a distribution centre, for Samoan product distribution, in the long term. They are also planning to run business trips every second year and host the SBN Business Awards in 2020, but that’s all still to be confirmed as they wind down for a much-needed holiday break.

For more information please contact Ian Furlong, PTI NZ Trade Development Manager on ian.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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