Four Inspiring Women from the Land of the Unexpected – Papua New Guinea

T. Keyzom Ngodup, a development entrepreneur and Country Technical Advisor on Financial Inclusion at the United Nations Capital Development Fund, talks to The NextWomen about what she learned from four daring women entrepreneurs and leaders in Papua New Guinea, and how the presence and successes of these women contribute to Papua New Guinea's overall inclusiveness and equity.

The spectacular resource-rich island of Papua New Guinea – with its high mountains, roaring rivers, fertile valleys and magnificent fjords – is colloquially referred to as the ‘land of the unexpected’. 

From a GDP Per Capita of USD 654 in 2000 to its exponential growth at USD 2,184 in 2012, PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neil also recently celebrated its 19 billion gas project’s first liquid natural gas shipment to East Asia.  

However, human development indicators remain alarmingly low, at 147 out of 180 countries according to the UN Human Development Report.  In midst, is the parlous position of women. 

Culturally, women are held in high esteem; for example in the province of Oro, women are custodians of the intellectual property that encompasses their unique tapa (made from bark of mulberry trees) and tattoo designs.

However, growth and modernity in Papua New Guinea has brought into sharp focus the challenges of inequity between those with opportunities, and the large majority of women with aspirations but no opportunities.

Women in PNG face tremendous violence, a pervasive phenomenon in the home, the community and institutional settings.  

Although the government is taking important steps to address violence against women (including the election of three women, the highest number since independence, to a parliament of 111 in the 2012 elections), much of the enforcement is still capricious. 

In such a context, some women are daring to go, contributing as architects of a more inclusive and equitable Papua New Guinea.  Here is a snapshot of four such women.

Amanda Donigi, an enterprising young Papua New Guinean is the founder and Editor of Stella, a fashion and lifestyle magazine for women in the Pacific.

Published monthly, Stella started as a personal endeavor to challenge the stereotypes levied on Pacific women by mainstream media. 

Since starting in 2012, it has now grown to over 20,000 avid readers. The trendy Magazine represents a growing part of PNG population - the young breed of educated Papua New Guineans who are daring to be different, to embrace the changing times and apply their knowledge and experiences to help other like-minded women across all levels of PNG society to not be afraid of change. 

Sylvia Pascoe is another successful local woman entrepreneur in PNG. She is founder and CEO at Pascoe Promotions. She saw the need to provide quality and creative event concepts in the market, and in 2011 started Pascoe, which now boasts clients such as Exxon Mobil and the Government of PNG, delivering creative and unique event solutions.

Despite being a successful business woman, Sylvia has faced harassment, particularly with odd working hours in Port Moresby rife with petty opportunistic crime.  

With Pascoe Promotions commanding a growth rate of 25%, Sylvia is a remarkable entrepreneur who continues to negotiate her space well in PNG’s ‘big-man’ syndrome.

Leslie Taviri, currently General Manager at a publically listed company Origin Energy and Chairperson of the Business Coalition for Women, started her career a decade ago as an Analyst. The recently established Business Coalition for Women aims to level the playing field for PNG women. The idea for a coalition came from listening to the concerns of the private sector related to challenges faced by women, employees, managers, and business owners, recognizing that equality is not simply an ethical move – it’s an economic imperative. 

Janet Sape, recently received the much awaited license from the Central Bank, Bank of PNG, to transform NGO PNG Women in Business into a non-bank financial institution Women Microbank. As a successful business woman who founded City Mother’s Foundation in 2006 and PNG Women in Business, Janet has helped 13,000 women with financial literacy trainings and access loans. 

According to Janet, more than 80% of PNG women live in rural areas where there’s no access to banking or finance. The vast majority of these women work in the informal sector, as tailors, farmers, fisher-women, where they have no financial security and are very vulnerable.

Women can’t inherit property and they rely on their husband’s signature for security if they want to take out a small loan.

The Women Microbank aims to offer financial services customized to the need of low-income women. In order to inculcate savings habits, women will be required to do compulsory financial literacy training and to have a track record of at least six month savings before accessing loans. 

With such women coming to the forefront, PNG has its best chance of making a break for meaningful opportunities for women. 

T. Keyzom Ngodup is a development entrepreneur and has worked in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and is serving as senior advisor to the Central Tibetan Administration on entrepreneurship.  She is Country Technical Advisor on Financial Inclusion at the United Nations Capital Development Fund.  In Pakistan, she is co-founder of educationdata.pk, an initiative by Developyst and works as a consultant for the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund.

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