Ni Sa Bula Vinaka and Good Evening to you all.
I am delighted to be here amongst you all to celebrate the growth and accomplishments within Fiji’s Small and Medium Enterprises industry.
The small and medium entrepreneurs or SMEs of this country are the engines of our economy. The income you generate from your businesses and the jobs you create contribute to the economic development of our nation. You certainly contribute to rural development, poverty alleviation, empowerment of our youths and women, and the diversification of our agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors. You are, without a doubt, all winners.
To the award sponsors and partners of FDB, indeed, you all are Development Ambassadors and the Fiji Development Bank has correctly bestowed this title on you all.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am told that the objective of the FDB’s National Small and Medium Enterprise Awards is to promote and encourage SME development through the recognition of successful and innovative entrepreneurs.
I believe the awards also serve to remind us of the crucial role that SMEs play in developing our economy. And this is true for any country.
I am proud to note that FDB’s National SME Awards have been strengthened this year to contribute towards progressing global goals such as Sustainable Development and Climate Change as reflected in FDB’s Strategic Plan.
As Fiji’s President and Head of State, I feel that I have this very important responsibility to urge you all to embrace the common goal of driving for change, as a nation, that promotes inclusive, green and sustainable development for all Fijians.
Irrespective of the spheres of life we are all involved with, the overarching goal for us as a nation is to promote inclusivity, equality, resilience and sustainability, amongst other principles of good governance practices.
It is no surprise then that my curiosity and excitement grew when I was informed about three new and important awards introduced this year.
First of its kind for Fiji, is an award that recognises SMEs that are responsive to climate change by adopting mitigation and adaptation practices in their business operations.
Impacts of climate change are inevitable. On one hand, businesses need to build resilience to the impacts of climate change to be able to sustain their businesses and, on the other hand, businesses need to accommodate the changing needs of their customers experiencing the impact of climate change. This results in the diversification of goods and services.
FDB – congratulations for being accredited as the National Direct Access Entity under the Green Climate Fund. With this, FDB becomes the key agency in Fiji for coordinating climate action. I wish you all the best with this huge responsibility for driving cooperation between the public and private sector to attract investment in climate-resilient projects and finance the growth of enterprises that sustainably develop our natural resources.
Also, for the first time, ladies and gentlemen, the Special Awards category recognises SMEs that have shown exceptional effort in progressing the Sustainable Development Goals locally. In this category is the Rookie Youth Entrepreneur award, the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year and the Most Resilient SME Post-TC Winston.
Ladies and gentlemen, Tropical Cyclone Winston was dreadful. Winston left some of us with scars that will haunt us forever, especially those who lost their loved ones. Not only did our Nation lose 44 lives, we sustained damages equivalent to one third of our GDP. We were all affected in one way or another. Some of us have yet to fully recover. Bouncing back is a challenge, but our strong and resilient Fijian SMEs have gone through a period of resuscitation; adapting lessons learned into strategies and are able to reach even greater heights.
This evening, one SME will be awarded as the Most Resilient SME Post-TC Winston. I congratulate all of you who had applied for this award. Thank you for your bravery and resilience. We are proud of you and your show of confidence.
Fiji, ladies and gentlemen, is a young country with half of our population below the age of 28. Youth entrepreneurs stimulate innovative growth and the development of our economy. And for this, they must be recognised. We are proud of your heroism in taking this bold step of entering the entrepreneurship arena.
I urge you to continue on the path of prosperity to ensure that you reach your goals and dreams.
As a nation, we will continue to empower our youths to be agents of progressive change by providing platforms such as these and the Young Entrepreneur Scheme (YES) initiative recently launched by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism.
We are a nation that promotes women empowerment, providing them opportunities for greater participation in leadership and decision-making across all sectors. Promoting gender equality in decision-making and income levels is in accordance with international conventions and is crucial for sustainable development.
Our Government supports the freedom of all women to participate in any profession they choose. To all women entrepreneurs here, I urge you all to continue making changes in your community, be innovative and daring, grow your businesses to greater heights, not only for yourselves, but for your future generations too.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you are all aware, you directly contribute to providing a sound platform for future prosperity for all Fijians. Fiji has huge potential which is evident through the rapidly expanding economy, improved infrastructure and institutions and our inclusive socio-economic development status quo.
We must reinforce and build upon these strengths and expand the development frontier to further grow our economy and Fiji as a nation.
We have a very forward-looking National Development Plan, which is designed to ensure that all Fijians realise their full potential as a nation and are empowered to contribute towards building a fast growing, resilient economy that is inclusive and progressive.
The Plan promotes an entrepreneurial culture by a number of initiatives put in place by the Fijian Government. These include increased provision of finances available through Government-funded programmes, credit guarantee schemes, and financing support through FDB. This Plan, ladies and gentlemen, mainstreams major national development challenges and issues that are cross-cutting in nature. These include green growth, climate change adaptation and disaster risk management, as well as human resource development, employment and productivity and poverty alleviation.
The category branding of these awards reflect on these and our many commitments in making our national economy one that is sustainable and progressive.
The category of Developing SME, which are SMEs that excel in their respective sectors of agriculture, manufacturing, wholesale and retail, tourism and professional services are, indeed, our economy’s core sectors. Sustainable agriculture is essential in ensuring food security and improved nutrition.
SMEs that operate in domestic agriculture and fisheries are critical in contributing towards meeting the national food demand. By recognising your efforts in increasing domestic food production and supplying fisheries products, we also encourage you to set examples for your fellow Fijians by raising awareness on best farming practices and those that promote organic farming practices. Harness the availability of technology to increase efficiency in your farms, but also remember to simultaneously care for your environment.
The Government and FDB will continue to empower farmers through financial assistance, but the onus is on you to ensure that you employ agricultural land-use practices that lead to improved farm efficiency that promote sustainability in resource utilisation.
Furthermore, Fiji’s National Development Plan aims to develop Fiji as a manufacturing hub of the Pacific. Our educated and skilled workforce, competitive wage rates and enabling environments will see the manufacturing sector thrive in years to come.
To our SME manufacturers, we encourage you to excel in your sectors with more value addition and expansion into new areas of manufacturing. We are also excited and proud whenever we see Fijian-made products in stores, both here at home and abroad.
In the next five years, our tourism industry will expand to niche segments such as sports, cruise, wedding and honeymoon tourism, international conference and entertainment events, including wellness tourism. There is great potential for growth for SMEs in this area as your businesses will support the service flow of the large-scale hospitality developments and related facilities.
I am told that FDB has a Green Conscious themed award as well. Well done. Fiji has a Green Growth Framework through which we promote green manufacturing by providing incentives for industries to adopt green manufacturing processes.
These initiatives include green energy, effective and environmentally friendly transport systems, green building construction guidelines, technology advancement and new techniques for solid waste management — all for the purpose of promoting a clean and green environment under our National Development Plan. We encourage all businesses to adopt more environment-friendly technology and practices, use water resources sustainably, and strengthen conservation of biodiversity and resources for our future generations.
Ladies and gentlemen, being business owners must not be easy. There are numerous external factors such as changing market trends, new competitors in the market or even extreme weather conditions that leave businesses, especially small businesses, vulnerable. As SMEs become more active in the economic strata, their ability to manage risk becomes more important. They must be prepared for disruption.
Businesses must be resilient and, more so, entrepreneurs must be strategists in this area. A multi-sectoral approach to risk management and monitoring mechanisms are essential business safeguards that all business, regardless of their size, must have in place.
These awards strongly promote inclusivity and green sustainable development. All businesses must integrate strategies in their operations that uphold practices that contribute to achieving inclusivity and green sustainable development of our economy.
I congratulate the Fiji Development Bank, the award sponsors and partners for their commitment in embracing the global and national development agenda by coming on board FDB’s National SME Awards to realise their common goals.
To the award nominees, well done for your hard-work and congratulations for being shortlisted for these awards. I wish you well and every success in your future endeavours.
Thank you and may Almighty God bless you all and our beloved Nation, Fiji.