Starting a business is not easy. With the challenges of securing startup capital, understanding the market and competition, entrepreneurs have to find countless solutions to get their operations up and running. Hurdles are higher if you are young in a society like Solomon Islands’ with limited support for youth and a culture that values age and experience and often overlooks the potential of young people and new ideas.

About 70 percent of the population in Solomon Islands is under 34. The so-called “youth bulge” translates to a large number of young people suffering from unemployment. Limited access to vocational training and both formal and informal education exacerbate the issue.

According to the International Labour Organization, only two out of 10 young people in Solomon Islands are gainfully employed.  

But the challenge is camouflaged by statistics that show the country achieving relative growth over the past 20 years — GDP nearly tripling, life expectancy at birth increasing to age 71, and a spike of about 33 percent in primary school enrollment.

The Solomon Islands National Youth Policy 2017-2030 prioritizes creating employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for young people. And in line with those aims, UNDP Solomon Islands and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Labour and Immigration (MCILI) with support from the Young Entrepreneurs Council Solomon Islands (YECSI) created a space where marginalized 18- to 34-year-olds, including school dropouts and youth with existing small businesses, can become productive entrepreneurs. The IumiWaka youth co-working space, developed through a 15-month pilot project funded by the Country Investment Facility, will help young entrepreneurs access resources and exchange ideas.

UNDP and YECSI called on 14 promising young Solomon Islands entrepreneurs to guide development of the space.

Young entrepreneurs suggest designs for the co-working space and share the ideas with other entrepreneurs at a workshop organized by YECSI and UNDP in Honiara (Photo: UNDP/Tomoko Kashiwazaki)


At a workshop held in Honiara, the young entrepreneurs suggested designs for the space and detailed tools, skills and other resources they need to grow their businesses.

Their list of necessities included fast internet, a meeting room, office space and networking support. They also emphasized their need to learn practical business skills that the traditional education system doesn’t cover.

From the discussions and activities, it was clear that the youth are disciplined and passionate about making successful businesses while impacting the community.

Meet two of the inspiring entrepreneurs who shared ideas for the IumiWaka co-working space that will help advance their ventures and incubate other businesses in Solomon Islands.

Owner and manager of Baby N Fashion retail stores, Florence Isihanua, 36

Young entrepreneurs Florence Isihanua and Brown Thompson Eroi share their ideas on a co-working space during the design workshop (Photo: UNDP/Tomoko Kashiwazaki)


How did you start and grow your business?  

I was a poultry farmer earlier. The business went down when foreign imports flooded our market and we could not compete.  

When I was 28 years old, I started the business I am currently operating. I was raising my baby and got the idea of the business, which I started with four cartons of nappies. As I received requests from customers, gradually I expanded the items and increased quantity I deal with. Now, I have eight employees for my two shops in Honiara.  

What is one challenge you’ve encountered in starting your business, and what was your strategy to overcome it?

As a young woman, there are challenges and obstacles to carrying out my business. I have to make myself heard in the business community in Honiara, which is male dominated. 

I would say to young women who are trying to be entrepreneurs, “do not be scared of taking risks”.

Florence Isihanua manages her retail business from one of her shops in Honiara (Photo: UNDP/Tomoko Kashiwazaki)

 

How would the co-working space support young entrepreneurs like you?

Creating space for young entrepreneurs like a design studio or shared office is a good idea. It would be helpful for young people to exchange information and encourage each other. I am always learning and also happy to share my experience with younger ones.  

Brown Thompson Eroi (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)


Cleaning business owner, Brown Thompson Eroi, 27

How did you start and grow your business? 

I was a researcher before, and the office I was working in did not have a cleaner. That’s when it clicked for me to start this business. I first cleaned boats, offices and residences and registered my company.  

It was a good year for me in 2018. I was awarded a few big contracts through tenders, such as a big company office, a shopping mall and a stadium. I have 11 employees, including young women and men.

What is one challenge you’ve encountered in starting your business, and what was your strategy to overcome it?

I did not have enough capital to start. It was tough in the first year — I had my family with a newborn baby. I approached some influential people such as a Member of Parliament but was not trusted because I was young. In our culture, it is hard to convince elders.  

I was almost giving up my attempt, and I won my first tender. I managed to take off with support from my relatives and moved on little by little.

How would the co-working space support young entrepreneurs like you?

I want to grow my business by obtaining contracts with hotels, swimming pools and more. I also want to expand to other provinces. I would expect some useful information could be exchanged at the co-working space.

With input from young entrepreneurs who are striving to grow their enterprises and the business community that is eager to support them, UNDP materialized the blueprint of the space for innovation and collaboration.

Along with the co-working space, comprehensive training packages tailored to young entrepreneurs’ needs will be offered. The entrepreneurs will also be able to participate in networking events with peers and senior business people, including members of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI).

Ultimately, IumiWaka and its resources are expected to be tools for transformation — of business ideas into stable enterprises and unemployment into economic growth.

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With funding from the Country Investment Facility, UNDP and MCILI with support from YECSI established the IumiWaka youth co-working space in the center of Solomon Islands’ capital, Honiara. IumiWaka is intended to empower youth to create economic opportunities and nurture development of prototypes, ideas and solutions.

In conjunction with the establishment of IumiWaka, UNDP will create a loan guarantee scheme to improve access to capital. As the lack of access to capital is a prevalent issue for businesses in emerging markets, the loan guarantee scheme will give young entrepreneurs with a viable business idea the opportunity to succeed while moving away from the traditional model of hand-out grants.

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