Building the capacities of Nawaitauvou Virgin Coconut Oil

An example of how volunteers with the right skills, and with a focus on business capacity building can have a positive impact on a community even in a relatively short period of time.

Navotua village is nestled on the northern-most bay of Nacula Island one hundred kilometres off the main Fiji island of Vita Levu. It was at this unpowered community of less than 70 people that Rob Laird and his partner Rona arrived last year to volunteer via the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, funded by the Australian Government.

Rob who is registered with ABV undertook an assignment as a Business Advisor with Nawaitauvou Virgin Coconut Oil – a micro-business owned and run by Mr and Mrs Nawaitauvou. Established in 2012 after Peace Corps volunteers provided training to Navotua villagers in producing commercial coconut oil, the business generated around FJD 1000 (approx. AUD 660) last year. The Nawaitouvou family needed a volunteer with a small business background to help create a business plan and to develop a marketing strategy. The mainland, where it is possible to sell coconut oil in bulk, is a $100 boat ride away, and so an expensive and risky enterprise for a coconut oil maker without guaranteed sales contracts. Thus the Nawaitouvou’s production and sales were very much made on an ad-hoc basis – coconut oil was produced when the last batch had run out, and mostly sold to the occasional tourists who stopped by the village.

Over the two months they spent on Nacula, Rob and Rona built the capacities of the business by introducing basic business management practices such as using receipt books, and introduced forward planning processes to ensure raw material requirements and production times were met. Rona, who had previously undertaken a soap production volunteer assignment, showed the Nawaitauvous how to make coconut oil soap, and Rob built a soap mould with the help of his trusty pocket knife, an old packing case and some bent nails.

Separating and filtering coconut oil

Separating and filtering coconut oil

With these new soap making capabilities and procedures in place, Rob and Rona helped the business put together a product brochure, and arranged a business meeting with a resort at the other end of Nacula Island. This meeting led to initial soap sales of $330 and a $100 weekly standing order. This standing order should mean sales of at least $5000 this year (or a 500 percent increase) and Rob thinks that if all goes well sales of $10,000 could be achieved. In such a small cash poor community this business has the potential to be transformative, and it is already having an impact with the Nawaitauvous paying a single mother to help them meet the order.

The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program is an Australian Government initiative. This business advisor position was developed by Australian Business Volunteers who are working in consortium with Scope Global, a delivery partner for the AVID program.

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