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Moale Vagikapi, 58, is passionate about flowers and plants. So when she left a career as a development consultant, she started her florist business in her native Papua New Guinea in 2015.

Vagikapi buys fresh flowers from women networks and village farmers in the country’s highlands to meet the orders she receives from different countries, including the Philippines, Australia, and the U.S. To her, sourcing her goods locally gives her a sense of satisfaction. The farmers who supply her the goods are paid about $28 per day enabling them to meet their basic needs.

“Part of my role is not only being a florist, but it is also building that capacity, that awareness on post-harvest management, and on good packaging,” she explained.

Moale Vagikapi runs a florist business in Papua New Guinea

Vagikapi is one of the participants of Women’s Finance Exchange, which is giving training on digital financial literacy and business planning and debt management, organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Centre for Excellence in Financial Inclusion (CEFI) with funding from Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi). The training aims to strengthen the capacity of women-owned small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) in the Pacific to help them grow their business.

“Since 2015, we’ve been fully operational. But then, COVID-19 became a real testing factor for our business,” Vagikapi said. “We lost a lot of our good corporate clients. I am glad for the training opportunity as it helps in terms of strategizing and having contingency measures, as well as knowledge about how and when to apply for a loan.”

When it comes to starting or growing a business, women face tremendous barriers. But the situation is not only peculiar to women entrepreneurs like Vagikapi. The COVID-19 pandemic had an immense and early impact on SMEs and women-led businesses in Asia and the Pacific.

Supporting women-owned SMEs during the pandemic

Through its Women Accelerating Vibrant Enterprises in Southeast Asia and the Pacific (WAVES) program in Viet Nam, ADB has designed a COVID-19 relief grant, with support from We-Fi, to incentivize local banks to restructure their loans to women-owned SMEs (WSMEs) affected by the pandemic while encouraging them to seek out new women-owned SME clients.

Tien Phong Bank (TPBank) is one of the five participating banks in the We-Fi funded COVID-19 Relief for Women-Led Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. TPBank has led the program using 77 percent of disbursed funds within the first five months of implementation. Khuc Van Hoa, Deputy General Director of the Corporate Banking Department of TPBank, described the financial support project as great encouragement for women enterprises.

Khuc Van Hoa, Deputy General Director of the Corporate Banking Department of Tien Phong Bank (TPBank)

“TPBank highly appreciates ADB’s support, and we are joining hands with ADB to support businesses to overcome this difficult period,” he said. “We believe that with the support from the COVID-19 grant project, more WSMEs will quickly recover from the pandemic. TPBank is committed to working with ADB to further contribute to the sustainable and long-term development of Vietnamese enterprises, especially WSMEs,” he added.