Island challenge accepted
Solomon Island businesses are eager to improve their bottom line but are hampered by employee theft, illiteracy and staff absenteeism, says a Blenheim businessman recently returned from the island nation working for Volunteer Service Abroad.
Steve Smith has spent seven weeks in the Solomon Island capital, Honiara, working for VSA.
Steve, always one for getting out of his comfort zone – he has completed four Ironman New Zealand events – relished passing on his experience teaching business skills to adults at the Solomon Island Business Enterprise Centre.
‘‘It was really day-to-day business skills I was exchanging which we take for granted here,’’ he says.
Business owners in Honiara were motivated to achieve results and were eager to learn.
‘‘At my first presentation more than 80 per cent of small business owners that attended wanted help and were prepared to make changes.
‘‘Unfortunately for many businesses staff absenteeism and theft were major obstacles.’’
Poor literacy, intermittent internet, power and water supply added to the challenges.
‘‘The absenteeism is so bad some businesses hire twice as many staff to cover for staff not turning up.
‘‘It really affects businesses trying to make a profit.
‘‘You have staff, sometimes family members who expect freebies, taking items off the shelves because that is the culture.
‘‘The margins are so low I estimated a business owner would need to sell 30 items just to make up for one item being stolen.’’
Honiara, with a population of 60,000, has many owner-operated businesses but little infrastructure in the way of technology to be efficient as it can be, he says.
‘‘In some schools there was only enough chalk for one class- room, while school books were in short supply. Some people don’t have the reading skills to manage a business.’’
In spite of the challenges he is looking forward to returning to the islands early in 2016.
‘‘The people are incredibly friendly and I felt safe living there,’’ he says.
Volunteer Service Abroad volunteer Steve Smith, of Blenheim.