Is­land chal­lenge ac­cepted

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - FRONT PAGE - MIKEWATSON

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.

PHOTO: FAIR­FAX NZ

Vol­un­teer Ser­vice Abroad vol­un­teer Steve Smith, of Blenheim.

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