Thursday, August 15, 2013

Opportunities and challenges in promoting Business sustainability practices in Samoa

Rather than sending this out countless times(and eating into my data, thanks), here's the condensed version of my thesis. I have 2 hard copy, a really hard to send e-copy and Uni has a copy, if all else fails, 
email me at  jtiatia@gmail.com.
Cheers.



A thesis
submitted in partial fulfilment
of the requirements for the degree
of
Master of Management Studies
at
The University of Waikato


Abstract
The global search for sustainability presents universal challenges for humanity, Samoa included. The pressure on resources, poverty, overpopulation and inequalities has also driven business leaders to approach and do business in a different and a more holistic context, incorporating the social and environment issues.
This study seeks to determine the opportunities and challenges in promoting business sustainability practices in Samoa. It also examines the role of existing business networks as organising mechanism and serve as an information hub, similar to the role of Sustainable Business Network in New Zealand. Ultimately, this study sets out to find a way forward for Samoan business and the incorporation of business sustainability practices.
The data for this qualitative research was captured in a series of face-to-face interviews with eight key business stakeholders in Samoa, carried out in November 2010. Attention was given to the Samoan culture (faasamoa) as it is an integral and unique aspect of Samoa.
This study concludes with several contributions to the literature regarding business sustainability in Samoa. In terms of opportunities, the results suggest that business sustainability is a vital goal and priority for various businesses and support networks in Samoa. Existing and well-established stakeholder networks provide a positive environment for businesses to incorporate sustainability practices. Furthermore, the social and cultural setting is ideal for businesses development, coupled with a stable political and economic climate.
The presence of business, non-government and other networks in Samoa can be effectively utilised to reach and inform entrepreneurs about the benefits of incorporating sustainability practices. Special attention is given to these networks who play exemplary roles as information hubs and advocates for their respective (and in many cases) multiple stakeholders.
In terms of barriers, Samoan businesses face similar challenges as their New Zealand counterparts (SMEs involved in the Waikato Management School and Sustainable Business Network surveys). Businesses lack the knowledge or information to make informed decisions about business sustainability. Cost also remains a barrier for businesses and in Samoa, access to finance is especially challenging. Special attention is given to the Samoan culture (faasamoa) and its adverse impacts on enterprise.
In moving forward, this study identifies key industries and most importantly, ecopreneurs who are instrumental in driving the business case for sustainability. Already there are existing training programmes and international donor funds available that can be the vehicle for promoting the uptake of business sustainability practices.
This study concludes by making an empirical contribution to Samoan (and Pacific Island) literature. It also open up an array of opportunities for further investigation into the economic, social and environmental role of business in a small island community.

Chapter VI: Discussion  (condensed)
The structure of this Discussion chapter will be presented based on the key research questions where key themes are identified. These key themes will also be tied in with relevant literature to position my finding in an academic context. In the previous chapter, the findings demonstrated the vast opportunities to promoting the uptake of business sustainability in Samoa. The findings also showcased multiple stakeholder perspectives and how their experiences have impacted positively towards the business case for sustainability. At the same time,the several barriers are identified by stakeholders and reinforces the existing literature. Parallels were also drawn with the New Zealand survey of SMEs conducted by Waikato Management School and Sustainable Business Network. The role of existing networks as information hubs and educators reassures me that the uptake of social and environment practices is in capable hands. In moving forward, Samoa as a small island nation definitely have the capacity to promote business sustainability due to well established networks and committed ecopreneurs encouraging a climate of competitive markets, creating opportunities for the business, sharing of knowledge.

6.1 Opportunities for rural communities and small businesses
From my research findings, there are individual entrepreneurs and small business enterprises based in the rural areas of Savaii and Upolu who are currently incorporating sustainability practices into their strategic business frameworks. In particular, the response from key stakeholders shows that these small businesses are engaging in social activities, more so than environmental activities (Collins et al, 2006). Some of these social activities included financial contribution to the village, church and wider community. Like the New Zealand case, little survey work has been done on actual practices by firms (Collins et al, 2006). In the case of Samoa, the only real substantial reports available that might resemble a sustainability report are specifically focussed on the beach fale tourism within a sustainable livelihood framework (Cahn, 2008; Scheyvens, 2005). Despite this absence of sustainability reports or benchmarks for business sustainability, all of the multiple stakeholders involved in this research appreciate and many acknowledge the business opportunities when sustainable development is taken into account (Hart & Milstein, 2003).
As illustrated in the case of virgin oil coconut production, small businesses have been fully supported by parent organisations (networks) through on going training, financial assistance and employment opportunities for the rural families, all of which which are geared towards a generating an income. In particular, the focus of the WIBDI programme has values that are parallel to business sustainability. That is, business that operates beyond the financial bottom line (Elkington, 1997). The social well-being of the people involved is seminal to the success of the business operation (Esty & Winston, 2006). The financial benefits reaped from the business operation are retained by the families. As a result, families are better able to support themselves and contribute to the well-being of the village and wider community. Another flow-on effect is that families tend to remain in the rural areas because of the presence of these small businesses. The village therefore retains their young within a cultural setting, instead of losing them to the bright lights of Apia or further afield (Cahn, 2008; Scheyvens, 2002). The same benefits can be attributed to the success of beach fale operations in the rural areas. These are definitely providing much needed employment for the families involved (Cahn, 2006; Twinning-Ward, 2003). In the case of Manase village in Savaii Island, the families involved in beach fale operations have been able to secure employment opportunities for village people. In addition, the village matai have successfully incorporated the faasamoa into beach fale business through the maintenance of village gardens and more so the provision of an authentic cultural experience. Beach fale operations are also well known for their natural environmental appeal. This is warranted by the non-intrusive nature of beach fale huts on the beach and the use of natural and local resources for construction.
Moreover, environment sustainability is a key priority for those involved in industries such as organic coconut production. Greater access to markets, an enhanced image as a sustainable business, appeal to customer values are a few of the benefits that businesses can reap (DeSimone & Popoff, 2000). Central to this is the need for long term sustenance and care for the resource. Having international accreditation such as the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) ensures that local organic growers are abiding by strict international standards and in effect, reinforcing their presence and credibility in the export market (WIBDI, 2010). This also results in local businesses prioritising activities such as recycling programmes and waste disposal in order to maintain their respect for the environment.

Based on the findings within this research and in coherence with existing literature (Cahn, 2008), it is suffice to state that there are definitely opportunities for the uptake of business sustainability practices within certain industries such as organics and beach fale operations. However, for these industries, there is a dire need for more specialized training and expertise in order to push them in the strategically sustainable direction. Rather than setting up a hub solely for promoting sustainability practices, existing business networks such as Samoa Chamber of Commerce, WIBDI, SBEC, SUNGO and Samoa Hotel Association can be utilized to carry out this role.

6.2 The role of networks as information hub and educators
“A single business resides in an interdependent network that includes economic, environmental, social and ethical principles, where the actions of one organisation have the ability to influence the cohesiveness of the whole network” (Collins et al. 2007). This is definitely true of the Samoan experience, where more often than not, the actions of one stakeholder can have a wider impact on others around them.
New Zealand is much further ahead in terms of incorporating business sustainability and benchmarking sustainable businesses. Having an entity such as Sustainable Business Network (SBN) involved is already enabling SMEs to gain the support they require that is non-intrusive and user-friendly (Lawrence, et al, 2006). Some of the benefits in being a member of SBN include free use of online resources, free business advice from top sustainability experts in New Zealand, networking, promotional activities and being involved in the annual sustainable business awards and much more (Sustainable Business Network, 2011).
Although Samoa does not have a dedicated network such as SBN, the current presence of business, non-government and other business networks in Samoa can be utilised to reach a target group of aspiring and current cohort of entrepreneurs. Rather than reinventing the wheel, it is recommended that the information be funnelled through the members of the existing networks. WIBDI, SBEC, SHA and Samoa Chamber of Commerce demonstrate their effectiveness and local advantage that these networks have on their numerous members.
Furthermore, there are already trainings and workshops offered to Samoan sole traders and small and medium entrepreneurs that can be used to promote the uptake of business sustainability practices. These trainings have been made possible through the financial and capacity support of NZAID, through the Government of New Zealand. Their mandate specifically aims to “support sustainable development in Samoa in order to reduce poverty and to contribute to a more secure, equitable, and prosperous world” (NZAID, 2010).
All in all, there are definitely realistic opportunities for the uptake of business sustainability practices in Samoa. Members of Women in Business Development Inc involved in organic production and members of Samoa Hotels Association who are owners of beach fale operations are examples of successful relationships between SMEs and a support network. Both industries have shown vast potential for sustainable business success. However, as will be elaborated in the next section, there are various barriers that businesses and existing networks face in incorporating business sustainability practices.

6.3 Overcoming Barriers to Business sustainability
The barriers identified in this research drew some parallels with the findings from the 2010 survey of New Zealand SMEs (Collins et al, 2010). In particular, cost was the most common barrier. This relates to my own findings where the appropriate (and access to) financing is not readily available to small businesses in Samoa, especially for those in rural areas and some distance from the main center of Apia. Another parallel with the New Zealand survey is the the lack of knowledge and skills, a barrier identified by all stakeholders in this research.
A common barrier identified by stakeholders in Samoa is the lack of information and subsequently, knowledge about business sustainability and its benefits. Similarly, poor communication among key stakeholders also inhibits the business success. As two key stakeholders pointed out, the success of their businesses rely on the support of Government Ministries, however, this is not always forthcoming. The same sentiment is expressed from certain Government Ministries who view non-government organisations with suspicion rather than as a partner. Therefore, there needs to be a forum or platform for these key stakeholders to broaden their understanding of what each does and how they can work together. The Tourism sector is attuned to this need for communication and is evident in their regular stakeholder consultations within the capital of Apia and also in the rural areas (Cahn, 2006). Having this open dialogue among stakeholders has proven valuable (Samoa Tourism Authority, 2010) in times of disasters where tourism stakeholders were able to group together immediately and work together to support affected members.
Furthermore, there are policies and strategies initiated and supported by Government that contradicts and goes against sustainable development. This is most obvious in their approach to tourism in particular. What appears in the Samoa Tourism Development Plans, aimed at sustainable tourism is a far cry from projects that have been given Government backing in 2009-2010. What is of even more concern is the move towards economic progress without proper and thorough consultation with Samoa’s key stakeholders. Another Government backed scheme that is of concern is the Grameen-styled lending by South Pacific Business Development to rural women. Despite the unequivocal support by Government, the lending criteria and lack of proper support for members means many are driven into debt and forced to borrow in order to sustain themselves. There is substantial evidence highlighting the setbacks to this style of lending (Sharma, 2002).

6.5 Faasamoa, an opportunity or barrier?
Although the faasamoa is addressed in this research as a positive it is also a major barrier to the uptake of business sustainability. Some of the problems concern the control by village matai that can sometimes affect the success of a business. Decisions by matai can go against business initiatives and result in conflict and in some cases, forceful closure or eviction of the business owners from the village (Cahn, 2008). There is also the financial burden to contribute to village affairs (faalavelave) such as weddings, funerals, school and church donations. Despite these barriers, much has changed for the benefit of entrepreneurship in Samoa and at the same time, key stakeholders such as WIBDI are well aware and take a proactive approach when dealing with cultural issues. These are but a few of the barriers that can affect the uptake of business sustainability in Samoa.

6.6 The potential for business be involved in the uptake for business sustainability in Samoa
Samoan businesses already have the support of parent organisations and networks that can advocate for them and provide crucial training opportunities to propel their businesses forward in the right direction. As was illustrated in the case of Samoa Chamber of Commerce, they have been instrumental in promoting economic growth and free enterprise among business owners in Samoa (Samoa Chamber of Commerce, 2010).

Partnerships with overseas agencies and Governments such as NZAID and Government of New Zealand has also opened up the level of expertise and business mentoring available locally. Samoan SMEs within the Chamber of Commerce are now able to gain the same level of business acumen and skills as their New Zealand counterparts. It is at this level of partnerships that a network such as Sustainable Business Network can be utilised to provide training and capacity building for the Samoan private sector. Key stakeholders with a strong sustainable development focus, like ecopreneurs, should be consulted first as they already have a better understanding and vested interest in incorporating the social and environment into their business practices

Chapter VII: Conclusion (condensed)
In this final chapter, the key themes that emerged as the thesis progressed and existing literature are brought together to formulate a conclusion to this research. This search for sustainability started with the following four research questions, influenced largely by the New Zealand surveys conducted by Waikato Management School (Lawrence and Collins, 2004, Collins et al., 2007, Collins et al., 2010).

1. Are there opportunities to promote the uptake of business sustainability practices in Samoa?
2. Can existing networks in Samoa be used as an organising mechanism and an information hub for the uptake of sustainability practices?
3. What are the barriers preventing businesses from incorporating business sustainability practices?
4. How can Samoan businesses be involved in the uptake of sustainability practices?

The New Zealand surveys have been important in setting the benchmarks for SMEs and the uptake of sustainability practices. In the global context, the search for sustainability has taken on greater urgency as the pressure on the Earth’s system has dramatically disrupted the ecological systems on which humanity and countless other species depend (Worldwatch Institute, 2010. p. 4). Thus, the aforementioned New Zealand surveys by Waikato Management School and recurring global resource and poverty issues led me to question where Samoa was positioned in this sustainability journey.
Interviewing key business stakeholders in Samoa was an ideal approach to this qualitative and exploratory research. Their valuable knowledge and interconnected perspectives provided important answers to the research questions. As Elkington stated (1997), the future of business requires engagement with stakeholders, which is especially critical in formulating their corporate environmental strategies. Samoan business stakeholders interviewed in this research have proven that their interest go beyond self-
interest. Instead, their businesses have an impact of the wellbeing of the community and in return, the community equally impacts the sustainability of their business (Preston and Donaldson, 1995).
There are definitely opportunities for the uptake of business sustainability in Samoa. Business organisations and support networks such as Women in Business Development, Samoa Chamber of Commerce, SUNGO, SHA and SBEC already have successful strategic business frameworks that cater to the needs of aspiring entrepreneurs and small to medium enterprises. These business organisations and networks are well established and respected among the Samoan community. In addition, they have developed and maintained successful partnerships with other keys stakeholders such as the Government of Samoa, NGOs and at the traditional village level. It has also resulted in substantial donor funding granted for their programmes from the Government of New Zealand through NZAID. These organisations have the capacity to promote the uptake of business sustainability.
The role of support networks as a centralised coordinating hub that provides scope and direction (Jarillo, 1993. as cited in Collins et al, 2006) is strongly reinforced with reference to existing Samoan context. As was illustrated in the findings, the key stakeholders interviewed were able to coordinate and advocate strongly for their members. This is also evident in the support and direction given to firms based on their relevant business needs. As such, this is potentially the ideal avenue for educating members of existing networks
“not only in environment practices but also aspect of environment al sustainability and degradation” (Collins et al, 2006. p. 739).
In order for this small island nation to fully address business sustainability practices, Samoan businesses have to overcome several barriers that are both universal but also uniquely Samoan. There is lack of information and subsequently, knowledge about the benefits of incorporating business sustainability practices for many business owners. Many of the business opportunities are confined to the Apia (capital) area, while rural areas are disadvantaged due to geographical isolation and costs. This also raised questions over the credibility and ‘sustainability’ of current lending initiatives such as South Pacific Development Group (SPDG) scheme. Furthermore, the faasamoa continues to pose challenges for businesses especially where the faamatai system assumes precedence over modern business practices. All in all, the opportunities in promoting sustainability business practices far outweigh the barriers. Using the expertise and local ‘know-how’ of existing business networks can pave the way forward for business to be better informed and involved in shaping a more sustainable Samoa.

2 comments:

AlliTru said...

There is a website called Rethink Sustain that discusses how to create action around sustainable practices. They also highlight companies which are adopting sustainable practices and setting the state for real change. http://rethinksustain.weebly.com

Goddess said...

Thanks Alli, I'll check them out now...we don't have a lot of online content from our region of the world (although, lots happening in reality:), so I do enjoy learning about what organisations do elsewhere.