By HELEN TARAWA
BUILDING international partnerships is not for the faint-hearted. However, when you have a champion who can lead and show you and help you and you are all in the learning mode and do what you believe to help your business, you will do it.
These were the challenging words of entrepreneur Marianna Ellingson who has been in the trade industry and recently led 26 entrepreneurs to Jakarta, Indonesia for a trade expo.
Ellingson is the leader of Moutuana Entrepreneurs Alliance of PNG (Meap) that operates under the umbrella of Aidan, a local company.
She says Trade Expo Indonesia (Tei) is one of the largest business-to-business networking and business-matching events in Asia. It has over a thousand exhibitors comprising of Indonesian micro to small and medium entrepreneurs who are producing premium quality export-ready commodities for markets abroad.
Ellingson says Indonesia is very lucrative partner right now.
“Next year we want to look at Indonesia as a market,” she says.
“To build a broad-based economy in PNG you must develop the people who are actually playing in the zone and producing the gross national product.
“When you have more and more people participating in business you have happy homes because people are focused more on bettering their lives.
“This is like a huge showcase that you can place orders for supplies and things that we need back here.
“The relevance to PNG is the amount of products that we can find to enhance our own businesses,” she says.
“Also learning what export-ready products are about, premium quality and what should a produce should like when you are going to export.
“There is a lot of learning that goes in and we also network with a lot of businesses there.
“That doesn’t also restrict us to Indonesian MSMEs but there are other countries who are attending so it’s an opportunity to meet other people from other countries who are involved in MSMEs.”
Ellingson says this year there were 26 entrepreneurs among them two couples.
“It’s a lot bit more involvement, the programme gets better as we go along.
“The expo provides an opportunity to find business partners to help scale our businesses in PNG and get supplies much needed for enhancement of our products. This years’ programme we were ready to meet and have business matching with members of the Indonesian Business Women’s Association.
“My company Aidan is at the centre of this, I help them to carry out things like helping them put their one page business profiles and together I communicate and work with the embassy here.
“I also have a ground coordinator in Jakarta and a business partner in Surabaya but I also have people locally over there who can help me to carry out and implement the programme.”
Ellingson says the Indonesian embassy this year had been very much involved. Indonesia’s Ambassador to PNG Andriana Sutandy had been to their programme which raised their profile.
“We have met a lot of business partners, different products, commodities across different sectors – food and beverages, lifestyle, creative and artistic kinds of products.
“What my company does is that after the event we carry out an evaluation so that it feeds back to improve on the programme next year and it helps me to improve how I do coordination and promotion of the programme.
“This year there were lot more business-savvy people already in business for a long time who were part of this programme.
“It’s been a joy to be able to show what we can do for ourselves.”
Ellingson says the group she led to Indonesia were budding entrepreneurs as well as business owners who want to start their businesses but were not sure so these experiences helped them to focus more on what they want to do.
“There is a lot of learning, networking and business-matching one-on-one. My company helps to empower MSMEs through international business partnerships.
“Our plan for next year is to go into provinces, there will be more structure. This whole trip is done under the banner of Meap that comes under this for visibility.
“My company is able to put together activities that benefit the whole team and we look after ourselves when we gather all these teams,” she says.
“ When you have more and more people participating in business you have happy homes because people are focused more on bettering their lives.
In February every year Ellingson gives her first general information presentation on her Facebook page and also that of the Women in Business Resources Centre to promote the programme.
“We use their facility and people who are interested come along and particulate in the planning session and they pay a package to go on the trip.
“The package pays for your airfares, accommodation and local costs in Indonesia. The trip is usually for a week but this year’s trip involved factory visits which extended to 17 days.
“I am looking to focus more on quality than quantity. I have given a certain number for provinces and then I have my Port Moresby 30 which will be NCD-based.
“The numbers will increase because of provinces but the quality focus is the core of where I’m coming from. My company builds strong cross-border business partnerships through business-matching and that involves follow up.
“I don’t want people to go on a tour and while they are there go for shopping; these are people who know the value of trade expo and this value of networking and business matching.”
Ellingson says next year she will put in place an interview process and anyone who wants to get in will be vetted.
“I want people who really would focus from day one. We were fortunate this year, we had a husband-and-wife team, it works out so well and if men and women work together in business there is a great future for collaboration amongst partners so it minimises and mitigates potential violence.
“Indonesia is very lucrative partner right now next year we want to look at Indonesia as market.
“When we do business matching with Indonesia there are 33,000 Indonesian Business Women Association members so there are 33,000 niche market products for PNG and vice versa 33,000 supply chains into PNG for MSMEs.
“I’m dealing with MSMEs. These are people who are in the too hard baskets because it takes a long time to get them to do business. Most of them have gone as far as completing grade 10.
“They may not be in a job but they know business and one of my team this year is a craft market meri.
“The determination and commitment of our entrepreneurs to find things that will enhance and better their business but to also give an outlet to their creativity, they need to get out there to put their ideas to test.
“The future is bright and it opens up a lot of doors and I’m hoping that more people will come on board for the value that it will add to their business.
“What I am doing is a small contribution to what the Government wants to achieve at the bilateral level.
“This is public-private partnership and we are doing at the PNG level. I don’t have any support from anyone; just doing it through their faith and confidence in me and my own resources.
“It takes courage confidence and a little bit of money.”
Ellingson appreciates the assistance from the Indonesian embassy in Port Moresby and the PNG embassy in Jakarta.
Entrepreneur William Stevens, a fashion designer from Milne Bay, says that what PNG has is minimum resource materials compared to what they have in Indonesia.
“My ability to expand has been restricted until I went to Indonesia and saw what is there in abundance that we can tap into.
“I’m really happy to have been a part of this group and it was an eye opener, I have learnt a lot from this experience,” Stevens says.
Elizabeth Taurega-Omeri from Milne Bay and Central said attending the trade expo had been a great experience for her.
“It was an eye-opener, I believe that Papua New Guineans have a lot to learn from Indonesians who have a lot to offer.
“With the fashion industry in PNG we are faced with the challenges of garment printing, textile printing and all kinds of materials that we can use as well as the paints.
“Indonesia has everything a fashion designer would want and I learnt about copyright where the businesses adhere to laws and each business is discrete and no one can duplicate,” Omeri said.
Volu Napoleon from Central says attending the expo was a great experience as an entrepreneur and she learnt a lot of things.
She says the visit to the factories and small industries enabled her to buddy with a business partner who she hopes to work with in building her hair saloon business.
Marget Bunbun-Diro also from Central, who specialises in agri-business marketing, says there is a big potential for exposure for SMEs within the rural sector.
“A lot of women and youth have the potential for startup businesses but there is no market and this expo was an opportunity to link such entrepreneurs to the world,” Diro says.