ABV volunteer Mike Taverner (2nd from left) and ABV PNG Country Manager Materua Tamerua (2nd from right) at a small tailoring company on Lihir
MRL Capital and Australian Business Volunteers (ABV) are partnering to build the business capacities of the six major Lihirian clans. ABV is a not-for-profit with a history in Papua New Guinea going back to the early 1980s. It specialises in mobilising experienced business professionals to volunteer in SME mentoring and training projects. The six Lihirian clans – Tinetalgo, Nissal, Unawos, Lamatlik, Nikama and Tengawom each own businesses, although the level at which these businesses operate, and the business experience of those responsible for managing them, varies.
Six expert business volunteers have recently returned to Australia having completed an intensive training program for 25 Lihir locals involved in the strategic direction of the businesses. Over a series of workshops and follow-up meetings with each clan the volunteers delivered a training and mentoring program focused on building a sound understanding of the roles and responsibilities of corporate boards. Additional business volunteers are arriving in coming months, and will focus on financial management and business strategy, with further volunteers focusing on other business skills likely later in the year.
For MRL Capital’s Managing Director Lawrence Rausim the partnership with ABV is about giving the Lihir clans the basics they will need to build successful businesses. “For a start they are bringing their experience with business compliance and corporate governance, but they are also building skills in the areas of business planning, reading financial statements, and the discipline required to run a successful business,” he says.
All of the business volunteers which ABV is mobilising for the project have previous experience working or volunteering in the region, and so have an understanding of the business and cultural context in which they are working. “Over three decades in PNG ABV’s highly skilled business professionals have been just about everywhere – from Bougainville to Tabubil, and from Port Moresby to the highlands,” says ABC CEO Liz Mackinlay. ”These are people who know how business works, and how to work with members of the local community to build business skills.”
For the business volunteers involved in the project so far it has been a challenging but positive experience. According Christopher Clark, one of the volunteers, “blending the legal demands of a rigorous approach to governance with the cultural imperatives of clan life founded on an oral tradition created a dynamic tension and creative solutions.” “Endless debate, adaptation, counterproposal, refinement and acceptance saw the birth of a new format of corporate constitution, for which we were mere midwives,” he says.
While acknowledging the challenges Mr Rausim is positive about the long-term prospects of the clan businesses. “In 5 years’ time I’d like to see all of them operating with proper business systems, processes, and investment strategies, and with offices in Port Moresby as well as Lihir,” he says.
ABV volunteer Mike Taverner (right) discussing business with a small clothing company based in Kunaye 1 village.