NUKU’ALOFA, TONGA: Saturday, 11th June 2022 – Tonga Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Inc. (TYEE) in collobration with Partners Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)’s Pacific Green Entrepreneurs Network (PGEN), Breadfruit Consulting and supported by Solutions Consulting House held a Graduation Ceremony for the first Mafoa ‘a e Ata (MAA) – Youth Innovation Challenge Pacific Greenpreneurs Incubator cohort at Davina House, Nuku’alofa. The inaugural program ran from October 2021 to April 2022, with eight early-stage green enterprises participating in local and virtual workshops, regional training, mentoring, coaching, and networking events.
The highlight of the Graduation event was the announcement of two Tongan winners of the 2021 MAA Pacific Greenpreneurs Business Plan Competition, the culmination of the incubator program after six months of hardwork. The two winning enterprises, both youth and women-led, are HUNI TONGA by Ms. Sela Maka, Ms. Kasanita ‘Ofa, Ms. Malia Vakapuna, and Ms. Sokopeti Vite, and WETA Coffee TONGA by Ms. Joan Puloka Rigamoto, Ms. Mitna Taumoefolau and Ms. ‘Asena Lalahi; received USD 5,000 in seed grant funding to invest in growing their businesses. Winners were provided with the opportunity to share their winning business pitch with the audience at the event.
The Guest of Honour, Honourable Lord Fakafanua, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga marked this special occasion, as well as this milestone for TYEE in the delivery of the MAA pilot program in Tonga with a message and presented the certificates and awards. Lord Fakafanua, in his remarks, commended TYEE on this important initiative and congratulated the finalists. He emphasized on the importance of empowering the youth of Tonga – to enable them to contribute to growing Tonga’s economy in the future as the solution to address the country’s financial and economic struggles instead of relying on remittances and foreign assistance.
Amongst the VIPs and invited guests who attended the event were Tonga Government representatives – CEO of the Public Service Commission, Deputy CEO of the Ministry of Internal Affairs – Youth Division, Vice-President of Tonga Chamber of Commerce & Industries, Tonga Broadcasting Commission, GM of Tonga Tourism Association, CEOs of Tonga Netball Association, Digicel Group Tonga, TCC, WanTok Tonga, Bank of the South Pacific Tonga, SkyEye Tonga, South Seas Trading Tonga Ltd, Waterfront Restaurant & Davina House, as well as representatives from NGOs, TYEE Board, MAA participants’ parents and friends.
Mr. Fahad Al-Dehaimi, International Aid Officer shared a message on behalf of the Qatar Fund for Development, congratulating the graduates and applauding their resilience and success that they have achieved so far, especially their resilience in the face of Covid-19 and the challenges of climate change. He highlighted the importance of the program to the State of Qatar and thanked the governments of the participating countries for their support of the project.
Mr. Daniel Muñoz-Smith, GGGI Country Representative for Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Kiribati also addressed the event virtually, congratulating the Tonga graduates on their achievements and expressing GGGI’s confidence in their potential to achieve great things for their communities in Tonga. Mr. Muñoz-Smith shared that GGGI is particularly looking forward to seeing how the winners invest their USD 5,000 to help them grow their businesses. He acknowledged the partnership between GGGI and TYEE and welcomed the Tonga graduates to become part of the regional GGGI Pacific Greenpreneurs Network Alumni.
Mrs. Lusia Latu-Jones of TYEE shared that they are truly inspired by the resilience and commitment of the green entrepreneurs during these challenging times, as well as the support of mentors and partners. That gives them the more reasons to have these meaningful partnerships to help their Tonga local businesses grow, develop and scale. She also added, “if there is a time that is asking us to act and show our support to our youth, and entrepreneurs here today – whether through sponsorship, collaboration, sharing of resources, mentorship support, donation, or purchase from their small businesses to help them realise their dreams – the time is now! “If not us, then who. If not now, then when”.
Mrs. Sela Bloomfield of Solutions Consulting House and a representative of TYEE Board in her closing remarks thanked the Guest of Honour, Donor, Partners and invited guests for attending and for their support to making the first Tonga Cohort Graduation a success. She also extended her gratitude to QFFD and GGGI for their valued investment and partnerships which enable TYEE to deliver the MAA PGEN program in Tonga.
“Let us leave a trail that others will be proud to follow. It is up to all of us to make a difference, to have people say honourable things about us, and leave the impression that you never gave up on yourselves. Tonga is counting on us” shared Ms. Kristy Lavulavu, Owner/Entrepreneur of ETA’S CREATION while delivering her remarks onbehalf of her fellow graduates.
The Pacific Greenpreneurs Incubator program, a 3-year regional program funded by the Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD) and implemented in partnership by Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and The program is dedicated to developing innovative, young entrepreneurs that are well equipped to operate businesses in these challenging times due to the impacts of Covid-19, climate change and other environmental risks and hazards. Tonga is one of six countries participating in this pilot program, together with Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, and Papua New Guinea. The overall objective of the MAA is to create, support and facilitate innovative businesses that are sustainable and resilient in the Kingdom of Tonga. Chris Elphick of Breadfruit Consulting also joined the event online from Vanuatu congratulating the participants on their achievements and wished them the very best.
The program started in Tonga last October 2021 and completed in April 2022, fifteen qualified participants/green entrepreneurs made up of eight green enterprises as individual operators and teams. Five enterprises successfully completed the program made up the five finalists to compete for the two USD5,000 seed grants. The Business Plan Competition comprised of each enterprise’s business pitch presentation and business plan documents and a judging panel independently evaluated the submissions.
The 5 Business Finalists:
HUNI TONGA, by Sela Maka, Kasanita ‘Ofa, Malia Vakapuna, and Sokopeti Vite (WASTE Industry).
HA’APAI HOSPITALITY by Rebecca Pepa (TOURISM & HOSPITALITY Industry).
WETA COFFEE TONGA, by Joan Puloka Rigamoto, and her team Mitna Taumoefolau and Asena Lalahi (FOOD & RETAIL Industry).
ETA’S CREATION by Kristy Lavulavu (EVENTS GIFTS & CRAFTS Industry).
BEAUTY WITH STYLE by Lavinia Fehoko (FASHION & DESIGN Industry).
The graduation event concluded with three Finalists Business displays, networking and connections between green entrepreneurs and invited guests.
The Tongan graduates are part of the regional Pacific Greenpreneurs alumni, comprised of 44 early-stage green enterprises who have completed the program in Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.
Applications for the 2022 Incubator and Accelerator programs will be open in coming months for businesses that are addressing social and/or environmental issues. For more information on the program, visit: www.pacificgreenpreneurs.com.