Breadfruit Consulting: Support for Solomon and Vanuatu

Chris Elphick, can you tell us about your background?

I am one-half of Breadfruit Consulting – the other half being my partner Hazel Kirkham !  I grew up in the UK (Liverpool, Scotland, Ireland and Wales) and have always been passionate about helping people develop their potential and explore new ideas.

I am not an academic having left school early. I have spent most of my life, before emigrating to New Zealand, working in areas of high unemployment and serious social challenges. I do not get on well with bureaucracy and I just want to help get things done! I have been involved in what is now called mentoring and coaching for many, many years. I am a big supporter of social enterprises. I have worked as a coach and mentor for many years with a huge range of organisations of all sizes and roles.  I have worked in the Pacific for over 10 years when I started with the NZ Government funded Pacific Business Mentor programme and have been here ever since.  Now, I work mainly in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu as a business facilitator, coach and mentor.  I write articles aimed at helping small businesses which are published weekly in four Pacific countries including Vanuatu and SI. I am currently working with V Lab in Port Vila to develop a business support centre.  I particularly enjoy supporting entrepreneurs of all ages.  I now spend a lot of time training and supporting local coaches and mentors.

How about Breadfruit Consulting? What do you do exactly?

We work with organizations and businesses to unlock their potential, by taking a fresh look at what’s happening now and identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; advising on strategies and plans, on how to recruit and retain great employees, and on business resilience; coaching people in key positions to lead more effectively; and training people to do things differently and to do different things – like team working, problem solving, taking more responsibility, increasing productivity and improving service quality.

We work with development organizations, to define what they want the people they are seeking to assist to know and be able to do as a result of their programs.  We then identify the learning needs and design interventions that are appropriate for the context.  And then we deliver workshops that work.

Why did you choose the name Breadfruit?

We call ourselves Breadfruit Consulting because our business is firmly planted in the Pacific islands, the home of the breadfruit tree. We aspire to be as reliable, useful and versatile as the breadfruit, but instead of satisfying a hunger in the belly, what we do satisfies a hunger in the head and heart for learning. People want to know how to run a business that is sustainable and provides for many; how to develop a strong, local private sector; how to deliver better public services; how to lead organizations in ways that work for everyone; and how women can become equal members of society.

The more people learn, and apply what they learn, the better equipped they become to participate in, contribute to and benefit from the development of their countries. This is as true for leaders and managers of organizations, and owners of businesses, as it is for their employees.

Having all this experience in Vanuatu and Solomon, how would you describe the similarities and differences between those countries?

There are major economic challenges in both countries, especially since the loss of tourism (40%+ Vanuatu GDP). There are needs in this field of health and educational opportunities, and there are unfortunately low levels of self-confidence and self-belief. This situation is leading to difficulties with creative thinking and problem solving.  Even young entrepreneurs who have completed a 3 years’ degree seem to struggle with being able to solve problems – a skill which is essential to any entrepreneur!

Support organisations are essential, free from Government control – Chambers of Commerce, Centres like Yumi Work, skills development organisations like Vanuatu Skills Partnership, young people’s support organisations like YECSI (Young Entrepreneur Council of SI) and Youth Challenge Vanuatu.

Technology hubs are essential especially in the more remote rural areas – Telekom connection charges often very high (especially in SI).  The extensive network of Rural Training Centres in the SI provides some good opportunities to build on.

In both countries there are challenges for the SME end of the private sector in particular – these will more likely be locally run businesses and essential to local economic survival (payment of school fees, health, housing etc.).

Mentoring and coaching is becoming more available and there is an increasing focus on the training and support of people in these roles.

The Seasonal Employee schemes run in Australia and NZ provide good opportunities for people to leave, learn new skills and return with money and there are some great examples of people who have started businesses, built houses, bought buses etc.  However, it is a complex issue with many businesses worrying about training people then losing them and the loss of good skills especially to the Australian 3 year programme. 

Great to see the focus on financial inclusion with new technology (Oxfam and unblocked cash etc.)

Young entrepreneurs, especially women, face considerable cultural challenges in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion and domestic abuse is totally unacceptable.

There are, however, many passionate young people determined to try out new ideas and to challenge older ways of thinking that maybe have not allowed them to advance.  I am not sure about the ability of the formal education sector to support as they seem to be very focused on instruction and information.  Places like YECSI and Yumi Work/ V Lab do encourage more free expression and provide the support needed to take risks and try out new ideas.

With Covid-19 restricting the entry into the country of outsiders, now is the time for local entrepreneurs to step up and take action – empathetic help and support will be needed! 

This will include the need to access funding which comes in a non-bureaucratic way.  For example, there seems to be huge amounts of money ‘available’ for climate change programmes and business sustainability/resilience yet access to these programmes is controlled by donors and Governments making it hard, if not impossible, for small businesses and projects to access.  The jargon used is always unintelligible!  The argument given is usually about accountability and monitoring yet how much waste do we see daily due to poor planning, poor training, the wrong people doing the wrong jobs, nepotism and so on.

How about your vision about the impact of the crowdfunding platform RAISE? 

I am very excited about the concept of RAISE Vanuatu and especially the possibility of expanding to Solomon, Fiji and Tonga. Very happy to be associated with it and willing to act as a coach to any project seeking help from RAISE or on behalf of Raise.

Projects supported by RAISE will need to be well managed and led.  I see the following qualities and attitudes will be needed:

  • Clear vision and a big goal.  Where is the project going and how will Raise help?
  • Clarity about the current position – where is the project starting from?
  • Good planning skills and the ability to identify risks.
  • Planning as an active process, not a static one based on a little used business plan.
  • High performing leadership and good inclusive teamwork free of prejudice, bias and blame.  Focus on engagement of people and on a can-do attitude.
  • The need to understand limits and to know when to ask for help – work with a coach
  • Each project presents an opportunity to learn for those in it and those affected by it.
  • Open and honest communication.
  • High levels of empathy and emotional intelligence
  • The ability and willingness to give and receive feedback, to keep learning and to deliver tough love when necessary!
  • Learn to take smart risks.
  • Collaboration and networking.
  • Choosing the right structure for the organisation/ project – e.g. cooperative, charity, business etc.
  • Celebrate success and make sure everyone has fun doing what they are doing!

I am happy to discuss with projects carriers !

Your would like to know more about Breadfruit, Chris and Hazel ?


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