Avia Koisen is the principal of Koisen Lawyers and President of the Papua New Guinea Women in Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PNGWCCI). PNGWCCI is a leading civil society organisation providing training to up skill women entrepreneurs in business and management skills. The PNGWCCI is also focused on advocating for policies that are conducive to an enabling environment for more Papua New Guinea women to become entrepreneurs and hold senior managerial positions in their workplaces.
We spoke to Avia about her passion and commitment to empower Papua New Guinean women.
At home I was taught to be a good Papuan girl but at school I was recognised as someone who could achieve more academically. That was my challenge growing up.
My parents expected me to get a job after grade 10. In my time we had many expatriate and national teachers in our local education system who taught with heart and dedication. A number of those teachers recognised my capability as a student and they mentored me through from primary school to high school and tertiary studies.
I had my first baby at university and that added on to the challenge but it was a positive challenge, it motivated me to finish studies.
In court, yes you do get that "are you capable?" question by your opponents who are mostly men. But I don’t see this attitude as a problem. I see it as a challenge to do even better. It fuels and powers me to strive harder and win my cases.
I am passionate about helping others because of my own experiences and challenges that I faced to get to where I am. I really love to help other women to overcome their challenges and that is why I have taken up the role as the Chamber President.
As the president of the PNG Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry I can see the opportunity for me to be an agent of change. Currently the Small to Medium Enterprises (SME) policy, banking policies and even public sector policies are not conducive to women entrepreneurs to successfully open up businesses and continue their operations.
The Chamber is advocating for the Government to review and include policies to create an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs not only to start up SME business but to expand them and make them success stories.
The question that I continue to ask is how we get those women to take the next step in improving their business. The answer lies in teaching and up skilling these women through training programmes and government initiated polices that will subsidize and assist women businesses.
We have conducted training courses on how to start a business, how to save, how to register a company and how to turn your hobby into a business and to advance business and how to take your business to the next level. We’ve received very positive responses and attendances for our workshops and we are now thinking of going regional.
We have written to banks asking them to set up help desks for women. We have also asked the Internal Revenue Commission to set up a help desk for women so that their questions on tax law, tax forms, company registration and annual returns are accommodated. Most banks have responded positively to our recommendation. That is a positive result for our advocacy.
We have also just recently conducted a round table conference to critically analyse the country’s draft small and medium enterprises policy. The round table conference involved government institutions, the private sector, private financial institutions and donor agencies. Among other things our recommendations is a five year tax free policy for women to allow them to build their business to a level that will allow them to make some profit and grow. We have also recommended for government and financial institutions to provide loans to women at a subsidised rate lower than the current interest rates they are charging.
The private sector organisations can be powerful catalysts by putting their resources and funding into up skilling programmes for women’s businesses. Private sector can also through their social corporate responsibility role do a lot to promote women business. The current processes in private sector organisations to apply for donor funding are so cumbersome that many women are unable to follow and understand what is required of them to qualify for such assistance. Private donor agencies can assist women by simplifying the process of applying for funding for women empowerment.
Women must aspire for transparency and conduct their businesses with principles of good governance. Women must be focussed and get the job done, be forthright and argue constructively for the rights and recognition of their fellow women. I know when I say this a lot of women reading this may think but what about our cultural norms that do not encourage this type of practise. For me the cultural practises that denigrate women or rank them inferior to the rest of society must be discouraged while we maintain those that respect and honour our women.
We as women can find that middle ground where we continue to respect our men as culture demands but at the same time aspire to forge ahead. Not an easy task but in my view not impossible to achieve. Women must learn to unite and work together and speak with one voice.
Younger women need mentoring and inspiration from senior women. We must not only provide mentoring to high school female students, but all women in all educational levels including students in the vocational schools. Those of us who are ahead must aspire to help those who may not be in our shoes or at our level. I believe this to be the most gratifying thing anyone can do.
Young leaders are authors of their success story. I want women to be millionaires, rocket scientists, manufacturers of cars, pilots, engineers the list is endless - they must dream big! This is part of nation building.
PNG Women in Leadership is a six-part interview series sponsored by the Australian High Commission Papua New Guinea