Radio New Zealand Pacific correspondent, Giff Johnson, wrote an article last month about how a recently launched Taiwan-funded small loan program for Marshall Islands women entrepreneurs has issued over US$200,000 in its first four months of operation.
The Kora Fund issued its first loan to an Ebeye woman as part of its official launch for Kwajalein Atoll, expanding its program to the second urban center in the Marshall Islands.
The fund plan came about as a result of collaboration between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and Hilda Heine, who was Marshalls’ president from 2016-2020. The two leaders developed the plan and Tsai agreed to invest US$1 million in the fund to encourage Marshallese women entrepreneurs.
A team of Kora (women’s) Fund and Bank of Marshall Islands officials went to Ebeye for the launch and to run a series of informational and training sessions about the new loan program. Hundreds of women turned out for the launch and the information sessions about the new small loan opportunity.
The launch featured remarks from Iroojlaplap (traditional chief) and Nitijela Member Mike Kabua, Kwajalein Mayor Hirata Kabua, Kora Fund Vice Chair Marie Maddison, and Education Minister Kitlang Kabua.
Following the speeches, the first loan was presented to Leilani Kemem to support her new business venture for ice-making. In her speech, Leilani mentioned that the reason she wanted to start an ice cube-making business on Ebeye is because “every time I go to buy ice, they say emoj an Iroojlaplap Mike wiaki aolep ice ko” (Iroojlaplap Mike has bought all the ice) – which sparked laughter among those at the launch.
The new fund was launched in Majuro earlier this year and has already issued small loans valued at over $200,000. With the $5,000 loan to Kemem, the total provided by the Kora Fund to Marshall Islands women as of this past weekend was $214,600, according to Monique Graham, the fund’s administrator.
The Kora Fund works with Bank of Marshall Islands to managed the loan program. As of May 23, the fund had issued 74 small loans to women since the inception of the program in January this year. These 74 loans injected $214,600 into the local economy though Marshallese women entrepreneurs.
Graham provided statistics showing that the loans to date have ranged from a low of $500 to a high of $10,000. The average of the 74 loans is $2,900.
The largest number of loans have gone for handicraft or retail business initiatives with 25 percent of the loan funds for each of these two areas. In addition to handicraft and retail, loans are supporting a range of business areas, including sewing, clothing, food processing, design, resort development, copra and agriculture.
To date, the small loans are supporting business developments on Majuro, Kwajalein, Ailinglaplap, Ujae, Mejit, Ebon, Arno and Wotje.