If you asked anyone where the current business hot spot of the world is, the most common response would be North Asia. However, a new project led by AusAID is demonstrating that there are equally beneficial business and investment opportunities closer to home in South East Asia and the Pacific.
As well as providing ongoing aid towards education, improving maternal health and strengthening disaster response, Australia’s aid program is also helping companies kick-start their businesses in the Asia – Pacific region.
Seeing a need to demonstrate to investors the possibilities of investing in the Asia-Pacific region and wanting to lay the foundations for a successful business environment in the region, AusAID launched the ‘Enterprise Challenge Fund’ (ECF) in 2007, to provide grants to companies wishing to start or expand their enterprise.
Created with a focus on employment and commercial markets, the ECF aims to stimulate growth and ensure that those living in poorer regions have the opportunity to be included in the benefits provided by economic growth.
From 2007 up until 2013, Australia will provide $20.5 million in grants to pilot the ECF in South East Asia and the Pacific, working with businesses to jointly fund initiatives and create self-sustaining projects.
As it stands, the program has approved 22 projects across eight countries in the region. These projects are designed to ensure local communities have more access to jobs, higher incomes and increased access to vital goods and services.
The initiative is designed to help address perceived risks to contributing to projects in poorer regions, with an intention of helping entrepreneurs in the Asia-Pacific region overcome these constraints, and to demonstrate the viability of business in the region.
An ECF project already under way is that of Carnival, an Australian owned cruising company operating cruises in the Pacific. Previously, when providing services to Vanuatu, Carnival cruise ships were only able to dock in Port Villa, as other ports were considered inadequate for passenger safety and comfort. Through an ECF project, local community members on the islands of Champagne Bay have been able to work to improve the safety, comfort and quality of tourism destinations previously unable to be visited by Carnival, creating increased calls in port, and increasing returns for the local community.
The improvement of the sites, led by locals, have provided an increased opportunity for revenue for those living in the area. Training in hospitality and financial management, as well as opportunities for the creation of small businesses around the tourist sites have also been made available. As a result, living standards and income has been increased in communities around the Champagne Bay.
The project has also led to:
- The installation of a mobile telecommunications tower on Mystery Island, the first reliable communication service in this very remote area,
- The installation of tourism facilities in the Champagne Bay, as well as wharf upgrades, improved navigation aids and the commencement of short excursions of the area, and
- Increased sales of locally made products to visitors to Vanuatu.
The funds from the ECF have also been used to install clean and environmentally friendly toilet facilities at three sites in Vanuatu, train locals in hospitality and establish tour routes and informative signage.
It is believed that the project will also have benefits beyond Carnival’s own initiatives, with additional cruise ship operators already expressing interest in use of the improved tourist sites in the Champagne Bay, and discussion that the project will be a useful case study for the ‘regional cruise-ship strategy’ of the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.