When Tina Mark Kakini returned home to Alotau after earning a Certificate IV in Entrepreneurship at Australia’s Sunshine Coast University, she took the Australia Awards program’s mission to heart—share what you have learned and help build a brighter future for your community. And that is just what she did.
After establishing her own successful business, Pearl Clothing, before going to Australia, Tina is now working to support other women entrepreneurs through her female empowerment program, the 20 Kina Multiplication Challenge. Encouraging women who have joined the program, Tina says, ‘rather than thinking about what to do, focus on what you have and utilise that. Do not to look any further than what you have and know.’
Her message it is not easy to start and operate a business is one she imparts through her female empowerment programme. Since its founding in 2017, she has touched the lives of more than 150 women, “A thought flashed in my head with these exact words, ‘Tina are you able to multiply K20.’” With those words, she knew what she had to do. The concept is simple but carries a huge impact, “I met with ten women here in Alotau and gave each of woman K20. I told them, take this K20, multiply it and come back in two weeks and tell me how you did it.”
She holds bi-weekly meetings with the women, giving them advice on how to surmount the problems they encounter. Once a woman achieves success over several months, Tina tasks her with a new assignment, “Pass the same K20 to another woman with your story and tell her, if I made it you can make it, rise up.”
Tina points to her own experiences as an example for women in the program. She built her business from nothing at the start, to a successful small business with a new premises currently under construction. She gives high praise to her employees, Joyce Doilegu, a chronic asthmatic with a disability and Movin Topio, a hearing impaired security guard, who managed her shop while she studied in Australia. Even through moments when it seemed like her business was falling apart her pioneer employees as she calls them stuck by her side. Tina speaks with great emotion and gratitude towards her employees and she is a firm advocate of employing people with disabilities. ‘Never look down on those with disabilities because they will stay loyal to you.’ Gesturing toward her employees, and speaking to Movin in sign language, she continues, ‘from three bails, with the help of my special employees, I’m now shipping in containers’.
Tina has big plans for her store, which is operating from under a canvas shelter while she waits for construction to be finished. ‘It will be more traditional looking, because our province is more into tourism’. The store is being constructed with timber offcuts, carefully joined to make traditional styles. As she so often says, ‘use what you have in order to generate something’. Which is exactly what she is doing, making use of her store to support herself and her empowerment program. ‘With my discount clothing, I kind of put it into my community work basket. So, the funds go there and that helps me with my community work. And the basket that is for me to take care of my business and my employees, to keep us going, is a separate basket. It’s how it is keeping me going with my development.’ But she always stresses that she works with what she has, and builds from that.
Tina’s new store also includes space for local entrepreneurs to showcase their products. ‘One thing I learned on scholarship, is to have a one-stop shop,’ Tina recalls while thanking the Australian Government for the educational opportunity. She envisions that when tourists come into Pearl Clothing they will have access to lots of local artistic products as well as second-hand clothing, giving them one place to find a range of options for items they might want to buy on their visit to Alotau. Tina gives an example of the kind of products that would be on display by holding up the shell necklace she is wearing and explaining how a simple shell can be designed into a product of value to generate income, but also how business owners should always be looking for opportunities and how to improve their sales or market their products better. ‘That’s what I’m doing from what I’ve learned. To set up this place is simply having entrepreneurs come here, and as they are buying and selling we are asking them what is it that you’re doing, what do you need to improve on?’
Tina’s dream is to have an incubation centre and office space for women to operate, as well as an area to run empowerment sessions with the women while their products are displayed in the stalls. She is bringing the knowledge she gained through her studies to practical application at a local community level, and has made it her goal to support fellow entrepreneurs in Alotau by inspiring and motivating them with her story and market-tested advice.
In a recent interview with NBC radio, Tina appealed to other would-be business owners, saying, “most of us know how to make money, but it’s the motivation that is ”. Tina further summarises that individuals need to take the plunge and turn their ideas to reality, “I have my plan, I’m setting my goal and working from what I have.”