Claiming A Space For The People Who Make Fiji “Home”

A story not often told is that of Tappoo Kanji, the founder of the Tappoo Group of Companies.
01 Jun 2019 14:27
Claiming A Space For The  People Who Make Fiji “Home”
From left: Rise Beyond the Reef (RBTR) co-founders Semi Lotawa and Janet Lotawa with Tappoo Group of Companies Executive Chairman, Kanti Lal Tappoo, Harish Tappoo, Harnish Tappoo, Vika Nanituva, aka “Bubu” (sitting). Photo: Tappoo Group of Companies

The Pacific Islands may be known for the “slow life” or in this country “Fiji Time” but make no mistake there is rapid change taking place in our small island nation.

As globalisation and technology continue to connect people, investors, natural resources and development at a rapid pace, the question remains how can marginalised communities stand their ground and claim their space in Fiji’s private sector growth trajectory?

A story not often told is that of Tappoo Kanji, the founder of the Tappoo Group of Companies.

Imagine a situation when you are one year old, your mother has just died from the plague that is claiming thousands of lives in India and your father leaves you in the care of poor relatives and goes to a distant land in search for a better life for his family. It is as good as being orphaned.

In 1932 at the age of 15, he set off to join his father in Sigatoka, where the young man worked for various business before he started handcrafting pieces of jewellery in 1941.

He had no idea that he was laying the foundations of a business that, within a generation, would be one of the largest in Fiji.

Amidst this transformational change he and his children have brought forth in business development, their commitment to knowing where they come from and social responsibility is reflected in their quest for job creation in Fiji and especially in their hometown of Sigatoka.

“We are proud of the Tappoo Group’s humble beginnings in Sigatoka,” says executive director Harish Tappoo.

“This is why we’ve chosen to remain headquarted here and continued to invest in Nadroga”.

Today, the Tappoo Group has over 1800 employees.

Exclusive Deal

On Thursday, Tappoo inked an exclusive deal with Rise Beyond the Reef (RBTR), a local NGO, to exclusively sell artisanal craft products made by rural and remote women at all Tappoo Fiji Market locations countrywide.

In 2014, RBTR had just wrapped up a comprehensive baseline study in the interior of Ba – Yakete District (also known as Tikina Nalotawa).

Study findings helped guide their program approaches and a partnership model with rural remote communities to help them “link to the outside world” sustainably by “helping to bridge the divide from rural remoteness to government, aid and private sector partners” was developed.

By the end of 2014, a pilot project called the Traditional Contemporary Arts and Crafts Income Generating program, which is a Leadership & Economic Development Program for rural remote women in Fiji, was underway in four villages.

By 2015, the proof of concept was sticking and showed signs that is was worth continuing.

We realised early on the transformational power of remote women being able to earn in their village, not having to spend up to 70 per cent of their income to access market, which was a major barrier identified in our baseline study.

But the process of developing the programme was not understood by all.

The private sector was pretty much interested from day one – they know a lot of tourists want to buy products that impact communities, but don’t always know how.

And there’s not enough supply in Fiji.

The aid sector was not so sure about how the program worked with few successful models of Women’s Economic Development programming to reference in the region, especially one targeting rural remote communities.

Over time, RBTR was able to garner support from Australian Aid’s Market Development Facility (MDF), the first funding partner in Fiji who believed in the importance of supporting Product Development & Design, which has been a key input that’s driven their sales growth and artisan skill development.

Market Access

Today, close to 400 women from Ba, Ra, Macuata and Nairai Island are engaged in their program.

One of the most critical components to our work is establishing strong market linkages. Because we work with rural remote women, we partner along every step of the supply and value chain to help ensure ongoing market access.

RBTR buys products from its producers in Ba and Ra every two weeks and quarterly from more remote areas.

Artisan earnings have also doubled in the last year and are on track again for this year.

The market access Tappoo is helping to provide is critical to supporting our ability to guarantee steady market the women in our programme and to have the capacity to take on partnership with more communities who have reached out. ”

Tappoos’ Fiji Market features a variety of locally handmade crafts, artifacts, and edible food products.

The addition of RBTR’s products helps to ensure there is a “space” held specifically for products made by rural remote women in Fiji. With more than 80 per cent of products being imported and sold in the tourist gift market in the Pacific, we have to be “intentional” about who is being represented in the marketplace.

Saying things are Fiji-inspired doesn’t address the core issue of socio-economic inclusion. It’s about “who” is making the products.

We are extremely grateful for Tappoo’s investment in our products and for allowing us to trial a wide variety of our products in their established market space, wanting to do the right thing.

Tappoo is leading the way in a new era of Fiji’s big box retailer norms by showcasing and prioritising a brand that is for and by rural remote women of Fiji.

“Even though we’ve been committed to promoting and selling “Fijian Made” as a group, for years we’ve struggled with the consistency of supply of locally made artisanal craft products for the tourist market,” says Harish Tappoo.

“RISE Beyond The Reef addresses this critical gap in the supply chain, and our partnership with them ensures that rural and remote women producers, their families and communities derive greater economic benefits from Fiji’s tourism sector.”

You can find RBTR’s #CommunityMade products at all Tappoo Fiji Market locations throughout Fiji.


Subscribe to E-Edition
pacific island top up
Rewa Fiji Dairy Ltd
Fiji Sun Instagram
Fiji Plus