To outsiders, Samoa’s lush forests and beautiful vistas represent tropical paradise. But for many Samoans, the remoteness of their Pacific nation results in a poverty of opportunity. Consequently, many young Samoans work abroad and send part of their income home to their families. These remittances, while valuable, can perpetuate a cycle in which generation after generation of Samoans feel compelled to leave the island for opportunity elsewhere.
Visionary entrepreneur Adimaimalaga (Adi) Tafuna’i is convinced this dynamic can and should change. Globally minded, yet deeply rooted in her community, she has dedicated her life to service, working to build sustainable economic opportunities for Samoan women and families, in a way that is good for people, good for prosperity, and good for the planet.
In 1991, Adi and a group of her friends established an organization called Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI) to encourage Samoan women in business. But after a spate of natural disasters proved devastating to rural communities, Adi and her colleagues shifted their focus to village-based economic development.
Adi was determined to enable women to earn an income where they live, so that they could better educate, feed, and care for their families, and break the vicious cycle of poverty. Whereas outside experts had proposed microfinance, Adi’s vision was larger: She wanted to leverage local resources to connect Samoan women to global markets. “Finding niche markets like coconut oil and noni juice is the only way the Islands will achieve in the world market,” she says. “It’s about helping rural people, encouraging them to use the natural products around them. It’s getting them their own cash, helping them to earn a living from what they have access to.”
Thanks to Adi’s efforts, The Body Shop became a key partner in bringing Samoan products to the world. Today, beauty items sold in nearly 50 countries are made with coconut oil produced by hundreds of Samoan families. And as the market for Samoan exports such as coconut oil, noni juice, bananas, woven mats, and tapa cloth grows, Adi is working to bring other Pacific countries in as suppliers, expanding regional economic growth.
Adi’s efforts have won the praise of the country’s prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi. “No group or individual has contributed more to the village economy—particularly to the empowerment of women,” he says, “than the Women in Business group and Adi’s role in that organization.”
“We don’t go into a village and say we’re going to change everything for every one of you,” Adi explains. “We change one family, and they become a role model, and then another family joins and another family joins, and that’s lovely to see.”