26 July 2011

Be Wise: The first step? Join the association

The decorated hall's centre food court attracted a lot of visitors
Last Saturday was a living reminder that amazing things always happen when talented women get together. I returned to Tonga just in time to minimally help with the WISE Tonga official launch, the opening event of the new women in business association. Fully named Women in Sustainable Enterprises Tonga, the official association name is often shortened to WISE, not least because we can refer delightfully to the wise board, the wise membership, and the wise supporters.

Saturday's official launch was more like the combination of a festival and a trade fair. Business owners and managers from the WISE membership of over 140 women set up booths in the normally cavernous Queen Salote Memorial Hall for the public to enjoy. And everyone indeed seemed to thoroughly enjoy.

Visitors browsed a huge range of business booths
From my place at the WISE membership table, I watched as groups of people strolled through the hall holding melting ice cream cones, talking with acquaintances manning the booths, and browsing the wares. Kids excitedly ran back and forth from the children's area, where they fluttered through books, made sticky gluey craft projects, and to my envy, bounced on a giant trampoline.
The Minister of Education made a speech

For a young association's very first event, we sure had a lot of local celebrities. Hon Dr 'Ana Taufe'ulungaki, Minister of Education, Women and Culture was the guest of honour, and gave an inspiring speech praising WISE for it's initiative in pulling the association together without external starter funding, and emphasizing the importance of an association for women in business; because money that a woman earns usually goes to her family and improvement of her community.

The WISE launch was just one event in the yearly and much-anticipated Heilala Week, the yearly Tongan beauty pageant (which of course also judges well-roundedness, it is emphasized). Four of this year's contestants participated in the opening launch ceremony, and were closely followed by the Tongan rugby team, the 'Ikale Tahi. 

The rugby team looked chic in matching formal wear
The WISE association itself was started to create greater business opportunities for women in Tonga by building a resource network of members. Current members include formal and informal sector businesspeople, from women who run successful roadside stalls of vegetables, to women who casually start off conversations, "When I was in Fiji last week..." And some of the time, those members are from the same family, or even are the same person!

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