Solomon Islands

ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS

In 2015, the Asia Development Bank commissioned Good Return, an organization that helps communities grow income and beat poverty in developing countries, to advise on new ways to access banking, loans and financial support in the Solomon Islands, a remote island nation where a quarter of the population still carries all of its money around on its person.

Good Return understood the concept of human-centered research, and were keen to take this approach with this project so that they could really understand the Solomon Islanders’ needs – and not come in as heavy-handed foreigners. But what did a human-centered approach look like in this context? And how do you deliver it in a place that remote?

That’s when we got involved. Fjord had already collaborated with Good Return through Accenture’s Corporate Citizenship program. Good Return asked for our help, and together we co-designed a process for this important project. 

“TRAIN US TO BE SOLOMON ISLANDERS”

The Solomon Islands is a unique place with a unique culture, so Good Return knew it had to understand that culture from the inside to truly get to know the Solomon Islanders and understand their needs.

Good Return had teamed up with a large team of researchers, including native speakers, from the University of South Pacific. The big challenge in the discovery phase of this project would be getting people to open up to outsiders about personal issues like income, banking and money lending.

So we recommended a very specific immersive approach: researchers from Good Return and University of South Pacific (Good Return’s research partners) would spend time in rural communities, and the farmers would teach and mentor them as they would a young adult in the village.

Our immersive approach put the Solomon Islanders in the position of power. They were teaching us what they knew. And from it, we could see how they were thinking.
Rose Matthews Fjord lead
THE RUMBLE IN HONIARA

“When we started off the Rumble, we handed out Post-its – no one had ever used a Post-it so interactively in a workshop. Every Rumble in Australia is different. But in the Solomon Islands? It was completely different!” said Fjord’s Rose Matthews.

As part of the project, we facilitated a Rumble (our intense two-day workshop methodology) in the capital city of Honiara. The aim was to take our research findings and turn them into concepts for possible new banking services. We gathered 34 Solomon Islanders in the same room, from heads of banks to coconut farmers who’d never been to the capital before.

During the research, we’d given islanders cameras and asked them to photograph the most important things in their life. The impact was fantastic. For example, one woman had taken a picture of her kitchen – stones and a pit on the floor. The Island bankers thought she wanted access to money for a better kitchen when, in fact, she took it because she was proud of her kitchen – it was the best in the village. It was a great reminder we can all learn something new, no matter who we are.

All sorts of new ideas came out of the Rumble, like islanders automatically saving a tiny amount of money in their bank accounts (to be used as collateral for loans) when they added more credit to their pay-as-you-go accounts on their phones.

Expected ideas were challenged, too. For example, many of the bankers assumed a mobile banking app would be a great solution for this project – based on the fact most young Solomon Islanders owned a smartphone. But it turned out that there are no data networks available on the islands – the young people were using their smartphones as MP3 players!

BACK TO THE ISLANDS FOR TESTING

After the Rumble, we helped Good Return take the more suitable new ideas back to the rural communities for testing. A small team of us from Good Return, the University of the South Pacific and Fjord got into a tiny plane and hopped from island to island. At each stop we headed to the local school, where people would crowd in. We explored the different concepts from the Rumble on a big sheet of paper, with islanders actively involved.

DELIVERING THE ROADMAP

Finally, armed with feedback, we drew up a roadmap and took that back to the capital. There, we met the commercial providers involved with the project, and matched up their pipelines with the individual parts of the roadmap. The Asian Development Bank and other commercial providers involved with the project have now taken on these ideas and are putting them into practice.

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