The Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development (FRIEND) is a homegrown community development Non-Governmental Organisation based in Lautoka on the west coast of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.
The hallmark of FRIEND’s work is the integrated approach it brings into community development, working with communities in rural and under-served regions of Fiji’s western and northern and central divisions. This encompasses formal and non-formal settlements and we ensure inclusion of the marginalised members of the community including those living with disabilities, widows, single parents, orphans and former prisoners.
Through its integrated social, health and economic interventions, FRIEND empowers communities through knowledge, skills and resources to improve their lives and break out of poverty. With the support of donor partners and through its own funding, FRIEND engages Communities in Governance programs, Sustainable Livelihoods, Disaster Preparedness and Healthy Living, targeting women, youths and men in each community we work in for sustainable development.
Anguished about the depressing state of poverty in rural communities in Fiji and what she strongly felt was resource wastage, journalist-turned community development worker Sashi Kiran registered FRIEND as a charitable organisation in December 2001. She asked for assistance from her two Suva friends Lawyer Ms Marie Chan and Journalist Ms Sandhya Narayan to help with the registration process. Late Satya Bali, the then President of Ba Senior Citizens Centre became the first President of FRIEND and great moral support for the founder. Sashi moved from Suva to Lautoka and between the two of them FRIEND started its community development work in Ba and Lautoka.
Sashi worked part time as a Peace Facilitator and used this income to pay volunteers, administration and establishment costs.
Having to build FRIEND from the ground, it took some time to find affordable office space. It was not until August 29, 2002 that FRIEND opened its office in an upstairs cubicle room on Lautoka’s Mana Street.
By then FRIEND had its SAHARA (Hindi for assistance) Scholarship Scheme going, funded by a generous donation from the International Fiji Movement, made up of former Fiji residents now living in England. SAHARA assisted poor children attending primary and secondary schools nationwide until the Government declared free education for all.
In 2002, FRIEND started a save scheme in 10 communities in Ba. Around the same time, a partnership was developed with the Senior Citizens Centre in Ba for the start up of an income generation project, tamarind chutney. FRIEND outgrew its office space and the NGO moved to Valetia Street, not far from Lautoka’s Churchill Park in late 2002.
The chutney was officially launched on International Women’s Day the following year along with Chilli Chutney, created to help fund FRIEND’s projects. The products are both still available and sold under theFRIEND Fiji Style® brand today, forming part of FRIEND’s Sustainable Livelihoods program.
2004 saw the establishment of a handmade cards program for the deaf youth members. This project emerged from FRIEND’s Community Governance training which the team had begun taking into communities that same year. The food product line also flourished as Sweet Mango Chutney, Mango Pickle and Mustard Pickle were all made by different groups of women in the FRIEND kitchen.
After three years of struggling for funding and recognition, FRIEND scored a major breakthrough when it was the only NGO invited to host the visiting heir to the British Throne His Royal Highness Prince Charles in May 2005. The royal visit thrust FRIEND into the local and international spotlight, and donors and sponsors began to turn their attention to the fledgling NGO.
The same year, the British High Commission funded the buying of a fruit dryer for FRIEND. Other external donors such as AusAID, NZAID and Canada Fund also came on board to fund FRIEND’s work in un-served and under-served communities in western Viti Levu.
Recognition of FRIEND also came in the form of national and international awards. Commissioning its own retail shop allowed FRIEND to expand its range of food and craft products and the opening of a regional office in Labasa in 2009 extended the reach of FRIEND’s works.
Disturbed by the prevalence of stroke patients and people with amputated limbs in the community, FRIEND launched its Health Program in 2009 to combat Non Communicable Diseases. That same year, a new plot of land at Tuvu on the Kings Road from Lautoka City was acquired with plans to create a FRIEND Village. This land would provide much improved facilities for income generation projects, a seedling centre and model gardens. The move from FRIEND’s Valetia Street premises to Tuvu happened on July 2010, and Australia’s acting High Commissioner to Fiji then, Her Excellency Judith Robinson officially opened FRIEND Village on its 8th birthday on 29 August 2010.
The same year, a manual of FRIEND’s Community Governance training was published under the title ‘The Social and Economic Empowerment Training Guide for Pacific Communities.’
In November 2012, two months after celebrating its 10th birthday, FRIEND landed its largest project to date, the European Union-funded GROW initiative. With a grant of 2.8 million Euros for three years (2012 to 2014), GROW is part of the EU’s Social Mitigation Support Programme that promotes income generating activities in the provision of vocation training for Fiji’s sugarcane communities.
Health Program on the other hand has evolved into SMILE, Sustainable Medicine -Improving Lives through Empowerment. SMILE uses the approach of community medicine where our group of medical workers, comprising doctors and nurses conduct regular NCD clinics in poor and remote communities. After introducing SMile on VitiLevu’s west coast three years ago, our NCD clinics were introduced in Labasa on February 2012. FRIEND also entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Health on SMILE in 2013.
From humble beginnings, FRIEND has over 60 dedicated staff now who works in our offices in Lautoka and Labasa on Community Governance, Sustainable Livelihoods and SMILE Health. The FRIEND Fiji Style® range of quality products now includes pickles, chutneys, jams, herbal teas and spices made from local resources as well as handmade cards and craft products.
FRIEND Village sustained heavy damage during Tropical Cyclone Evan on 17 December 2012. Although it lost its workshop and Conference Centre and half the roof of its main office, FRIEND bounced back in no time to rebuild and extend its office space. The organization had to take extra burden of loan to rebuild having taken an initial loan to build its first office at Tuvu.
After the cyclone FRIEND also developed its new state of the art Food Production Centre that was funded by the European Union.
The NGO has also established a Profit Centre in Tuvu, with space for craft workshop, boutique shop, restaurant, conference centre and a staff village.
A Trading arm known as TatadraPacifika has been established to support Livelihood initiatives while FRIEND will remain focused on Community Development.
From an initial staff of three, FRIEND has grown in leaps and bounds to have a staff compliment of 60 in its Lautoka and Labasa offices by early 2013.
Strategic and policy oversight is provided by the Board of Directors while a team of managers led by Founder & Director of FRIEND, Sashi Kiran manages daily operations. FRIEND’s team includes professionals in community development, agriculture, livestock, medicine, social welfare, counseling, data analysis, quality control management, programme administration, food production and media and communication.
FRIEND does not seek out recognition in the forms of awards, but its work with the under-served communities in western and northern Fiji over the years have got itself national and international acclamation.
- 2006 – Fiji Development Bank New Initiatives Small Business Awards
Awarded to three projects falling under FRIEND’s DESI program:
Handmade Cards Initiative – Deaf Card group
Tamarind Chutney Project – Ba Senior Citizens Center
Sweet Mango Chutney Income Generation Initiative – Kamla Wati
- 2006 – Fiji Development Bank Small Business of the Year
This prestigious award came in recognition of being the driving force behind the various New Initiatives Small Business Awards, as detailed above.
- 2007 – FASWA NGO of the Year
On bestowing this award, the Fiji Association of Social Workers revealed that FRIEND had received unanimous support from FASWA membership.
- Frank Hilton Community Service Award 2008
An inaugural award by the ABC Foundation (Fiji) to recognise the efforts of those working at improving the lives of fellow citizens.
- 2005 – ICT Youth Award, Tunis
This award recognised the use of internet technology as a facilitator of an income generation program for youth. Nileshni Sekar, a volunteer with FRIEND at that time, searched the internet and learnt the art of quilling. This she shared with a group of about twenty deaf youths that kick-started the Friend’s Fiji Style® range of handmade cards.
- 2006 – CIVICUS Nelson Mandela GracaMachel Innovation Award
Awarded for the Youth Employment Network (YEN) programme at FRIEND.
The criteria the judges used for evaluating these projects included originality, sustainability, potential for positive impact on citizen rights and justice movements, and partnership opportunities.
- 2007 – UN Habitat Good Practice
Awarded to FRIEND’s Income Generating Programme (Food Products) for poverty alleviation. Best Practices are analysed with a view to extracting lessons that others can learn from and incorporate in their own programmes.
- 2009 – South Pacific Stock Exchange Annual Report Cover
Second Runner up in the non government category.