On November 18, 2020, a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) researching Women’s Financial Access and Production Needs in Southeast Sulawesi was held online through Zoom. The FGD discussed the experiences of women entrepreneurs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was attended by seven participants, women entrepreneurs from five districts/municipalities of the NSLIC/NSELRED pilot project in Southeast Sulawesi representing different types of business sectors, such as processed fisheries, seaweed cultivation, virgin coconut oil, and agriculture.
The participants shared their experiences of maintaining their business during the pandemic, such as purchasing raw materials from different places, harnessing support from the Development Planning Agency at Sub-National Level (Bappeda) of Baubau, completing halal certification for their products, diversifying products, and temporarily pausing production activities. The FGD participants said that sales had decreased and the target market was limited to the local area even though they already relied on the online marketplace and social media. This certainly has an impact on financial conditions, so that some of them had to increase prices, use savings, and borrow assets.
The pandemic also affected the women entrepreneurs’ family or support network activities. Some of them complained that the drastic decline in income had increased the family’s financial burden, forcing them to take side jobs for additional income. Their domestic burden also increased, with children studying online at home. Despite these manifold challenges, women still actively took care of the household and while working to implement health protocols introduced during the pandemic. Some of them even contributed to the Elderly Equality Institute, which is a program of the Ministry of Social Affairs. The women’s partners and other family members assisted them in carrying out all these activities, however, it cannot be denied that the pandemic has saddled them with an additional emotional burden.
By accessing information through their cell phones or other devices, the women received support from the local government through the Baubau City fisheries office and the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries. This information was obtained from related Local Government Organization (Organisasi Perangkat Daerah or OPDs), fisheries extension officers, village government, NSLIC/NSLERED project, Bombana Industry and Trade Agency staff, social media, messaging applications, and TV. Social media is also used to sell their products as it reaches a wider range of customers, makes marketing easier, and can is a useful platform to utilise when adjusting to health protocols regarding in person trade. The FGD participants were interested in further training on online marketing skills. They were motivated to gain experience and better marketing methods to meet their household needs.