Upskilling rural youths
18 July, 2017, 12:00 am
INITIATED out of a passion to serve and upskill unemployed youths in Bau, Tailevu, SilverWaters Fibreglass Boats & Products are growing steadily in a highly-competitive market.
The company, which was established in 2011, is a small fibreglass boat producing business based out of Ovea Village in Bau, Tailevu, and mainly employs rural youths within the area.
SilverWaters was founded by Frank Hamagushi, an Ovea, Bau native who had a passion to give back to his community by upskilling rural youths and streamlining them into income generation.
After spending some years working as a salesman in Australia, Mr Hamagushi set out on a mission with a vision to establish the company in Fiji for the greater good.
“Our business model is about empowering our youths, in particular rural youths, upskilling our underprivileged locals and giving back to the community,” Mr Hamagushi said.
“It’s all about the passion; the boats are just the products that we work on.
“The passion is to help people and I love helping people, but then my policy is I cannot help people who can’t help themselves.
“So the core of the company is to try and employ more people, especially the youths and create employment further paving the pathway to better living for them.”
The name of the company — SilverWaters — is synonymous with the well-known waters of the chiefly island of Bau ,which is now commonly referred to as Wai Siliva or silvery waters.
And while others would simply give handouts and one time contribution to youths in rural areas, Mr Hamagushi thought of something that would have a greater long-term economic impact.
“I created something with my team, a concept, product and a market for it,” he said.
“I aimed to channel them into a work environment just like you have in the urban areas so we can have an economic impact on the families, the children.”
But the journey to where SilverWaters is now was not all rosy because it was fraught with its own challenges and obstacles along the way.
“You could imagine creating something that usually happens in the urban areas and implementing it in the rural areas,” Mr Hamagushi said.
“And we are talking about people who have never had a job, they were just floating around.
“The biggest challenge was to channel them slowly and it involved a lot of patience.”
But Mr Hamagushi is no expert in boat building and neither did he receive formal training on it.
So how did he start something which now has become a source of income for several youths in Bau, Tailevu?
Surprisingly, Mr Hamagushi had learnt the art of boatbuilding from simply watching You Tube, something which he said was more useful than what others utilised the digital medium for.
“None of us have ever built boats before this company started, even I myself learned how to build boats from You Tube,” he said.
“Some of us go on You Tube probably to watch sevens, remixes and what I have always done is to learn how to run a business.
“It’s funny because I actually learned the language of boat building, how to speak with boat builders, suppliers and sellers of local materials from You Tube.”
Now with about 20 employees employed, SilverWaters has produced more than 200 boats with distribution reaching Kadavu, Lau and Yasawa groups, Rabi, Vanua Levu and Viti Levu.
“Right now we are trending along the two to three per week, but then the capacity if we channel more work then we are able to do six a week.
“We all tried to master it from the start of the company to where we are now,” Mr Hamagushi said.
“All our boys live in nearby villages, they commute daily to the working shed situated at the entrance to Ovea Village.
“They have consistent income, we’ve committed to training and upskilling them beyond boat building.”
Mr Hamagushi said this was done with the hope that the efforts would help improve their daily lifestyle, contribute towards the development of their own villages and be financially independent.
“It’s humbling to see the impacts of this in rural communities,” he said.
“We have just started small and we have more than 15 labourers from the village right now, and the impact or the economic activity trickles right down to the other villagers.
“That’s the concept and I am really glad we have come this far.”
SilverWaters, with the initial capital investment and equipment, has broken into the Pacific market with its fibreglass boat supplies reaching Samoa, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, American Samoa and Kiribati.
“We started with the small boats and we tried really hard to penetrate into the markets, I could say that we are slightly established in Fiji and we’ve got our boats in some Pacific regional countries,” Mr Hamagushi said.
“We’d love to penetrate more into the Pacific and the impact is phenomenal.”
The company also launched their milestone project last week, a 36 feet fibreglass boat that will be used by the popular TV series Survivor.
Speaking of future plans for SilverWaters, Mr Hamagushi said they intend to further grow their operations in the rural area, harnessing the abundance of labour.
“There’s no intention of moving out of the rural area, we will probably set up something if we grow something in the urban area,” he said.
“We are also thankful to Asco Motors who is our reseller and very thankful because they were the first company that came in to help us.
“They were the ones that had faith in us and said we’ll try to push out your brand.”
Other giant companies in Fiji like Home and Living and Courts have partnered SilverWaters streamlining their brand and product into the market.
SilverWaters have also developed other subsidiary initiatives which include the SilverWater Barbarians rugby club.
“It has been an amazing journey,” Mr Hamagushi said.
“There are a lot of stories I can share with you from the struggles we went through, the overwhelming support network, the tireless nights, the doubts, the perseverance, the blessings and most importantly the amazing people and team effort.”
With ambitious plans for future growth, SilverWaters has also called on the support of Government, private sector, NGOs, local communities and interested individuals to partner with them on this journey of sustainable development focused on youth empowerment in rural communities.