Building the Local Capability of Women Business Coaches in PNG to Deliver Sustainable and Inclusive Economic Growth

We worked with Abt Associates‘ Inclusive Economic Development team on behalf of the Australian Government (through the Australia-PNG Partnership) to design and deliver a year-long Train the Coach Program for four women entrepreneurs, in partnership with the PNG Women’s Business Resource Centre [WBRC], CIPE, and Resources Reimagined.

What was the opportunity?

For the last few decades, the development community has discussed the benefits of shifting to a more locally led model of development; much has been written about the localisation of aid and development, and the need to decolonise aid and development systems. Despite this, many practitioners share publicly – and privately – that not enough has changed on the ground.

Why is the industry resistant to development systems becoming localised?

    • The current players (including TDi) benefit from the status quo. Even though INGOs are filled with well-meaning people, there is still a business model shift required. We need to wrestle with historical power and privilege, and discern what a beneficial role looks like (and whether it is needed) in the future.
    • Donors have a very low tolerance of risk. Whilst they want to fund local organisations, their practices do not support this.
    • Low trust exists between donors or INGOs, and local organisations.
    • Existing local capability and local perspectives are often under-valued, and capability development is needed.
    • Capability-building involves long-term investments, and donors tend shy away from this.
    • Most capability building focuses on technical advice-giving, which often erodes confidence and does not generate enduring results.

It was this last point that was the focus of our first discussion with Eli Webb, Country Director of CIPE and the PNG Women’s Business Resource Centre. Eli wanted us to build the capability of her team so that they would be able to do what TDi does: provide coaching that addresses both inner development, as well as the technical skills for enterprise development [see our Case Study on our coaching model for small business support in PNG].

We were excited by this challenge, as it had been a long-held desire of TDi’s to replicate our approach in this way. But, in demonstration of the cultural and business shifts required, it took another four years of partnership, method codification, and internal mindset shifts.

In 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we finally had the opportunity to prototype a new program focusing on localising development: building the capability of four Local Business Coaches.

Our Approach

We partnered with the PNG Women’s Business Resource Centre, CIPE, Resources Reimagined and the Australian Government (through the Australia-PNG Partnership) to design and deliver a year-long Train the Coach Program for four women entrepreneurs.

The goals of the program were to: one, identify local talented female entrepreneurs, who had the potential to become business coaches; and two, grow that talent to increase the presence and capability of Local Business Coaches in PNG.

Our Train the Coach model, developed in partnership with Resources Reimagined, included:

A deliberate focus on both the technical skills required for coaching and the inner development journey or mindset shifts that would be required to support the four entrepreneurs to feel confident coaching. This was integral to the strong outcomes we saw.

Learning on the job: each of the Local Business Coaches individually completed:

          • 50 hours observation: they observed TDi’s six coaches working with local PNG business owners via video calls.
          • 100 hours co-leading: they contributed during coaching calls with a PNG business owner, with support from a TDi coach.
          • 70 hours coaching: Local Business Coaches lead the sessions with a PNG business owner with little to no support from the TDi coaches.

A 13-week training program including: best-practice business and mindset tools to use with business owners; business and mindset coaching techniques; developing your own mindset as a coach; building your own coaching business, and more.

Fortnightly group practice sessions between all the TDi coaches and the Local Business Coaches, to share practices and try out new skills in a safe environment.

One-to-one mindset coaching from Resources Reimagined, focusing on the specific mindset blockers that were preventing the Local Business Coaches from trusting their own value, talent, and expertise.

Excerpt from our full report: A scalable and localised model of micro and small business support for women entrepreneurs in PNG, download below.

The four Local Business Coaches shared that the most helpful elements of the program were:

      • The practical nature of the course, the constant practice, and the encouragement from the team
      • The specific tools and interventions taught by TDi and Resources Reimagined
      • The high calibre of TDi and Resources Reimagined, and the willingness to transfer skills and knowledge
      • Learning how to ask powerful questions that help the MSME diagnose the issues and identify the solution themselves, instead of giving advice
      • Observing the diversity in the TDi coaches (as well as the commonality in approach) which gave them permission to find their own authentic style
      • The trust and confidence from the TDi co-coaches and Resources Reimagined
      • The ability to reflect and talk with TDi to reflect on progress, on what was working and what was not
      • The great administration and simple reporting systems

These elements combined to create a strong learning culture, as there was an emphasis on the whole team learning together. This created a multi-directional learning environment, where the TDi coaches had the opportunity to learn from their PNG colleagues. We were also deliberate about providing appropriate scaffolding, and slowly removing that scaffolding as the Local Business Coaches gained new skills and confidence. The end result was that the Local Business Coaches felt supported and empowered throughout their development journey and substantially shifted their practice as coaches.

“The thing I found most useful about Local Business Coach program was the high calibre of the skill set that is available, and the willingness and openness to transfer these skills. The team-work and camaraderie that accompanied the transfer process was so priceless and unique. I highly recommend such a program for capacity-building, as it has transformed me into a Coach who empowers my clients to own their business destiny.”

– Mary Handen, Local Business Coach


The Local Business Coach program achieved very strong results. Three of the four Local Business Coaches graduated from the program, and all four of the Coaches grew significantly across our five coaching capability areas (see below). The one Coach who wasn’t able to complete the program had to step out of the program to respond to growth challenges within her own business. That said, she still grew her skills and knowledge substantially. 


Self and Trainer Assessments, before and after the Local Business Coach program:

Excerpt from our full report: A scalable and localised model of micro and small business support for women entrepreneurs in PNG, download below.

All three graduates have been offering their coaching services in 2022, and two of the Local Business Coaches have established formal coaching businesses. Both women are registering to become Business Link Pacific providers, which would greatly strengthen the availability of subsidised business support to women-led SMEs in PNG. From a TDi perspective, all three graduates are fully qualified to coach independently and have a track record of getting excellent outcomes with women business owners.


There is a significant opportunity to develop a network of women Local Business Coaches across the Indo-Pacific region, that can meet the needs of women MSMEs.

In PNG, applicants were sourced from PNG WBRC’s extensive member and subscriber list. Each round, the coaching was oversubscribed, indicating that there is strong demand for this type of coaching beyond the capacity of the current program. We see an opportunity to fund the training of an additional 15 Local Business Coaches, and in turn provide coaching to further cohorts of women MSME owners across PNG, especially those that do not speak English.


We also see an opportunity to refine the Train the Coach model. The current model relies on approximately 220 hours (per Local Business Coach) of coaching to enable the Coach to become qualified. We suspect that there may be different, more cost effective models for achieving the same outcomes, but further prototyping is needed.

If you are looking for a capability partner in the Pacific region, please get in touch to explore the possibilities.

The opportunity exists to train more local women entrepreneurs in this coaching model, and establish a truly localised, high-quality network of coaches across the region. Download the full report to read more about the success and sustainability of our method.