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Interwoven Value: Women Entrepreneurs in the Republic of the Marshall Islands

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posted on 2023-10-01, 10:57 authored by Laura Freeman

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a large ocean atoll state north of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean that is home to over 40,000 people (EPPSO, 2021b). Sustained economic development and self-reliance are yet to be achieved. With the longstanding U.S. Compact of Free Association (COFA) transitioning in 2023 and outward migration often depleting human capital on the islands, enhanced investment and support to the private sector is critical. Marshallese women entrepreneurs who engage in formal or informal business play a pivotal role in the community, particularly given their place in a matrilineal society. However, there has been limited academic study of Pacific Island women in business and none of women in the RMI.

Value chain theory seeks to make sense of the way value is created, added and how it manifests as it moves through a business from producer to consumer. There has however, been little consideration in the literature of the role and impact of the sociocultural context on business and value.

This research sought to understand the prospects for Marshallese women entrepreneurs by investigating: (1) how they operate in the economic environment and seek to add and manage ‘value’ in their business; (2) how the social and cultural environment affects their business; and (3) the challenges and issues they face. The research adopted a social constructivist epistemology to create and apply the ‘Interwoven Value Model’ (IVM) conceptual framework. Using individual and group bwebwenato (storytelling) sessions, qualitative information was gathered from 31 Marshallese women entrepreneurs and took place from August – October 2021, during a period of national lockdown amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

Findings reveal the women entrepreneurs operated a diverse range of businesses of various scales and stages of development. They were all driven by an innate urge to support their family and community - and were not solely focused on making a profit. They constantly sought opportunities to diversify and adapt, based on market and community needs. The sociocultural environment, especially each woman’s family background, greatly influenced how they operated their business and the degree to which this enabled them to succeed or face adversity. The value they created from their business was interwoven and generated social, cultural and (sometimes but not always) economic returns. The women also struggled with ongoing problems, such as distrust in others, unreliable workers, land insecurity, foreign competition and unhelpful tax requirements for formal businesses. The research provides valuable implications for development practitioners and academics alike. The way practitioners approach and engage support for women entrepreneurs in the Pacific must fundamentally shift to consider the sociocultural context first and foremost. It is important to address the critical human resource, supply and market challenges in which the women entrepreneurs continue to operate, thereby protecting them, ensuring business continuity and upholding the multifaceted value and return to the community they so diligently provide. Value chain theory must not only consider but integrate sociocultural aspects in analyses and other forms of value generation.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Development Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Development Studies

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

139999 Other culture and society not elsewhere classified; 219999 Other Indigenous not elsewhere classified; 119999 Other commercial services and tourism not elsewhere classified

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Overton, John