Celebrating People of 2021 – SSAB CEO Tofilau Fiti Leung Wai

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Community groups and non-government organisations in Samoa who work in various areas of social development will tell you that Samoa Stationery and Books (SSAB) is a company they often go to with their sponsorship request letters, seeking financial and in-kind support in times of need. This year, even amidst the global pandemic and border closures, SSAB has been able to keep up its extensive community work throughout 2021 – a testament of the unwavering faith of its Founder and CEO, Tofilau Fiti Leung Wai.

Tofilau founded SSAB from a start-up stationery and book store in 2008, and has built it up to a chain of stores with seven branches established in Upolu, Savaii, American Samoa and New Zealand.

Tofilau is the force behind SSAB’s growth and success, and there is no doubt that God is the force behind Tofilau. God’s favour has been the pinnacle of SSAB’s success – the only company in Samoa with a specially built-in prayer room at its headquarters at Togafuafua.

When SSAB recently celebrated its 13th birthday, Tofilau said she had built a prayer room to honour and worship God. She says having the prayer room will also give her staff the opportunity to stay connected to God, while at work.

“I am always grateful to God for his favor and guidance upon SSAB all these years. I am also thankful to my husband Aumua Ming Leung Wai for his support and help since the inception of SSAB”.

Tofilau acknowledged her employees, whom she refers to as family.

“I have such a great team,” says Tofilau, who expanded business operations and created 5 new product lines in 2021 – creating 24 new jobs to take the total number of staff to over 180 not including part time and casual workers.

“Jeremiah 29:11 [For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future] is a daily reminder to my SSAB family during our prayers,” says Tofilau.

SSAB awarding Night Photo: SSAB page.

The establishment of Samoa Stationery and Books in 2008 stemmed from Tofilau’s passion for reading and wanting to own a library.

“I started my own bookshop, my husband was also very helpful and even though he was not in the business, he was always very supportive,” she shares.

Tofilau’s business acumen told her that books alone wouldn’t sustain her business.

“So I also sold stationery, hence the name of my business; Samoa Stationery and Books”.

Today, the operations of SSAB have expanded to include all household furniture and fittings, kitchenware, electronics, even clothing including school uniforms and more.

What has been noticeable amidst the economic downturn faced by Samoa during border closures, is that throughout 2021, Samoa Stationary and Books (SSAB) has maintained its extensive charity work in various areas across the community in Samoa – including the re-opening of the children’s library at the paediatric ward of Motootua National Hospital, the establishments of a rehabilitation study centre at Tanumalala prison, a donation of $34,000 tala to Samoa’s Cancer Society, ongoing support to SVSG’s Campus of Hope, the launch of a first-ever farming calendar to support women farmers, an e-waste project and countless donations to club and school prize givings, sporting events and library services.

SSAB does enter into strategic partnerships with various organisations and government ministries for its community work, but that collaboration is often instigated and driven by Tofilau.

Tofilau is the daughter of Fuimaono Lafaele and Lino Stanley Vito, although she shares that she was brought up by her aunty Epenesa Saifoloi in her early years as a child.

Tofilau says she had the best of both worlds to have been brought up by two strong and caring women, and with her father being an established businessman, entrepreneurship was always in her.

“My aunty Epenesa was all about loving, and a very kind person. I came back to my real parents when I was still at a young age, at Togafuafua. My dad was a business person. My mum used to be a teacher and then she left her job to help out with our family business.”

“My mother is a very strong Christian, and she taught us values that are still with us, but my dad was the total opposite”. Tofilau smiles and shares that she is the fourth of six siblings of her mother and father, however, she has 15 other half brothers and sisters.

SSAB’s organisational culture is family centred, and Tofilau’s leadership style focuses on positivity, but with a deeply rooted sense of hard work.

“In this world, if you don’t work hard you will not find success..”

“I don’t take time off from work because there is always so much to do,” says Tofilau.

It is not unusual for Tofilau to get home at 9pm or even 11pm. “And when it’s too late, I sleep in my office some days,” Tofilau says with a smile.

“But in my working life, I always put God first in whatever work I do”.

Opening ceremony of God’s Library at Pediatric ward at Motootua National hospital

Tofilau refers to her senior management team as her partners, and says she believes unity commands blessings.

“And that is why it is important for us to work together, especially with our Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Va’asiliega Gase Pelenato, our ACEOs and my marketing partner, Asomua Asia Stanley.”

Tofilau is a lawyer by profession. She attended Samoa College and Foundation Year at the National University of Samoa where she attained a scholarship to study law at the Waikato University in New Zealand. It was here that she met her husband, former Attorney General Tuatagaloa Aumua Ming Leung Wai, who was also on scholarship studying Law.

In delivering the keynote address at this year’s Short Story Writing Competition for school students, Tofilau said, “I had vowed that I would do what I can with my business to promote literacy in our country. That is why I had in the past partnered with MESC to organise annual national literacy week, and set up libraries at our National Hospital, Iva Primary School and at Tanumalala Prison.”

In August 2021, SSAB and SIFA partnered to re-open Gods library at the children’s ward at Motootua National Hospital.

Tofilau Fiti Leung Wai during her keynote address thanked Samoa’s Health Director Leausa Dr. Take Naseri for the opportunity to work on the project; focused on restocking the library and providing new equipment for children to use, when they have to stay in hospital. The library had been closed since the measles epidemic, however, this year, it re-opened with huge improvements to resources and quality of books and activities.

“We have the same heart for the Lord and also to do great work for the community.”

In September this year SSAB partnered with the British High Commission in Apia to co-fund a Rehabilitation Study Centre for Tanumalala Prison.

CEO Tofilau Fiti Leung Wai reiterated SSAB’s commitment to literacy and education initiatives for people of all ages, “It has always been SSAB’s heart from its inception – to support literacy and education hence our willingness to support this great project for inmates at Tanumalala Prison. The Rehabilitation Education Centre will help support rehabilitation programs and activities carried out by the Samoa Prison
Services.”

SSAB had been one of the donors for the library when it first opened in 2018 for inmates at Tafa’igata Prison, and this year, Tofilau Fiti Leung Wai was able to work together with His Excellency Mr Ian Richards, the British High Commissioner in Samoa to make a difference in the lives of Samoa’s inmates.

SSAB also partnered with SIFA to raise funds for the work of the Samoa Cancer Society (SCS) and in November, they presented $34,000 to SCS, raised through the Pinktober Mother-Daughter-Sister annual fundraiser.

Also this year, SSAB Savaii celebrated its 10th anniversary. An occasion that involved customers and patrons in week long promotions and give aways.

Tofilau honors God through the SSAB Savaii journey.

SSAB’s support to Siliniu Lina Chang and the work of Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG) is ongoing.  Management and Staff of SSAB walk the talk on the 25th day of each month to commemorate Orange Day at its Megastore, as a stance against violence towards women and children.

SSAB has a donation box for SVSG in-store, and each year, donations are handed over to SVSG and the Campus of Hope by way of cash and in kind equipment as needed.

Tofilau and Tuatagaloa are members of the Apia Harvest Centre Church in Apia and she acknowledges the support of Pastor Amosa Pouoa and his wife Sarah Pouoa.

“I thank my spiritual parents for their ongoing support and prayers for me on the uptaking of my business. Thank you so much for being good spiritual parents.”

“I also acknowledge all of SSAB’s Prayer Warriors such as Mama Nino, Mama Kuini, Baba Segi Pi Leung Wai, Pastor Amosa and Faletua, Pastor Ruby and Mamas of SSAB. Thank you for your prayers”.

“Ia maua e Samoa se tausaga fou fiafia ma le manuia, aemaise foi a tatou fanau ia maua e i latou le fiafia ma le saogalemu. Ia faamanuia foi Le Atua mo Samoa ao alo atu mo le tausaga fou.”