Youth empowerment for social good: Samoan start-up seeks to digitally revolutionise education
My name is Olisana Mariner and I am a Samoan entrepreneur who’s passionate about digital transformation in the education sector. I operate my own social enterprise in Samoa and I seek youth empowerment and equality through education by utilising technology, infrastructure and ICT partnerships.
In June 2018, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Samoa Chamber of Commerce hosted their first Youth Co:Lab. This is an Asia-Pacific youth entrepreneurship initiative created by the UNDP; a platform made to increase youth participation and aid in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
I was a runner up at Samoa’s first UNDP Youth Co:Lab event and as a result I was invited to be a participant at the first Pacific Connect Forum hosted by ICDP in Sydney, Australia. The forum ran in tandem with Global Access Partners’ (GAP) Annual Summit and it was here that I was fortunate to network with policy makers, business leaders and social enterprises from Australia and the Pacific region.
Before leaving Samoa (my home country), I researched the organisation that was planning the forum – the International Centre for Democratic Relationships (ICDP). I looked at the schedule of events and I saw that they had coordinated their programme to run in tandem with the GAP Summit. This organisation is well known for being pioneers of the Second Track process whereby “solutions to key issues are enabled by bringing together key thinkers from relevant sectors” (GAP, 2018). This includes thought leaders in government, business, academia, non-government organisations and consumer groups.
This forum presented an invaluable opportunity for me to network with other young entrepreneurs and see what social projects and business goals my Pacific brothers and sisters were advancing in their respective regions. I also found that the delegates I came in contact with had multiple synergies with my business model. This gave me the opportunity to ask them for their advice on scaling and replicating based on their previous success.
One of the coolest things about this forum was the networking I did with business professionals who had experience in starting their own incubators or other Pacific Island delegates who were interested in partnering to create shared spaces and co-working facilities. I am grateful to ICDP for helping me find like-minded partners for implementation and growth – those who had the same dreams, goals and ambitious resolve. However, the biggest highlight for me was the chance to visit a real business incubator and startup hub in the heart of Sydney’s CBD.
The name of the facility we visited was called Stone & Chalk. They are a community of fintech startups building innovative solutions, mainly for businesses and financial intermediaries. While we were touring the facilities, I was overcome with awe and wonder. This is because I was standing in the exact type of facility that I had dreamt of building someday in the far future. I almost had to pinch myself.
My long-term goal is to build a company and community like the one I visited at Stone & Chalk. An incubation hub for Samoa. This will be an environment that fosters innovation and collaboration amongst social entrepreneurs and tech startups. I believe that an empowered community geared for social impact would bring meaningful change to my nation. Empowerment comes through equipping local startups with accessible resources and educating the youth and general public on opportunities and means to advance the SDGs. Walking through the facility was an experience I will never forget.
Going to this forum gave me the chance to come up with more ways to impact my community for good. I was able to practice my pitching and selling skills, receive one-on-one mentoring and ask for solutions from industry experts (free of charge!). Attending the Pacific Connect Forum further strengthened my resolve to push for the upscaling of my existing business to create HUB 2.0 – By creating this platform, I hope to become an agent of change for social entrepreneurship and ICT-fueled education and innovation.
If you are ever given the opportunity to attend, I would highly recommend any tech startup, young entrepreneur or ICT leader in the Pacific to take part in the next Pacific Connect Forum. My expectations were wildly exceeded and when you attend, I believe that yours will be too.
Olisana Mariner is a young Samoan entrepreneur advocating for equal access to quality education through ICT solutions. She is the Co-founder and Events Coordinator at The Hub – a platform built to host meetings, foster collaborations and connect Samoa to the world.