One Digital Pacific
“No one country can go it alone in digital transformation. We are One Pacific.” This expression by Samoan Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Hon. Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i, perfectly encapsulates the inaugural Pacific Connect Forum. Held in the Preston Stanley Room at New South Wales’ Parliament House, Sydney, the Forum was hosted by the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP) and the Australian institute for active policy Global Access Partners (GAP).
Under the theme of ‘Australia-Pacific Connections for a Digital Future’, 81 current and emerging leaders from across business, government, education and not-for-profit sectors came together for a day of collaboration, idea-sharing and discussion focusing on innovative technologies which can improve lives throughout the Pacific region.
Keynote speeches began with Australian Minister for Defence, Hon. Christopher Pyne MP, promoting the importance of enduring strategic relationships in our region. Highlighting Australia’s already strong cooperation with its Pacific neighbours, Minister Pyne stressed that challenges can be successfully overcome by working together to achieve the best outcome for all people.
During his keynote address, Minister Afamasaga noted that Pacific colleagues should collaborate to maximise the positive impact of connectivity throughout the region to make technology work for the local communities. The creation of ‘One Pacific’, where strength within the region on a domestic and international scale is developed through unity, can be expedited with rapid and successful implementation of digital communication strategies, ultimately enabling the region to compete in global markets.
Michelle Rowland, Australian Shadow Minister for Communications, provided a perspective on the opportunities of access to infrastructure and its impact on growth and equity, which is a critical component for the development for all nations. Rowland noted that “rather than playing catch-up and following existing development paths, emerging Pacific economies may, in certain areas, have the opportunity to leverage connectivity and disruptive technologies as a means to move directly into cheaper and more flexible forms of service delivery.” Ms Rowland stressed at once the challenge and the opportunity for Pacific nations, noting that less than 50% of households in the Pacific are connected to the internet, compared with nearly 90% of Australian households.
Peter Kenilorea Jnr gave an inspiring speech to the audience, providing his initial thoughts during the discussion session. He underscored the importance of prioritising the connections of people via technology.
The floor was then opened to engaging discussion, facilitated by Andrew Carriline, Chair of Pacific Connect Business Network Council. Discussion focused on connectivity as an enabler of opportunity in the Pacific, to allow the region to drive sustainable development, create businesses and jobs and, ultimately, improve lives in the Blue Continent. Delegates identified barriers to digital engagement in the region, noting that limited access to current banking solutions hinders e-commerce. Innovative technologies such as blockchain and big data can dramatically improve economic development in the region, however, imposing complicated frameworks from above without consultation will deter user uptake, and despite the potential of blockchain, delegates concluded that it is best seen as an enabler of wider goals rather than the goal itself. Increased financial and technological literacy, better payment methods and improved access to financial services in combination with a central repository for research data generated in the region will aid economic development.
Pacific Connect’s first year has included many dialogues and workshops, strengthening people-to-people links between Australians and Pacific Islanders. Attendees were updated on progress made by Pacific Connect dialogues and their ensuing projects, including the Pacific Connect Business Network Dialogue in PNG, the Pacific Connect Academic Network Dialogue in Fiji and the Pacific Connect Dialogue in Samoa.
The final session of the Forum saw delegates participate in meaningful community-building exercises with facilitator Michael Collins, Partner at Strategic Development Group. Forum delegates discussed vibrant collaborative approaches, including the establishment of a project-focused network which is easily accessible through online communication platforms.
The 2018 Pacific Connect Forum was brought to a close with a presentation Tupou students from Newington College, Sydney. The beautiful musical performance reiterated the conclusion from the Forum that technology can hold people together, but it is only an enabler of people-to-people links. Pacific peoples, rather than technology on its own, will solve the problems they face together. You can now read the Pacific Connect Forum 2018 Communiqué and Report, and can view the photos from the Forum in our Facebook Album.
Benjamin joined ICDP in August 2018 as a Social Media and Research Assistant, and in October 2018 moved to the role of a Social Media and Website Coordinator. He maintains ICDP’s active social media and website presence along with its community engagement platform. Benjamin is currently studying a Bachelor of Global Studies, majoring in Legal Studies and a Diploma of Languages (Chinese) at the University of Technology, Sydney.
He hopes to pursue a career in international relations and development and is passionate about learning other languages. Benjamin has a keen interest in Australia’s engagement with its Pacific neighbours and global issues such as climate change and migration.