Digital adaption a priority for the Pacific

As APEC closes in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Pacific regional governments consider the growing options for sourcing infrastructure funding for their nations, greater focus is needed on soft infrastructure, digital systems and digital skills empowerment in the Pacific, according to a recent submission to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat’s regional policy program by Digital Society Foundation founder and digital inclusion advocate Chris Sampson.

Mr Sampson is an information systems specialist, a former Chief Information Officer in Government and an Associate of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney.

Writing on the initiative ‘Connect the Blue Continent’, Mr Sampson argues for cross-regional collaboration mechanisms to share the load on Pacific digital transformation, enabling a cooperative approach to the region’s digital era systems needed for sustainable and prosperous Pacific communities as the world progresses into the digital age of human development. The paper deems this the ‘Pacific Digital Adaption Challenge’.

“Individual communities and nations cannot tackle this challenge alone.The complexities and inter-dependencies across all facets of our modern, global socio-economic system demand a co-operative approach to harnessing digital technologies and innovation”, the paper continues.

Discussions are ongoing with Pacific Island leaders and international stakeholders across government, industry, finance, academia and civil society on the need for a more collaborative approach to digital adaption in the Pacific, with the paper arguing the need for a ‘Pacific Digital Adaption Fund’ for the region.

ICDP recently caught up with Mr Sampson to discuss Digital Pacific initiatives and his views on digital adaption in the region.

“Digital change, much like climate change, is happening whether we like it or not. Communities have to adapt or die. For climate adaption, Pacific leaders have established a clear narrative at the global level for structured climate adaption funding. Digital adaption funding has not been so clearly articulated…but it is just as vital for the region’s future” says Mr Sampson.

“While internet connectivity is progressing well across the region, we need a systemic approach to supporting affordable and resilient network access to all communities, not just the main population centres”, argues Mr Sampson.

“And connectivity is not enough. The region needs greater digital skills capacity and capability…and that means a vibrant, regional digital technologies industry supported by national and regional policies and institutions”.

“I am particularly concerned about the smaller, outer islands and isolated, rural communities across the region” says Mr Sampson. “Urbanisation, triggered by digital economic change, is an existential risk to these communities and cultures.”

“The region needs digital age collaborative fabric to enable the knowledge sharing, interconnected market access and self-organised teaming for digital systems and technology-driven innovation across all aspects of socio-economic community needs – including energy systems, transport systems, health systems, the food system, education, fisheries and oceans management and so on.”

Many international institutions are aware of the need and are keen to assist with funding and technical assistance. The World Bank issued their flagship report, ‘Digital Dividends’, in 2016 and the United Nations Development Program recently partnered with the Government of Samoa to host the inaugural Digital Pacific summit.

The newly announced Australian Government infrastructure funding program for the Pacific may be an opportunity for Australia to bring a soft infrastructure and digital systems focus to Pacific development discussions. In the meantime, Mr Sampson says he will be continuing to advocate for Pacific digital inclusion.

“While a lot of ‘technology for development’ efforts quite rightly focus on larger population centres in Asia and Africa, we cannot risk leaving behind the beautiful people and cultures of the Pacific.”

Chris Sampson’s paper can be found at the link below:

Featuring Chris Sampson

Featuring Chris Sampson

Chris Sampson is an information systems specialist, a former Chief Information Officer in Government and an Associate of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney. Chris is the founder of Digital Society Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation aiming to use their knowledge and experience in digital technology and innovation to assist developing communities gain social and economic well-being as we enter the digital era of human development.