What can we all do together that we can’t do apart?
I was very pleased to be approached by the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP) to present at their Pacific Connect Dialogue for Pacific Women Entrepreneurs and Technology Influencers. This opportunity ticked a number of boxes for me personally, and also for my business Hitnet.
There were around twenty women from five different Pacific Island Nations and a group of business women from Australia, in attendance. The spirit of everyone attending the Dialogue was ‘what can we all do together that we can’t do apart?’ and it followed a ‘Second Track Process’ that was new to me. This brings a multidisciplinary group of people together, building long-term relationships between dialogue members and encourages people to engage in a personal capacity rather than only representing their organisation. It’s a two-phase process and focuses on implementation of solutions. While phase one is about identifying solutions, phase two is about making sure those recommendations have impact in the real world.
With this framework in mind, it was lovely to get to know and spend time with this wonderful group of women who are all running their businesses often under very difficult conditions. Access to funding, reliable internet connectivity and the ability to use local (rather than overseas based) payment gateways for e-commerce, were some pain points identified.
I was really pleased to be able to talk about my journey as a female technology entrepreneur, starting off as a software developer, as we are all operating in a male dominated environment. I suggested connecting with women’s networks for support as we are fortunate in Australia to have a number, such as SBE Australia and SheEO. The Pacific Connect Dialogue for Pacific Women Entrepreneurs is also now a great opportunity to be a part of such a network where we can encourage and support each other. I also talked about the power of mentors and my advisory board, as well as being part of a co-working space.
There was much interest when I talked about Hitnet’s latest innovation, Mobile Max, delivering information and services to hard to reach communities. This outdoor digital hub with WiFi hotspot runs off a battery and can be wheeled to where people want to use him. Mobile Max is the basis for our ‘technology for development’ challenge project in the Solomon Islands. We were recent winners of this challenge set by DFAT to leverage off the installation of the Coral Sea Cable project, bringing high speed internet to Pacific Island nations for the first time. In the Solomons we will be developing Max to be solar powered so he can go ‘off grid’ and so serve even harder to reach communities with educational and job related information and services. The use of technology to deliver information and services into remote areas, was an ongoing theme in discussions at the Dialogue.
After much discussion and brain storming of how our businesses could work together, our ideas were categorised into four themes and we formed teams to potentially hatch into a project. Our wonderful team of seven were from Tonga, Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands and Australia. We also had diversity of age and experience to throw into the mix, and we worked collaboratively to explore a project around ‘remote engagement’. What we eventually decided on, we nicknamed the ‘Digital Farmer’. The problem for farmers is that they are ‘set in their ways’ and have a negative attitude to the digital world, how can we break down these barriers and get them to use tools to improve productivity and their livelihoods? In the Solomon Islands, farmers lack information about markets and production, and have low levels of financial literacy. This would be a storytelling project to show the challenges of being a farmer and then showcase the benefits of the digital world, potentially having impact in the real world. Our team of seven is now set and we have re-connected now that we are back to our five different home countries.
From my networking discussions, I found synergies with the work of Rebekah Ilave at Niunet PNG who is just beginning her edtech business, and the inspirational Kalo Fainu who founded the Pasifika Film Festival, and is now producing a film about her ancestry and wants to be able to deliver it back to remote parts of PNG with a mobile cinema or perhaps a Mobile Max? We will stay connected and continue to nurture these supportive friendships and partnerships.
Julie is CEO & Co-founder of Hitnet, an Australian organisation that seeks to build vibrant, healthy and digitally capable communities, engaged in the digital economy, all over the world. She has experienced technology’s influence from different angles; from her early career as a developer in large corporate IT departments, a technical manager of a university research project, and now as a technology entrepreneur.