I am an emerging entrepreneur and for me the Pacific Connect Dialogue held in Honiara from 25-26 June was the first opportunity to represent my company, Earth Water People, at a regional business event. My company has only been running for 14 months and I admit that I didn’t really know what to expect.
At first, I felt out of my depth. Our company works in water supply and sustainability, and the Dialogue was about transport and logistics, something which I am not an expert in. While there are aspects of logistics and transport in our work (in particular with the technology for development project we are currently implementing in the Solomon Islands with Hitnet), I am a specialist in communication, community engagement and social impact. Many of the people in the room were experts in the field of freight and transport and I wondered what I could contribute. I thought about not turning up the second day.
As the ‘second track’ discussions continued, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the connections and conversations that we were having. It was refreshing and exciting to be having conversations across disciplines with people quite unlike those that I usually work with. I found unexpected aspects of my own knowledge and experience that I could contribute. For example, I met Lena Korugl, a remarkable woman and an ICT and transport specialist from PNG, who is currently applying for a scholarship to undertake a PhD focusing on the digitisation of the shipping industry. As someone currently undertaking a PhD at Queensland University of Technology and running a company at the same time, I was able to share some of my experience in the commercialisation of research, creating synergies and partnerships between research and practice, and negotiating intellectual property rights.
As the Dialogue continued in the second day, I found myself being drawn into the discussions about the barriers that small to medium growers and producers in the Pacific face in accessing export markets. We learned from our co-facilitator Eranda Kotelawala, CEO of the Solomon Islands Port Authority, that in the Solomons alone imports outnumber exports at a ratio of 5:1. This leads to inefficiency, cost and loss of opportunity for small to medium growers and producers that form the large part of the Solomon Islands’ export economy. I became facilitator of the subsequent discussion around solving this issue, which our group was quite passionate about because we could see the clear benefits to producers and growers, the broader industry as well as the Solomon Islands economy and the Pacific region more broadly. When it came time for me to present to the group about our ideas and the solution that we had discussed, I found that I had gained a lot of confidence compared to the first day. While I am not an expert in freight and logistics, my experience as a communicator and facilitator of ideas came to the forefront here!
By the end of the Dialogue, we had firmed up a team of specialists in different areas – from technology and logistics to stakeholder engagement and agribusiness – who were keen to continue working on the project. We believe in the potential of technology and communication to disrupt the current model of operating in the Pacific, decrease inefficiencies, foster greater transparency and drive down costs through the sharing economy. We have met twice and are now working together on a proposal for a pilot project to present to the Solomon Islands Government and other funders and key stakeholders before the end of the year.
I met many fascinating people through the Dialogue whom I am now working with or plan to work with in the future. The Dialogue gave me a platform to challenge myself, extend my own skills, knowledge and experience, and make connections that I would not have access to otherwise. The Pacific is vast, and the chance to reach out and connect with one another and think and converse differently on how we can address shared challenges is to be valued beyond measure.