Australia-Pacific Connections for a Digital Future
Pacific Connect Network Dialogue
Digital Solutions to Local Challenges
18-19 November 2019, Nuku’alofa, Tonga
1. We, the participants of the Pacific Connect Network Dialogue on Digital Solutions to Local Challenges, convened on 18-19 November 2019 in Nuku’alofa, Tonga at the invitation of the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP) and Tonga Women in ICT. The Dialogue was supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
2. We would like to thank ICDP and Tonga Women in ICT for organising and hosting the event and the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC) for providing the Dialogue venue and transport for the Australian participants. We congratulate the organisers of the Dialogue for assembling a diverse group of emerging leaders from Australia and Tonga, with expertise ranging from business development, entrepreneurship, media, youth engagement and education to government, disaster management, and information and communications technology (ICT).
3. We thank facilitators Mr Andrew Carriline and Ms Simone Pensko for leading the Dialogue and creating an atmosphere supportive of open and honest communication and discussion. We also thank speakers the Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni, Minister of Education and Training, Government of Tonga, Mr Paula Pouvalu Ma’u, CEO of MEIDECC, and Mr Edwin Liava’a, CEO of Tonga Cable Ltd, for their contributions.
4. We recognise the importance of digital innovation and its potential to increase economic and social development in Tonga and across the region. Encouraging entrepreneurship through projects and networks and helping more people create their own enterprises will further unleash the untapped potential of half the region’s population and reduce issues around unemployment. The Pacific’s greatest resource is its people, and maximising the intellectual, economic and potential of Tongans through digital innovation goes a long way to solving local challenges around youth unemployment and lack of jobs.
5. We welcome Australia’s commitment to building stronger relationships with Pacific Island nations through interpersonal connections. Pacific Connect and ICDP offer a new platform for Pacific and Australian emerging leaders to interact and develop commercial projects and social ventures. We are convinced that pooling our skills, experience and enthusiasm for change through ongoing engagement with the Pacific Connect Community will help broaden opportunities for Tongans.
6. We understand there are opportunities for Tongans enabled by mobile technology and improved connectivity, but recognise many common barriers facing aspiring entrepreneurs and the progress of projects. These include physical challenges such as a lack of access to hardware, limited or absent Wi-Fi, unreliable electrical power, and high service costs, as well as a lack of access to the latest and relevant training and education, and cultural and community obligations.
7. We believe that future productivity and prosperity in Tonga will be generated by entrepreneurial pursuits, and that the country’s untapped human capacity can be unlocked by building local awareness of digital opportunities and engaging communities to ‘champion change’. An activated and engaged youth could alleviate pressure on communities and families and enable them to play a more significant role in the economic and social development of the country.
8. We have identified several areas for action, including potential projects to apply digital innovation and generate valuable employment opportunities. These include:
• Creating an ICT ‘Tech Hub’ for skills development and project delivery;
• ‘Tonga Owned’ public transport system;
• In-home support for disabled and elderly – meals delivery;
• Online health appointment booking system;
• Climate change app for disaster preparedness and management;
• Export Agricultural/fisheries – platform for information, promotion and sales;
• Eco tourism opportunities;
• E-commerce platform for online shopping;
• Upskilling teachers through scholarships.
9. We will collaborate on these ideas and opportunities through further meetings and events and ICDP’s Slack forum for the Pacific Connect Community. We will coordinate our efforts to prioritise projects and appreciate that not all of them will come to fruition; however, we strongly believe that the efforts spent on project development will, in themselves, help facilitate the building of longer-term relationships.
10. We appreciate the invitation to participate in the Annual Pacific Connect Ideas Exchange, in September 2020 in Sydney, Australia, and look forward to meeting and forming closer bonds with the fast-expanding Pacific Connect family.