Building peaceful partnerships in the Pacific
I attended the International Centre for Democratic Partnership’s (ICDP) Pacific Connect Financial Education Dialogue to boost my financial knowledge, and to learn more about the Pacific Islands and the people who call them home.
The day before the dialogue began, I had just returned from a week-long hike in Tasmania. So you can imagine my surprise when the first person I sat next to at the dialogue’s welcoming event was working on a project to create a 125km, seven-day and six-night ecotourism trail in the Townsville North Queensland region. This encounter set the tone for the rest of the dialogue, providing a taste for the many other interesting projects I’d learn about in the coming days.
Pacific Connect dialogues aim to strengthen links between Australia and the Pacific. Over three days, more than 20 people from Australia, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa came together to discuss business ideas, challenges and opportunities.
Held in Brisbane in November, this dialogue offered practical learnings in financial literacy and grant writing, as well was plenty of time for group work to apply what we had learned. After the financial literacy session on day one, we discussed how our newfound skills could progress our personal projects. During this session, it became clear that the people in the room were chosen to attend because of their enterprising natures.
I learned from Watson from Solomon Islands, who is improving communication between farmers and buyers by developing an app that shares information on available produce and shipment timings. The successful uptake of the app will develop a standard trading system between rural islands and the main markets and reduce the instances of rotting produce.
I also learned from Cassaundra from Australia, who’s supporting and empowering women in the fashion industry in the Pacific. Cassaundra’s ideas touched on a recurring theme I heard throughout the event, which was the abounding creativity in the Pacific! The question is, how do we get these works of art and fashion to market? We discussed a number of ideas, and provided Cassaundra with alternative ways of considering this dilemma.
At dinner that evening, we heard from Peta Ellis, Co-Founder, Tribe Global, who reminded us that developing true connections with others is more important than transactional ones. This was a refreshing take for me because I have long loathed corporate events where people see your worth only by what you can offer them in a monetary sense – it’s better to get to know people on a personal level, which is exactly what these dialogues allow you to do.
The final day saw us home in on our grant-writing skills at a workshop hosted by Dr Anna Blackman from Insight Collective Group. Here, we had plenty of time to learn about other participant’s projects. I learned from Susan, who’s working to empower women in her community through the Naitisiri Women in Dairy Group. The group consists of 33 women who own or manage family run dairy farms in the province of Naitasiri in Fiji. I was fascinated to learn about how the group has diversified into oyster mushroom farming to generate additional income for its members. They are now seeking to raise funds to purchase a vehicle and cooling system to transport the fresh mushrooms direct to market, and the grant-writing workshop was an excellent place to start.
At the heart of it, ICDP run Pacific Connect dialogues create opportunities for the people who attend them. They bring together clever people – some with business ideas, others with networks – to work towards developing productive partnerships. These opportunities may come to fruition during the event, or a seed might be planted ready to be sown later. I found the event inspiring and thought-provoking and left with an appreciation for the growing number of exciting business opportunities to be had between Australians and the Pacific Islands – we just need to continue to connect to make that happen.
Celia is a Communications Adviser, Corporate Affairs, at the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). Her experience at ARENA has given her insight into the process behind financing renewable energy projects big and small - from application stage to financial close. She delivers communication campaigns in fast-paced politically sensitive environments.