Project updates, new ideas shared, and new connections made were key highlights of this year’s flagship event, the Pacific Connect Ideas Exchange. Activities began in the week leading up to the event, and on the morning of 10 September around 70 Pacific Connect Community members from seven countries logged in to participate in a day-long virtual talanoa.
Acknowledging the unique circumstances of this year’s premier Community event, which would ordinarily take place at NSW Parliament House in Sydney with extracurricular activities filling up the week, the Ideas Exchange started with a series of online initiatives which provided the spark for the Community early in the week. The Pacific Connect Thought Leader series was launched, featuring engaging interviews with ICDP Board members (Dr Ian Watt AC, Prof Ian Young AO, Catherine Fritz-Kalish), ICDP Special Advisor, Peter Fritz AO; ICDP Ambassador, Andrew Carriline; and active members of the Pacific Connect Community, including Salote Waqairatu, Olisana Mariner, Kenneth Katafono, James Kana, Brian Mangi, Julliane Terry and Martha Raka. Concurrent with these video introductions, participants were sharing short videos of themselves in the community engagement platform on Slack – connecting with new members and rekindling previous connections.
More than 130 Community members are actively engaged on the dedicated Ideas Exchange Slack channel, sharing industry-relevant news and research articles and business profiles, providing updates on projects and new initiatives, as well as posting and seeking advice in between capturing their experience of last week’s events through photos and videos.
The build-up to 10 September continued apace, with Tuesday seeing the commencement of mentor/one-on-one sharing sessions. Participants had the opportunity to engage in personalised sessions with 21 current leaders of the Community and their respective professional industries, and in total more than 20 mentoring sessions were held. Mentoring sessions are not a one-off opportunity however, with the Pacific Connect Reach Mentoring Program running throughout the year to strengthen member relationships and facilitate ongoing support by mentors.
The preceding days of activities paved a unique platform for an informal and interactive event where Community members took centre stage, ably facilitated by Pauline Benson, Founder of Pacific Finds; Michael Pilbrow, Founder and Partner, Strategic Development Group; and Kenneth Katafono, Pacific Partnerships Manager at ICDP and Founder of TraSeable Solutions.
The day began with the traditional Pacific Welcome and Prayer, delivered by ICDP Director, Tualapapa Brenda Heather-Latu. In a nod to Sydney as the host city of the annual forum, Honourable John Ajaka MLC, President of the NSW Legislative Council, gave the Welcoming Address, noting the strong bonds between New South Wales Parliament and its sister legislatures throughout the region. To set the scene for the relaxed and consultative sessions, participants were virtually transported to each of the six Pacific Hubs (in Honiara, Lae, Nuku’alofa, Port Moresby, Port Vila and Suva) for introductions, as well as offering the Australians an opportunity to say ‘hello.’
For the second year running, the Honourable Christopher Pyne, Director of ICDP, presented the Keynote Address. Christopher’s address looked toward the future of the unique and changing strategic environment that is the Pacific region, and how we as a regional community can connect and share ideas in a post-COVID world. With time on our side, Christopher engaged in a spirited and highly inquisitive Q&A, reflecting on his involvement in the Pacific Step-Up and Pacific Connect, opportunities for developing female political leaders and youth in the region, and much more.
Breakout Rooms allowing for in-depth exchange of ideas and project collaboration were the highlight of the day, with each Hub featuring as a country-specific space for participants to connect, share information and advice, and form partnerships on new or continuing projects. The final session saw the Community report on the outcomes of the Breakout Room discussions, with some of the many exciting new commitments identified, including resource and innovation hubs to support SMEs and business owners to learn new skills and optimise the use of current opportunities, the expansion of ICT Hubs throughout the Pacific, and new workshop themes. In addition to the Hub announcements, Andrew Carriline shared details of the ICDP Foundation, which aims to enhance civil society projects throughout the Pacific and provide additional funding support for ICDP. An ‘Ideas Marketplace for the Pacific’ was pitched to the Community by Alexander Benze von Fritz of Australia, and we look forward to seeing this proposition grow with key input from participants.
During what was a new format for this prestigious event, participants came together to strengthen people-to-people relations between Australia and the Pacific, fostering new collaborations and committing to new opportunities for SMEs and female business leadership in the region. While we hope that we can go back to an in-person Ideas Exchange in 2021, we are grateful for everyone’s participation in this year’s Ideas Exchange and see it as a strong reflection of the Community’s growth and innovation throughout the past year.
Vinaka, Malo, Tenkyu, Tangkiu, Fa’afetai, Taggio – thank you for a memorable talanoa!