Ideas Exchange 2020 Communique

International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP) 1
Australia-Pacific Connections for a Digital Future
Pacific Connect Ideas Exchange
New Ideas, New Connections
10 September 2020, Virtual Forum

1. We, the delegates of the Second Pacific Connect Annual Ideas Exchange, met online on Thursday, 10 September 2020, at the invitation of the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP), with the financial support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

2. We congratulate ICDP and its partners on delivering a successful and highly engaging virtual forum, bringing together 70 members of the Pacific Connect Community from Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. Despite the unique circumstances of this year’s Ideas Exchange, its digital platform offered an important opportunity to reconnect as a Community, share news and updates on projects and activities, learn from each other, and find new ways to work together. The blended format, combining a Zoom videoconference and five small physical Hubs in Honiara, Lae, Nuku’alofa, Port Moresby and Suva, empowered the participation of individual members and member groups from across the Pacific, who for most of this year have been separated by COVID-19 travel restrictions.

3. We thank the ICDP executive team led by Simone Pensko, the ICDP Board of Directors and its Chair Dr Ian Watt AC, and all ICDP Advisors and Ambassadors for their hard work and strong commitment to growing the Pacific Connect Community and fostering new collaborations across the region. It is remarkable that after just three years of operation and despite the challenges of the global pandemic, ICDP can attract a large and diverse group of emerging leaders from the Pacific and Australia willing to spend a day online together and engage in a number of pre-event activities. This achievement demonstrates the growing popularity of Pacific Connect and the common commitment across the region to build on its success.

4. We thank Hon John Ajaka MLC and Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu for their warm and friendly welcome, and the keynote speakers Hon Christopher Pyne and Dr Watt AC for their insightful, thought-provoking and forward-looking presentations. We also thank the forum facilitators Pauline Benson, Kenneth Katafono and Michael Pilbrow for moderating the discussions, and Pacific hub coordinators Zha Agabe-Granfar and her team, Selu Kauvaka, Brian Mangi, Kenneth Katafono and Julliane Terry for their support and leadership. We also appreciate the support and technical assistance delivered by Tina Briggs and Benjamin Blackshaw to ensure the event’s smooth proceedings.

5. We applaud the collective achievements of ICDP and the Pacific Connect Community over the last twelve months. The maturation of Pacific Connect from a pilot to an established programme with a new three-year contract is a significant step forward which will allow longer-term planning and more focused activities. The Pacific Connect Community has grown to 597 people, of which 313 participated in various Dialogues and workshop in 2019-20, 62% of whom were women. Pacific Connect has stimulated Australian private sector engagement, with seven Australian companies and 25 Australian members currently assisting Pacific-based projects, businesses and individuals. Two Pacific Connect projects have garnered over $120,000 in funding, and 45% of Dialogue participants established a business relationship as a result of their engagement.

6. We believe that further progress will depend on building closer relationships, and COVID-19 has only increased the importance and challenges of staying connected. Australia and the Pacific have been fortunate to avoid the worst effects of the pandemic so far, but have done so by isolating themselves from the rest of the world, which comes at a cost to us all. Fortunately, its earlier work on digital engagement allowed ICDP to adapt quickly to new circumstances and adjust its operating model to deliver activities online. We see clear advantages in retaining a strong digital component in the future, as it broadens the reach of Pacific Connect and allows more Australians and Pacific Islanders to connect. We note that Pacific Islanders increasingly embrace the value and efficiency of connecting online, and gradual improvements in regional connectivity will further reduce geographic barriers to economic activity and help other islands to expand in a similar fashion.

7. We were inspired by Hon Christopher Pyne’s perspective on the region’s fast-changing strategic environment and his vision of Pacific Connect as a force to strengthen civil society. We appreciate the importance of ‘Second Track’ / ‘talanoa’ style processes in generating and nurturing innovative ideas to drive positive change alongside more traditional types of engagement. The ‘Second Track’ and Pacific Connect can continue to strengthen civil society in the region to support governments and the public service and lift the intellectual and public policy capabilities of Island nations to produce better economic and social outcomes.

8. We agree the region’s ‘youth bulge’ should be grasped as an opportunity to create economic growth and social cohesion, and believe Pacific Connect can make a significant contribution. While youth development is an acknowledged area of public policy for several Pacific Island nations, as evidenced by a growing number of regional Youth Parliaments, many challenges remain, including gender equality and support for emerging female leaders. Scholarships, student exchanges, secondments and twinning programmes such as the links between the NSW Parliament and the Solomon Islands and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, can help unlock young people’s talent across the Pacific. We need to strengthen the network of Australia-Pacific alumni to mentor emerging business and social leaders and encourage respectful two-way communication and the sharing of ideas. A cross-section of Pacific people involved in Pacific Connect activities are young, and if all stakeholders continue on this journey together, they can turn the Pacific ‘youth bulge’ into the engine room that drives better economic, educational and health outcomes in the future.

9. We therefore welcome the establishment of the ICDP Foundation, chaired by Andrew Carriline, which aims to attract individual and private sector donations to support Pacific scholarships and internships and provide additional financial support to ICDP. This will empower a broader range of Pacific Connect projects, and we hope the ICDP Foundation will become a core part of an evolving and dynamic ICDP ecosystem over time.

10. We are encouraged by the progress made by several Pacific Connect projects over the past year, and appreciated the updates offered by project leaders and team members of Pacific Finds, Less than a Container Load, the Lae SME Innovation Hub, Digital Farmer Platform, Yumi Wan and Mobile Me in plenary and breakout sessions. We also welcomed the opportunity to highlight some of the challenges these projects face and the impact of COVID-19 on their development. While many of these projects grapple with common issues, including raising awareness, managing resources, building customer trust, defining a unique value proposition and diversifying their offering to remain viable during international travel restrictions, we are confident the pandemic will not slow Pacific Connect – indeed, the programme and the Community have demonstrated their resilience in the face of this global crisis. In the words of one forum participant, “COVID-19 may have come along, but that isn’t going to stop us”.

11. We welcome the new proposals aired during the discussions, particularly the Pacific Marketplace for Ideas. Such a platform could connect innovators and creative thinkers with entrepreneurs and industry practitioners to develop fresh ideas with commercial potential. We were also intrigued by the notion that gaming technology could help preserve Pacific cultural storytelling and folktale traditions. In particular, we were excited to see the promotional video from the Pacific Connect Shifting Homes project that aired during the lunch break focusing on how immersive/virtual reality technology can highlight climate change impact on a village in Samoa. This use of modern technology offers a fascinating opportunity to highlight challenges and safeguard and disseminate Pacific culture in a novel way.

12. We recognise the need for more resource and innovation hubs in the Pacific to support local entrepreneurs and small businesses and help them learn new skills and optimise current opportunities. We also support the expansion of information and communication technology hubs throughout the region, and welcome ICDP’s joint projects with Common Code to train Pacific communities in digital technologies.

13. We believe the support of ICDP and Pacific Connect is required to get these projects off the ground, and acknowledge that without the involvement of ICDP, many of the current Community projects would not have been launched. We see the key value of Pacific Connect in providing a platform to realise people’s passion, encourage their initiative, and motivate each other in difficult times. To quote one of the forum participants, “Pacific Connect brings out the best of the Pacific way” and offers “a space of opportunity, innovation and growth”.

14. We appreciate the personal development opportunities organised by ICDP in the lead-up to the Ideas Exchange virtual forum, including the video series of Thought Leader Conversations with ICDP Board members and advisors, interviews with Pacific Connect Community project leaders, and online mentoring sessions with over twenty experts across different industries.

15. While we hope for a return to an in-person Ideas Exchange in 2021, we are grateful for the opportunity to participate in this year’s virtual forum, and see its success as a strong reflection of the Pacific Connect Community’s growth and innovation over the last twelve months. We will continue to prepare for the post-COVID future, and ensure that when the pandemic subsides, our plans for the recovery will already be in place. Vinaka, Malo, Tenkyu, Tangkiu, Fa’afetai, Taggio – thank you for a memorable talanoa!