Advancing digital literacy with the Pacific Tech Academy
A Pacific Connect Case Study
The Pacific Tech Academy (The Academy) was established in October 2020 and is a collaboration between Pacific Connect and Common Code. The Academy aims to operate across six Pacific Islands; PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.
The Academy is an initiative from Common Code’s General Manager, Cameron Neil. The purpose of the Academy is to deliver education, training, mentoring, coaching and internships in software development, digital product management and strategy, digital transformation and founding tech startups. This will be done through connecting participants with local and Pacific-wide communities of practice, hands-on project work, employment in the industry, workshops and mentoring sessions.
Following the pilot workshop, another course was held in Papua New Guinea in May 2021, which focused on E-commerce. As part of the course, all content was recorded and participants could access video recordings and other resources in the content library that is currently being expanded.
The Academy also aims to train participants, build their capacity in digital technology and give them the confidence to train other locals in the same subject matter. Those local experts are financially remunerated to deliver future workshops and have the support of the Academy to help with their teaching journey.
Engagement and Connections
Cameron Neil first came across the Pacific Connect Program through a client that was already involved with the Program and a project in the Solomon Islands. Cameron was then recommended and invited to participate in the Solomon Islands Dialogue in November 2018 about digital technology and education.
Before attending the Dialogue, Cameron came across a grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) aimed towards supporting projects that harness digital technology to solve employment and education gaps for people in the Solomon Islands. The DFAT grant provided a focal point for discussion during the Dialogue and encouraged participants to brainstorm projects that had a particular approach to digital technology in education.
For Cameron, the Pacific Connect Program encouraged him and other participants to interact and network with each other, demystify cultures and build bridges across the Pacific region. The mix of people involved and the focus on the private and public sector were aspects of the Program that attracted Cameron to become more engaged with future Dialogues, workshops and events.
Cameron’s participation in the Program also empowered him to expand his business, Common Code, to the Pacific region. There was already an internal desire from Common Code employees to do more meaningful work in other countries, and this opportunity to expand to the Pacific region as part of Cameron’s involvement with the Program presented itself in the form of training and professional courses in coding and software development to Pacific Islanders. Cameron mentioned the following in regards to Common Code participation in the Program:
‘There is now a lot of affinity between our business, Common Code, and working in the Pacific, which was never on our radar. It was never part of something we would do as a small agency based in Melbourne.’
Overall, Cameron acknowledged that the Pacific Connect Program creates opportunities for participants to engage, connect and network, but it’s up to each individual to take this opportunity forward. He said that ‘you can’t be a passive consumer of that [the Program].’ Indeed, Cameron seized each opportunity and connection to expand his own business and become more involved in projects that emerged from the Program, such as Tugeda and the Pacific Tech Academy.
Cameron praised the Pacific Connect team for being open and supportive of new ideas and facilitating connections across the region. His engagement in the Program advanced his learning on cross-cultural collaboration and generated opportunities for meaningful work. He mentioned that:
‘It’s rare in the Australian context to feel that your work has that level of potential impact. That comes with a lot of responsibility as well, around making sure you are not serving your own ego.’
Cameron’s business, Common Code, always had a focus on education and capacity building in coding and software development. During the Solomon Island Dialogue, he noticed that there was an interest and demand to learn coding and software development in the region. This prompted him to start conversations with the IT Society in Solomon Island (ITSI) and Women IT Society in Solomon Island (WITSI) about opportunities to undertake professional development courses in digital technology and coding.
As Cameron attended the Pacific Connect Sydney Forum in 2019, he learnt that there was a demand for those courses in other Pacific Islands, as there is a gap in skills locally, with major companies in the Pacific outsourcing software development and coding to Australian IT organisations. Furthermore, the Pacific Connect Program already has a pipeline of projects that will increase the demand for developers, and Cameron saw an opportunity to train Pacific Islanders to develop their coding skills and eventually train other people in the local community.
Pacific Connect was integral to the advancement of the Academy and a key contributor, as it connected Cameron with the public and private sector in the Solomon Islands, provided funding for the Coding Workshop in Tonga ($13K) and the proof of concept ($50K), and secured in-kind contributions from venues and companies in the Solomon Islands to deliver the training.
The Pacific Tech Academy was created in October 2020 after conversations and brainstorming with ICDP organisers and Pacific Connect emerging leaders from the Solomon Islands. The main purpose of the Academy is to deliver training and coaching in software development to local people and connect participants through a community of practice. The Academy also aims to train local participants in digital transformation that will take on the role of educators and will be supported to deliver further training in the community—including training Pacific Islands women to build their skills, capacity and confidence in software development and digital transformation.
The ongoing Proof of Concept in the Solomon Islands will see ICDP and Common Code engage with various stakeholders (donors, government departments, universities) to expand the Pacific Tech Academy to new countries, including Fiji, PNG, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. The flexible outcomes and design allow the Academy to engage in new opportunities, including acting as a Pacific digital agency, becoming a part of an existing Pacific technology institution, or being formed as a standalone entity.
The next step for the Academy is to secure external fundings for the next two to three years of operations to deliver a series of workshops across the Pacific and facilitate internships in Australia and the Pacific Islands. Cameron also wants to focus on the Academy Alumni to assist and work on digital solutions for projects that emerged from the Pacific Connect Program. Another opportunity area for the Academy is digitisation in agriculture, specifically in the Pacific.