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Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Keynote address by Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum at the 2017 Solomon Islands Business Excellence Awards

2017 SOLOMON ISLANDS BUSINESS EXCELLENCE AWARDS

 

Honiara, Solomon Islands

4 November, 2017

Your Excellency Manasseh Sogavare, Prime Minister of Solomon Islands and Mrs Emily Sogavare

Ministers of the Crown

Leader of the Opposition

Members of Parliament

Members of the Diplomatic Corp

Members of the Chamber of Commerce

Business Leaders here in your Distinguished Capacities

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

I am very happy to return to Honiara, and it gives me great pleasure to speak to you, the business community, on this special occasion.

My last visit was for the drawdown of RAMSI in June, earlier this year. You will recall that the drawdown event was in many ways a moment for national reflection. A moment for reflection on what RAMSI has meant for Solomon Islands, and perhaps more importantly, a moment for collective reflection on the future of this young nation, a nation that is rich in cultural traditions and with a great future ahead.

Solomon Islands is in many ways similar to my own home of Papua New Guinea. Extremely diverse, extremely dynamic, endowed with natural resources, and with a youthful demographic that has a great energy and I think a great entrepreneurial spirit. Trade and barter comes naturally, and we have an ability to assess the market and fill any gaps that may appear. 

Your Excellences, ladies and gentlemen, from where I sit, the key to Solomon Islands’ long term prosperity and security lies in a nuanced economic approach that draws on our natural assets. While Solomon Islands’ national income will always be derived from resource extraction, it is vital that this is combined with a promotion of small and medium enterprise. SME’s, micro-enterprise and the informal sector will always drive sustainable development in Melanesian society, because business at this level will always ensure a distribution of wealth at the grassroots and community level.

Fulfilling Solomon Islands’ potential, much like other Melanesian states, requires Unity in Leadership. It requires a unity across the sectors of community. It requires agreeing to a common goal, and working collectively.  While diversity can often render unity difficult, I think the real key lies in setting a common, long term goal or vision for Solomon Islands, and looking to a collective, unified Leadership to encourage whole of community support for this vision. Because without leadership and unity, the attainment of any long term vision and goal will remain elusive.

Based on tonight’s theme, allow me to address two particular points through my remarks.

The first is that social inclusion is fundamentally important. From a sustainable development point of view, social inclusion is vital to ensuring that the most marginalised in our communities are ‘not left behind’. But from a business perspective, I would also argue that social inclusion can reap great rewards. In this regard, easier access to finance can play a catalytic role in strengthening social inclusion and building a sustainable livelihood for all.

Access to finance and indeed financial security at all levels of society should continue to be encouraged. At this juncture, I recognise the efforts of your Government and the Solomon Islands National Provident Fund on the introduction of your micro-pension scheme. This is testament to the growing appetite of the informal sector to participate actively in the economy provided that they have the right financial products that meets their contextualised demands.

Of particular interest to me were the results of the survey undertaken in the Solomon Islands by the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme in 2016 which highlighted that for informal sector workers, saving for children’s education and housing were the two most important priorities. This is a clear indication that apart from micro-pension, there is also appetite for broader financial products in the informal economy that addresses the basic needs of education for children and housing! This clearly emphasises the opportunity for us to explore the mobilisation of micro-financial products to meet our people’s basic needs.

Now let me turn to the perspective of the youth. Firstly, I see the youth for their energy, passion, creativity and dynamism and as a potential asset. I understand that here in the Solomon Islands, there is a huge youth population where 70% of youths in this country are under the age of 30 years of age.  While the youth bulge and youth unemployment are real, I believe the best way to deal with these concerns is by engaging the youth.

For business I see that happening when we draw more fully on our young men and women – not simply as a labour force – but as a source of ideas, of creativity in planning and preparation, and in delivering on business models. I would like to encourage you all – public and private sector – to work towards an enabling environment that fosters a culture of youth entrepreneurship; that encourages youth to explore their innovative minds; to provide incentives that will nurture home grown solutions which could, with the right business mentorship, bring about new inventions. 

It is this potential that exists in our youth, that I really challenge all of us to unlock. It may mean that creditors, donors, investors and financiers orient their investment toward a more youthful base. Or it may require that business leaders look to inject the energy and passion of our youth in their businesses.  But whatever the case may be, my key point is that our youth are an important part of the development of a vibrant and energetic private sector. 

Towards the end of last year, the Forum Secretariat was involved with other Partners on a project that connects seafood businesses from across the pacific with investors.  I was really pleased to note the response we received from the Solomon Islands and one in particular who is among 37 finalists in this global competition for SMEs in the seafood sector.  Toata Molea who many of you know, operates Didds Fishing Company Limited in Makwanu Island, in the northern islands of the Solomon group of islands runs a small fishing operation where he employs people from his community to catch fresh fish which is then sold to the local markets and hotels.  Toata tells us that he is very proud of his operations where men and women as well as youth have significant roles to play in the business from catchment to selling in the markets.  I’m sure you will all join me in congratulating Didds Fishing Company for being selected as a finalist and we wish him all the best in the finals of the competition in Standford University, California, this month.

The second point I wish to address, is that united leadership in support of a common vision is absolutely essential.

The challenges of the past indicate that Solomon Islands’ long term prosperity will rely on a united leadership that strives to achieve an agreed, common vision for the nation. Leaders within Government, Business and the Community must work in a coordinated way – in a whole of community way if we are to establish and build upon the foundations for a prosperous community in Solomon Islands.

Again, in the context of diversity here in Solomon Islands, it is absolutely essential that there is unbreakable unity at the level of leadership. And what might this mean in practical terms? It may require, for instance, more intensive and more frequent levels of dialogue between Government, Business, and Community leaders. It may require measures to establish a level of trust across the leadership in these three spheres. It may mean joint planning, and joint review of Government policy. Or it may require totally different actions. I understand that such cross-sector approaches, involving Government, Private Sector, and Civil Society are commonplace in Samoa and in the Cook Islands – under the rubric of multi-stakeholder coordination, and in pursuit of their national development strategies. I was very encouraged to learn of the efforts by the Government of Solomon Islands, under your leadership Prime Minister, and the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce in the signing of an MOU that sets in place public-private partnership to drive economic development and to realise the aspirations of the business communities.

But, ladies and gentlemen, these are examples only. Ultimately, Solomon Islands must establish a model that is fit for purpose in the local context. My ultimate point is that the principle of unity in leadership is absolutely essential in ensuring the long term prosperity of Solomon Islands.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the Business Community, by way of conclusion let me speak to the occasion here tonight. Firstly, I want to acknowledge the diversity in the awards categories on offer – and I particularly note the emphasis given to size. I think it is vital that we honour businesses of all sizes, including SME’s, noting their impact on community development.

Let me also thank the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the opportunity to be here tonight. I have also found the time spent with the private sector in the last few days very enriching and encouraging with respect to private sector development here in Solomon Islands.  For instance, today, I met with a diverse group of young entrepreneurs and students for an informal conversation about their ideas and aspirations as small business operators and to share the experiences I have encountered in the region in my role as Secretary General.  I found that the challenges shared, including access to finance; the need for a national platform for youth to share their ideas, vision and vigour for change; support mechanisms for small business owners by government and financial institutions; challenges of getting products to market; high cost of utilities, etc are prevalent in our region.  These are very real issues which I’m sure many here tonight are aware of.  The efforts of the Government to assist the private sector are to be commended.   The Chamber of Commerce has a key role to play as the representative of the private sector.  I know that the Chair, Jay Bartlett and his CEO, Dennis Meone will do their best to help address these issues.  You have my assurances that the Forum Secretariat together with our Pacific Trade & Invest offices in Australia, China, Europe, New Zealand and Tokyo stands ready to support you.

Lastly, ladies and gentlemen, let me reiterate the points I have made on the need for social inclusion, as well as united leadership in support of a common vision. As Solomon Islands moves forward in the post-RAMSI era, I believe these points will be vital for ensuring a model of prosperity that is grounded in this nation’s particular history, and that will ultimately draw on this nation’s many strengths.

I look forward to discussing these issues with you in greater detail throughout the evening.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce for inviting me to speak to you this evening and the Government of Solomon Islands for their assistance in facilitating the protocol services which I very much appreciate.

Thank you all for your warm hospitality. Tank u tru!

© 2017 Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat www.forumsec.org