The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dame Meg Taylor speaking with students during the session.
PIFS HQ, Suva, FIJI, (Wednesday, 09 September,2020)– Doctoral candidates, postgraduate researchers and others from the Pacific’s regional university have brought their ideas, concerns, and solutions for the future for the region to a special ‘Pacific 2050’ feedback session.
The University of the South Pacific (USP) students, from Fiji and across the Pacific, spent half a day last week in sessions facilitated by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, identifying and unpacking the most significant issues and influences that will drive change in their communities, countries and across the region. This week, they come together again to review their feedback and findings.
The focus group consultations are part of many similar events ensuring inclusive public input into a new, 2050 Strategy for the ‘Blue Pacific continent’ tasked by Forum Leaders at their 2019 meeting in Tuvalu.
At the opening sessions on September 3, USP’s Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), Professor Jito Vanualailai thanked the PIFS team for allowing USP to host this consultation and encouraged the students to contribute meaningfully towards the 2050 Strategy. He reminded the students of the words of renowned Pacific academic, Professor Epeli Hauʻofa who, in his collection of essays and poetry, consistently challenged prevailing notions about Oceania and prescriptions for its development.
Thanking the University for its partnership, Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor said the involvement of USP student voices is a critical feature of the consultations, allowing for youth, energy, and diverse cultural perspectives “from those who will no doubt influence change and inspire transformative leadership for the Pacific.
Noting that leadership itself is an area where the Pacific lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to women’s representation, the Secretary General invited students to consider the question on drivers of change at the very highest level- their own elected leaders.
“If Pacific women are to be Prime Ministers and Presidents in our region, what will the drivers be to get women there? What will be the challenges and obstacles along the way? What will it take to get us to 2050, where women are the leadership norm, and not the exception?”
Joining the USP and Pacific Forum team at the opening formalities, keynote presenter and USP Alumni, Vanuatu ambassador to Fiji H.E. Nikenike Varobaravu shared his experiences of change as a youth, USP student, and volunteer activist in Vanuatu’s struggle for independence. Recalling self-determination as a driver of change, Varobaravu recalled “the air of optimism across our region” during his days as a Political Science major at USP in Suva during the 80s- a time when Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati were emerging from their colonial past into their new future as independent sovereign states.”
By the time he completed USP studies and returned to Vanuatu, “this driver of change resulted in my working for two years without pay, for the main political party in Vanuatu that fought for our independence, which we finally got in 1980. I had the privilege of working with our Kanak brothers in liaising with counterparts from Papua New and Solomon Islands towards preparing the groundworks for setting up the Melanesian Spearhead Group as a sub-regional platform for promoting peaceful dialogue on self-determination, especially in New Caledonia.”
He noted self-determination continues to be a driver of change for the Pacific, as the call of people in Bougainville, Kanaky, Tahiti Nui and West Papua.
“It will be you – the youth of today, our Leaders of tomorrow – who will be leading the achievement of our Leaders 2050 vision for our Blue Pacific into the future – irrespective of your field of study or chosen profession – you will all have a role to play and contribute on our shared journey towards 2050,” he told the students.
Stakeholder consultations such as the above are the first step in delivering the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific continent to Forum Leaders in 2021. Pacific nations are leading the process, through a strategy subcommittee chaired by Fiji and Vanuatu.
The next step will be shortlisting the drivers of change – those events, actions and decisions that have the potential to generate significant disruption— best achieved and addressed at the regional level. Climate change impacts, the future of our ocean and its resources, global geopolitics, economic futures, resilience, and COVID-19 have been amongst the many issues raised so far.