Nadi, Fiji – A two-day workshop to review four cluster pilots undertaken in Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu ended on Tuesday with participants clearly outlining the desired future direction of cluster development in the Pacific.
The Regional Cluster Initiative Project was funded by Business Climate Facility (BizClim), a programme of the European Union and the ACP Secretariat, funded through the 10th EDF (European Development Fund). The project was allocated €932,000 for the four countries. The Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO) was the beneficiary for the project, and had facilitated the initiative in 2012.
The workshop was officially opened by the Deputy Head of Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, Mr Johnny Engell-Hansen. Mr Engell-Hansen said that whilst the European Union was happy to support the initiative, he encouraged partners to think beyond BizClim and the EU.
“Think how a robust, self-dependent, credible private sector will look like for the region and how each of you can play a part towards this goal. BizClim is only an avenue for the private sector to grow. Sustaining the growth will be the greatest challenge,” he stated.
The four country teams presented the progress reports of the pilot initiatives which were implemented over the past four months. The teams shared their learning’s from the work undertaken to date and notably the successes, early wins as well as the challenges faced. The teams also took the opportunity to share their ‘forward agenda’ and what were to be some of the most immediate action items to undertake. Further, the teams spoke about the general positive interest and queries received at country level, particularly from the media and from private sector.
The pilot activities were in the coconut industry (Samoa); on a generic country branding (Tonga); Information and Communication Technologies (Papua New Guinea); and cruise tourism (Vanuatu). Some of the progress made in some of the pilot clusters were phenomenon and were progressing at a very rapid pace. The ICT cluster in PNG has taken off very well and where the inclusive participation of the academia, private sector and government were very instrumental. Through the cluster initiative, PNG vision’s as the Silicon Valley of Pacific is beginning to take shape. This initiative has enabled ICT women entrepreneurs to come together, network and helped build the ICT cluster.
PIPSO’s CEO Mereia Volavola stated that the cluster project aimed at building inter-enterprise linkages as well as collaborative relations with local support institutions. Given that majority of pacific businesses are SMEs the cluster aims at helping SMEs combine their strengths and jointly take advantage of market opportunities or solve common problems with a combined effort. She added that the opportunity that ICT can play to build businesses and increase connectivity is enormous. This enhances the capacities and competitiveness of Pacific businesses. Similarly for the coconut industry is Samoa and cruise tourism in Vanuatu.
She paid tribute to the National Private Sector Organisations (NPSOs) who had worked very closely with the country teams to organise consultations and in-country logistics. Ms Volavola thanked the NPSOs and partners for their time and resources to ensure the pilots were resourced, and supported at country level. She said that their networking capabilities and the contacts that they had on the ground helped the consultants meet the appropriate people to progress the cluster pilots.
At the conclusion of the workshop, participants were of the view that clustering had to be developed further and for private sector to lead such developments with support from Government, academia and development partners.
Ms Dominique Bourgault of BizClim said “even though this was only a pilot, the entire process had proved the concept that clusters can work in the Pacific”. She encouraged participants to find other long term funding and resourcing options to sustain the pilots and to encourage other clusters in other Pacific economies.
PIPSO CEO pledged to continue its support to the four pilots and to work with its members who may wish to explore cluster development in their economies.