A 5-Point Plan To Reducing South Pacific Reliance on Foreign Aid

Photo by Linas Drulia

If South Pacific nations want to reduce its reliance on foreign aid, it needs to come up with solutions that don’t involve asking other nations for aid.

Pretty simple, right?

Well, of course not. Building the economy and resilience of any nation is not something to take lightly. However, there are certain areas that Pacific Island (PI) nations could hyper-focus on to solve some of the problems currently being experienced as a result of the global pandemic.

In my opinion, in order to solve the issues surrounding current climate impacts on PI nations, it might only come by focusing first on economic solutions (e.g. accelerating digital transformation efforts). As sad as that might sound, it’s a reality that “money makes the world go round.” And those who have it, are able to do more. While those who lack it, have to ask others for it.

So if physical remoteness has been the issue for PI nations in the past, then rapid digitization is the way out, since it does not depend on physical location and is much more scaleable.

Nations like Singapore and Estonia provide blueprints for small nations that were able to turn dire situations into transformative opportunities. And within a couple generations, become financially self-sufficient. I strongly believe the South Pacific has a capacity to do similar.

In the spirit of my original article, A 5-Point Plan to Future-Proof Tuvalu — which has 80% of the plan currently being executed on — I propose another 5-point plan for turning foreign aid dependence around for PI nations:

  1. Prioritize digital infrastructure upgrades
  2. Accelerate the teaching of digital literacy skills to citizens
  3. Teach citizens how to earn money online
  4. Enable and attract more entrepreneurs
  5. Bridge generational gaps by leveraging overseas PI talent

Here’s a breakdown in thinking of the above 5 points:

1) Prioritize digital infrastructure upgrades

This might be a no-brainer, but prioritizing digital infrastructure ensures better access to things like the internet. With faster internet, citizens can access more and more content. With more content, they can start to gain exposure to outside possibilities. Of course, this requires a bit of direction, otherwise they just absorb mindless content and don’t necessarily learn anything new.

2) Accelerate the teaching of digital literacy skills to citizens

Since most PI nations already have mobile access, the next step would be to have government work with local (or skilled foreign) enterprises who can accelerate proper use of online skills. There are countless number of high-quality, free lectures and classes available online (e.g. Youtube, Khan Academy, Udemy, etc.). So for eager students, who’ve previously been barred from learning due to lack of access or funds, simple things like this is a way to increase education and job opportunities. You can also check out my friend’s new startup Entry Level, which aims to prevent mass unemployment by 2030.

3) Teach citizens how to earn money online

This isn’t something that’s taught at school, but I think should be — how to make your first dollar online.

In today’s technologically-driven society, kids are becoming savvier when it comes to leveraging the latest tools and making money. Some examples, which are relevant to Pacific Islanders, include the following:

You’ll often hear about Pacific Islanders in the sports and entertainment industries — from siren beats to rugby. However, there are many other Pacific Islanders out there making strides in non-entertainment industries, such as Nicole Yamase, the first recorded Pacific Islander (from Micronesia) to reach the ocean’s deepest point. Either way, it’s important to work with such talent to increase income-generating opportunities. And there are thousands of ways to do that online.

Some of the best resources I’ve come across, in terms of generating legitimate income online, include:

4) Enable and attract more entrepreneurs

This goes without saying. But when you think about the Pacific, you often only think about tourism, food, sports, music, or climate change. This is unfortunate, since the Pacific has so much more to offer, but this is also a branding issue.

PI governments could start thinking differently and embrace a sort of “national branding” (also known as Public Relations) approach, like Singapore did. So instead of being at the mercy of Western media, you rein in your nation’s narrative, and proactively drive how others perceive you. The United States are masters of this, especially with their “American dream” and “land of the free” slogans. Right now, the general narrative for PI nations is one of helplessness and vulnerability (e.g. “sinking nations”).

So in order to steer away from over-dependence on foreign aid, governments could focus more on producing things of value to international markets. Just four tech giants from the US (Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple) produce a combined $1.5 trillion — and they’re predominantly digital platforms.

As aforementioned, if physical resources are scarce, embrace the digital world.

With digital nomads on the rise (pre-Covid, but this will return), remote island nations are uniquely positioned to attract these types once the world opens up again (just take a look at this for example). And by attracting location-independent entrepreneurs, governments can work with them to educate local populaces alongside digital skills education. Again, an approach Singapore leveraged with much success.

5) Bridge generational gaps by leveraging overseas PI talent

There are countless Pacific Islanders overseas who would love an excuse to give back to their “home” countries, or that of their ancestors. I’m one of them. But there also needs to be strong enough incentives.

Many of our families fled the islands in order to provide greater opportunities for their children. In the past, moving overseas was the only way to do this. But with increased access to the Internet, and Covid-19 forcing many companies to adopt permanent Work-From-Home policies, Pacific Islands don’t need to use this as an excuse anymore. They can learn online from the comforts of their own homes, while tapping into the global markets and attracting overseas talent locally.

By seeking and recruiting Pacific Islanders from overseas, you can bring all that talent back “home” and leverage it for the greater good.

And as mentioned in point #3, find the PI talent floating around on social media networks such as TikTok, Youtube, Twitter, Clubhouse, or even Twetch. The influencers in these domains have their ears-to-the-ground in terms of what’s trending, and could probably better advise governments on how to speak to younger audiences than any senior advisor could. The senior advisors could then complement these younger influencers with government context (e.g. what messages are compliant, how local laws work, etc.). Seeing the two generations come together in such a manner would be phenomenal.

And there you have it. Now, it’s important to note that I am not privy to local government priorities. Therefore, everything above must be taken in context. The above 5-point plan would need to be fleshed out in conjunction with government leaders, but the high-level thinking is based on prioritizing the one thing that would have significant impact across the board for all PI nations: hyper-focus on building digital economies.

This, I believe, is the one thing that can help PI nations leapfrog and start reducing their dependence on foreign aid. Once this occurs, with government support to prioritize, I believe it will be the fastest way to improving economic sovereignty and employment, a massive issue due to Covid-19. Relying on foreign nations to reduce their carbon emissions, in my opinion, won’t stop ocean levels from rising anytime soon, nor will it help alleviate immediate economic needs. This puts too much power in the hands of others — PI nations can start bringing power into their own hands, now.

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George Siosi Samuels

George Siosi Samuels

Exploring and navigating all things meta — from meta-communities to metaphysics, to the metaverse. Blockchain, behavioral economics, and ancient wisdoms.