Last month I was fortunate to be selected as a participant to Pacific Connect’s Network Dialogue in Brisbane on Pacific Women Entrepreneurs as Technology Influencers. It brought together more than 20 women from Australia and the Pacific for 2 days to discuss, share ideas, and identify opportunities for collaboration and ongoing engagement.

Participants came from various backgrounds including agriculture, academia, government, arts and creative industries, real estate, entrepreneurship, business development, and ICT to name a few.

Everyone brought something different to the table which added a lot of value to the facilitated discussions during the dialogue.

What’s Pacific Connect?

Pacific Connect is an Australian DFAT-funded pilot programme delivered by the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP) in order to create enduring relationships and affinity between Australia and the Pacific.

The programme focuses its work in 6 countries in the Pacific including Fiji, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu. It has hosted numerous dialogues and workshops in these countries with digital technology being a central theme.

Day One: Sharing Experiences

We started off with formalities followed by presentations from a couple of successful Australian entrepreneurs to set the scene.

Ms Anna Wright, Founder and CEO of BindiMaps gave us some insight into the world of assistive technologies through their innovative mobile app that’s changing the reality for those with vision impairment. Anna shared some of the challenges faced in getting their product off the ground and offered advice on how to approach potential donors that are oblivious to issues around them:

1. Stay away from shaming them for their ignorance; and
2. Present facts and ask questions.

Ms Julie Gibson, Co-founder and CEO of Hitnet, spoke on her company’s focus on assisting digitally excluded and hard-to-reach communities. Hitnet delivers information and services to these communities through their Hitnet community hubs and portable outdoor hubs also known as “Mobile Max”.

From Julie’s presentation, I was able to learn a few things that were quite relevant to our work at TraSeable.

1. Constantly engage with your customers. Listening to them is key in developing a product that people will actually use!
2. Learn to adapt your business to the changing environment and your customer needs.
3. Be passionate about what you do!

Opportunities for collaboration

We had a brainstorming session to identify project ideas with potential for collaboration between participants. Four areas of interest were highlighted as we went through all the ideas that were shared including 1) remote engagement, 2) payment gateways, 3) storytelling and lastly, 4) networked and trained entrepreneurs.

Each group then came up with a concept for a project they could collaborate on beyond the dialogue. My group looked at remote engagement and opportunities for women to work in this area. We identified constraints in using technology for development in rural communities and came up with the “digital farmer” concept. This will focus on digital literacy for farmers to help them easily use available ICT tools to assist with farming.

The payment gateways group came up with “Island Finds”, an online marketplace for people to find, buy and sell products from around the Pacific, which will be an extension of Ms Pauline Benson’s – who was one of the dialogue participants – existing online business called Fiji Finds.

The story telling group settled on a “mobile cinema” for a project led by Pasefika Film Fest founder and creative director, Ms Kalo Fainu. The idea behind the mobile cinema is for our people back in the islands especially in rural communities to see how their stories are being told to the world.

Finally, the last group’s project idea was an online platform for Pacific Connect’s alumni to access resources, connect, and keep in touch with members of the Pacific Connect community. In addition to this platform, the group also put forward the idea of having an online network for female entrepreneurs that will offer short courses for entrepreneurial skills development.

Wrapping up the day we had a networking dinner with the keynote address by Ms Kalo Fainu, who shared her experiences as an entrepreneur and what she has been able to accomplish so far with the Pasefika Film Fest.

Day 2: Field Trip

We visited the Queensland Government’s Innovation Hub, The Precinct. The place was quite spectacular (nothing like it in the islands!). It was inspiring to see the different businesses housed at the hub and to learn about the enabling environment created at this space to foster innovation and help startup companies become successful. We ended the day with a guided tour of the ‘Women’s Wealth’ exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery museum.

What I learnt

It was a great experience for me, as a young female entrepreneur from the Pacific Islands, to learn from others who have had much more experience in entrepreneurship and digital technologies.

There was a lot of information sharing and I felt like a sponge trying to soak up as much of it as I could to bring back with me to see how we could apply those lessons to our business.

I developed new friendships, built on my network, and became part of a larger community of creative, smart, forward-thinking and innovative women who are all experts in their own rights.

This dialogue helped me gain more confidence to speak in public which I’ve always found terrifying. Being in a room filled with brilliant minds from various academic and professional backgrounds was a bit intimidating but at the same time very inspiring.

Overall, I’m grateful I was able to attend the Brisbane dialogue not only for my own personal development but also to represent TraSeable in a forum that highlighted women as technology influencers. It’s not very often that you hear of women leading the development and implementation of digital tools at grassroots level in the Pacific and especially in male dominated industries like Fisheries and Agriculture.