By Public Affairs staff, U.S. Consulate Auckland.
Fifty ‘Future Leaders’ from 19 Pacific Islands (#FPL15), including 30 New Zealand based participants, gathered in Auckland in early September for a four-day conference on social entrepreneurship and leadership.
An important goal was to connect participants with Pacific diaspora communities in Auckland, the city with the largest Pacific Island population, and build the foundation for a Pacific young leader’s network. It included experiential learning and visits to business and innovation hubs and successful social enterprises such as The Grid Auckland and The Akina Foundation as well as ample opportunities to connect with successful social entrepreneurs active in New Zealand and throughout the Pacific.
Visitors were welcomed to New Zealand at the Orakei Marae with a powhiri (traditional Maori welcome) and were informed about successful social projects by one of the tribe’s young trustee’s, Rangimarie Hunia, that the local iwi (tribe) Ngati Whatua Orakei has undertaken in areas such as tourism, education and health. An icebreaker from the South Auckland Poet’s Collective facilitated introductions and provided a group with the chance to use poetry to describe some of their most urgent contemporary societal issues.
A highlight of the conference was the chance to meet face to face with successful social entrepreneurs to garner lessons learned from their work in the field. U.S. speaker and social entrepreneur Sasha Fisher, Co-founder and Executive Director of Spark Micro-grants, spoke about her work with micro-grants across Africa and coached youth in project development and goal setting. Emeline Afeaki who runs a social policy consultancy, a community café in Otahuhu, and with her family owns a coffee factory in Tonga to teach skills and give jobs to local people described her journey and how she found a sense of purpose through her work.
In addition to a lunch hosted by United States Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa Mark Gilbert, New Zealand’s Ambassador for the Pacific Economic Development, Shane Jones, also hosted a reception for participants and prominent Auckland-based Pacific diaspora at Auckland’s New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs offices.
The fifty Future Leaders of the Pacific also participated in a separate Department of State –supported event – the Festival for the Future. The Festival for the Future is a large annual conference organized by Guy Ryan’s Inspiring Stories Trust. The youth conference focused on inspiring innovation and positive change to help the next generation reach their full potential in an incredibly lively atmosphere. Live music, great food, and colorful décor transformed the Sir Paul Reeves Building at AUT into a unique space to share ideas and connect with likeminded friends and colleagues. His conference also included participation from Sasha Fisher as well as Bonnie Howland, a young New Zealander who recently received Embassy funding to participate in the Department of State’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya earlier this year.
Both conferences had impressive slates of inspirational speakers and empowered youth with the skills to both improve their economic standing but also to promote social causes which will benefit their societies. Participants observed that following they felt more interconnected as a region, aware of the unique and shared challenges that they face as individual countries and appreciated that the U.S. recognized the importance of supporting young Pacific and Maori people and inspiring us to bring about change in their respective communities.
The third annual Future Leaders of the Pacific conference followed a successful initial two years held in American Samoa in 2013 and in Samoa on the margins of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference in 2014. The U.S. Embassy in Wellington and Consulate General in Auckland organized the event in partnership with the East-West Center, with support from U.S. Embassies throughout the Pacific region.
The full list of countries represented at the Future Leaders of the Pacific 2015 included: Niue, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Australia, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, Tonga, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Cook Islands, New Zealand, United States (Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), New Caledonia.