Improved access to digital technologies in the Pacific Island countries is enabling its citizens and the tech savvy youths to compete in the growing digital world market. The ‘Together for a Digital Pacific Conference’, a regional conference organized by the Information Communication Minister of Samoa jointly with UNDP brought together over 700 high-level officials, business communities and the youths to discuss the challenges and the way forward. In order to build stronger networks and partnerships with the private sector attending the conference, UNDP with the support from Regional Bureau of Asia Pacific in Bangkok, organized a breakfast meeting with the private sector, where it showcased its private sector partnerships in the Asia Pacific region highlighting various models and mechanisms of partnerships for the private sector to partner with UNDP.
During the event, UNDP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Samoa Chamber of Commerce setting a new milestone for deepening the partnerships with the private sector. To date, the engagement has been limited to solicitation of sponsorships mainly to cover the costs of workshops or events. For example, UNDP Samoa successfully engaged several large ICT companies active in the Pacific to sponsor the conference. However, due to its nature, these kinds of engagements with the private sector have shorter life cycles and tend to often die off after the event. Moreover, the private sector does not consider these collaborations as partnerships and at times, is even wary of them due to its rent seeking nature. And often rightly so, as there are few companies and far too much demand for such sponsorships. Usually, the companies book these expenses as donations or as compliance to their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) contributions.
In this context, if UNDP would like to deepen its partnership with the private sector then, it is important for UNDP to select sectors and devise customized solutions to address its core business issues. For example, help businesses to minimize the costs and the risks of doing business in the Pacific. This could be done either through creation of an enabling policy environment or by working closely with the private sector in workforce and skills development. Additionally, development of joint strategies to strengthen business continuity planning in a collaborative way to complement, mitigate and minimize the costs and resources to effectively and efficiently adapt and respond to the crisis could be another area of interest to the private sector. UNDP could do this by collaborating with the private sector on issues such as preparedness and disaster risk reduction mainly by devising initiatives to strengthen humanitarian and development nexus. However, the down side of this strategy is that, this will require upfront human and financial investment by UNDP prior to expecting any substantial monetary gains from the private sector in the next year or two. However, in terms of thought leadership, knowledge management and efficiency, the return on investment could accrue immediately depending upon how the initiatives are designed. Since the Samoa country office was successful in mobilizing sponsorship from big name ICT companies such as Digicel, Bluesky, Huawei etc. and also in mobilizing support from UNDP’s core offices, they are in a perfect position to be UNDP’s first Pacific champion to support the island countries in harnessing the benefits of the 4th industrial revolution - The Digital Pacific!