Hon. Minister of Youth and Sports Mr. Praveen Bala

Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of South Pacific, Mr. Derrick Armstrong

DFAT Representative Ms. Renée Deschamps

Representatives of international and regional organizations, civil society representatives

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

It is my privilege to co-host this event together with our partner, the University of South Pacific. This three-day event has three cascading parts:

  • A National Youth Entrepreneurship Dialogue
  • The Youth Co:Lab
  • The launch of an innovation hub and a co-working space here at the USP

The main objective of this initiative is to support the entrepreneurial spirit that is increasingly emerging in Fiji and in the Pacific. We want to nurture this thinking among youth, and help them form networks that support each other in creating new products and services for the benefit of all Pacific Islanders. The end goal is to enable our partners to strengthen the current entrepreneurial ecosystems to foster innovations and to address the pressing sustainable development challenges of the Pacific.

As you are aware that, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the important role of youth in achieving the SDGs and calls for action against the challenges faced by young people that limits their economic, social and political inclusion. Today, young people are more connected, more creative, more informed and more persuasive than any previous generation. Young people are responding to the challenges of today with innovative approaches, contributing fresh ideas, creating the world they want, and driving human development for themselves, their communities and their societies. But at the same time, approximately 300 million young people are either unemployed or underemployed. In other words, nearly half of the 700 million young people in the Asia-Pacific region face economic insecurity. In addition, many young people are left out of decision-making processes, which further contributes to their marginalization and exclusion.

The first day of the event is designed to bring relevant stakeholders together to explore various avenues in promoting and sustaining youth entrepreneurship development through innovation and creation of an enabling environment. The goal is to map, identify and learn from the experiences in the room. By the end of day, we hope to list down some of the key lessons and best practices and agree on moving forward collectively.

The second day of the event is focused on capacity building of our young entrepreneurs. We will do this by walking them through UNDP’s flagship regional initiative commonly known as Youth Co:Lab. The Co:Lab was co-created in 2017 by UNDP and the Citi Foundation, and it aims at establishing a common agenda for Asia-Pacific countries to invest in and empower youth. The intention is to accelerate implementation of SDGs through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship by developing 21st century skills, catalysing and sustaining youth-led start-ups and social enterprises across the region. In 2017 and 2018, UNDP convened 11 national dialogues and ran social innovation challenges across Asia and the Pacific. More than 1,700 young people were part of this initiative leading to expansion in 140 social enterprises. To date, we have Youth Co:Labs in 20 countries and territories in the region including: China, Hong Kong SAR, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives, Nepal, Fiji, Bhutan, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Myanmar, Cambodia and Timor-Leste.

On the third day of the event, we will inaugurate the new private sector co-working space, which is located on the fourth floor of this building. At UNDP, we are very excited about helping create a facilitated co-working space at the USP and we found the perfect partner to host it. Basically, this would be a shared work environment where people meet, work, network, share ideas and collaborate on projects, bringing together individuals from many different industries, countries and areas of expertise.

The initiative will primarily target companies, university stakeholders, contractors and individual entrepreneurs who can access the co-working space for a low month-to-month fee. For the next six months, the services offered here will be free. The space is furnished with services such as high-speed internet and office equipment. The space is designed for both collaborative and individual work and will foster connections and face-to-face communication among people who otherwise wouldn’t know of each other. It will facilitate ad-hoc interactions, exchange of ideas, learning, knowledge sharing and new partnerships, which altogether form the ingredients for successful innovation. This is further supported by regular facilitated events that will bring in experts and potential business partners and investors from Fiji and outside the country for entrepreneurs, researchers and faculty to learn about technology trends and identify collaborative opportunities. We believe that a set-up like this will spark the emergence of new ideas, collaborations and innovative experiments that otherwise would not materialize, and that will eventually attract investor capital and lead to the creation of new start-ups, products and services. I hope that you will make the most of it and support us in building the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Pacific.

Thank you. 

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