Blockchain technology offers a catalyst for Australia-Pacific collaboration in Papua New Guinea

| May 15, 2018

‘An impressive group created by Pacific Connect and ICDP, this will lead on to development in PNG and the Pacific region.’

This was a survey response of one of the PNG participants at the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP) Inaugural Pacific Connect Business Network Dialogue held in Port Moresby 27-28 March 2018. It is this sort of feedback that encourages our team to continue creating platforms to build a Pacific Connect community and strengthen relationships between emerging leaders from Australia and the Pacific.

The ICDP began operation in October 2017 with a mandate to implement the Pacific Connect initiative which is part of the Australia Government’s step-up in engagement with the Pacific. Pacific Connect is a two-year pilot program announced by Prime Minister Turnbull at the 48th Pacific Islands Forum in Samoa on 8 September 2017. Pacific Connect works with local leadership to identify opportunities, individuals and coalitions for engagement under the theme of ‘Australia-Pacific Connections for the Digital Future’.

In keeping with this theme, the PNG Dialogue brought together a dynamic and diverse group of forward-thinking individuals from PNG and Australia to discuss the challenges and opportunities of digital connectivity in the Pacific.

As a keen observer I noticed the atmosphere of the room transform from uneasy curiosity to energised pragmatism through facilitators taking the time to encourage openness and honesty. The icebreakers combined with the application of the ‘second track’ process produced very positive responses and outcomes. In a nutshell, ‘second track’ brings a multidisciplinary group of people together around a macro-economic topic and facilitates collaboration with the goal of developing a solution to a common challenge.

On this basis participants moved to discussing the opportunity to apply distributed ledger technology to create and secure citizen identities and guarantee the provenance of agricultural exports such as palm oil. The Chair of the PNG Digital Commerce Association provided the background and context for several potential projects to be developed and piloted in the Talasea District in West New Britain Province in PNG.

Dialogue participants were then invited to support this concept by submitting concrete proposals which could be ‘pitched’ to various clients e.g. banks and government. Through being responsive to client needs, the proposals would enjoy stakeholder support, benefit from the skills and experience of participants who would in turn build relationships leading to bigger projects, and ultimately fulfil a pressing need for local citizens.

This is where the Dialogue moved from just ‘talk’ to tangible actions motivated by a commercial outcome. Whilst goodwill and good intentions can take you so far, a commercial imperative incentivises, enables and motivates individuals and teams to collaborate and produce. Until that point, I had only understood the ‘second track’ process as a concept, so to then see it in action and to witness the resulting energy and willingness of participants to get on board was remarkable.

It was agreed to progress two practical commercially-focused projects with a view to pitching to prospective clients and presenting outcomes ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit to be held in Port Moresby in November.

The projects included developing a ‘regulatory sandbox’ to test a digital financial ID and a blockchain assurance system for palm oil products. Post-Dialogue, the participants have been holding weekly meetings at Ernst & Young offices in PNG – thank you for their in-kind support – and MOUs, vision and mission statements have been developed for both projects.

At the end of the day, ICDP cannot control nor does it wish to control the outcomes of the Dialogue participant’s projects – success is now in their hands. ICDP will continue to encourage and support where possible however, ultimately our goal is to bring the ‘right’ people together over a common issue to establish long-term enduring relationships and networks between Australia and the Pacific. It is early days, but this is a good start.

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Tina Briggs

Tina Briggs is the programme coordinator for the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships.  She has extensive experience in project management across government, private, and not for profit sectors and has worked in international development with the Kenyan and Botswanan Red Cross.