Pacific Leaders' Virtual Forum
“Building Bridges over Water”
Many professionals working in Pacific island countries face similar problems created by the smallness of their communities and their own isolation within these communities. To help bridge the knowledge gap and capture the lessons learned, the Australian Government’s agency for international development co-operation (AusAid) has been sponsoring, over the past four years, the Pacific Leaders’ Virtual Forum (PLVF) through the Australian Global Development Learning Network and the Australian National University.
Initiated in 2004, the Forum has been a dynamic community of practice allowing influential Pacific Island country leaders to meet and discuss virtually on development issues affecting their region. Participating countries have included Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Australia, and Timor Leste where influential leaders were able to voice their problems/issues with counterparts and seek solutions.
To date, more than 3200 participants have taken part in what has become a unique and innovative forum which continues to encourage regional discussions between decision-makers and policymakers. “There is almost no difference between video conference and face-to-face in these meetings. The only thing that you cannot do is shaking hands,” said one participant commenting on the format of the discussions.
Some specific milestones of the Forum also include:
• Making considerable contribution to breaking down the barrier of isolation felt by individual policymakers, academics and community member in the island countries.
• Strengthening the development of a dynamic community of practice leading to their effecting real change within the participating countries.
• Contributing to Pacific Island countries and regional policies through the interaction between top-level international academics and local “bureaucrats”, academics, businesses and NGOs on policy development in an open and mutually supportive manner.
In 2008, topics were selected based the feedback from participants and the “Governance for Growth” was developed to cover the following topics for discussion:
• Conflict and Peace-building in the Pacific Island States;
• Climate and Fisheries Management in the Pacific Region;
• Infrastructure for growth: delivery and pricing;
• Anti corruption for development; and,
• Entrepreneurship—advocacy and representation
The end result was the development of a series which would provide room for discussion over several weeks period. The benefits of this format were that it gave participants the opportunity to know and better understand their colleagues working in similar fields, despite their geographical separation.
While still looking for additional funding to cover expenses from 2009-2012, the Forum has been very successful in breaking new grounds in the Pacific, reaching countries, sharing ideas and challenging leaders to make informed decisions needed for change in their countries. Commenting on these successes, Mary Sertich, from AusAID said “our partners at the Crawford School have done a very good job linking people and technology so that information and viewpoints can be shared on regional development priorities.”
As for the future of PLVF, they are currently in discussions how they will continue and expand the Forum as well as perhaps duplicate the forum in Indonesia, as an “Indonesian Leaders’ Virtual Forum”.