Coordinating Ambassador for Oceania: Challenges and Opportunities
I have been incredibly fortunate to have been elected the Coordinating Ambassador for Oceania as a part of One Young World earlier this year. I was elected after having attended the One Young World Summit in Bangkok, Thailand. On the recommendation of our previous Coordinating Ambassador Luke Fitzmaurice, I took on the challenge of CA as I am passionate advocate for our region and I wanted the opportunity to continue enhancing exisiting relationships with youth leaders and youth focused organisations across our beautiful region. I also understood and appreciated the great opportunity have access to the resources, channels of influence, promotion and networks of One Young World to promote other passions of mine. Namely increasing interregional as well intercultural dialogue, understanding and networks across the Pacific.
I have entitled this piece challenges and opportunities in the hopes that it will give future CA’s an indication of the work they can look forward to. I also wanted to ensure there is some continuity in the work Luke and I have begun. I’ve given a lot of thought to some of the concerns, challenges and ideas I had had time in my time as CA. Some of it may be to philosophical, and I hope it challenges you all to think critically when you think and talk about Oceania; when you think and talk about the Pacific.
We are lucky in one sense that our region is comparatively (population wise) very small. However geographically, we are spread far across and in between the great Pacific Ocean. In mainstream rhetoric and of course development literature and dialogue; a region characterised by small developing island states, tiny remote dots of land distanced from world economic centres. Here I embrace the late Professor ‘Epeli Hau’ofa’s (Tongan, born in Papua New Guinea and lived his final days in Fiji) reconceptualisation of our region as a “Sea of Islands” – a concept he was incredibly passionate about, reclaiming the autonomy of the Pacific and rightfully stressing empowerment which speaks loudly of many islands encompassing a huge ocean area, rich in resources, cultures, and peoples unhindered by boundaries. It is the richness and strength of this diversity which we have overtime learned to forget, and tend not to appreciate.
The Pacific is an interesting region. We have a mixture of developed countries (Australia, NZ), a whole group of independent/ semi dependent developing countries, as well as overseas territories, collectivities and dependent territories. It is a region that is still grappling with colonialism, infused with British, French, American, Australian, New Zealand, Chilean and Indonesian influence in various ways. The political status of some countries mean we no longer have the traditional connections that once were the norm in this region. Pacific Youth Summits called in the region often leave out our cousins who are part of territories of larger countries. Three of the last Pacific youth regional forums I have attended failed to produce any representatives or contact from French Polynesia, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna (France), American Samoa, Guam, Marianas, Hawaii (USA), Rapanui (Chile), West Papua (Indonesia), Tokelau, Niue. This forced dichotimisation is false; it is glaringly obvious when you analyse the historical connections, the similarities in cultures and language, the networks of extended families and friends, and reference point of the great Pacific Ocean in mediating the lives we all live.
What do OYW ambassadors get up to after or in between summit? A whole lot really. They return to their countries, and organisations, empowered and refreshed to continue and enhance the work that they do for other young people.
- I shared in this blog piece reflecting on my time at the OYW Summit in Thailand that the best part of any Summit is the people you meet, and the networks you form, and for me, the best part of both OYW 15 and 16 has been meeting, and getting to know the fantastic youth ambassadors and leaders from our very own region. Oceania. We have limited opportunities to all meet together as a region. For young people not attached to National Youth Councils this is very true. So the opportunity to come together on the world stage, to meet, fellowship, network and dialogue is golden, and one I whole heartedly appreciate.
- Promoting greater awareness: One of my particular focuses was on promoting young leaders from the Pacific, the work they are engaged in, the youth focused organisations they are a part of, as part and parcel of my attempt to increase intercultural and interregional appreciation, awareness and understanding of the fantastic work taking place in this region across a diverse range of sectors. You can see in the blog here snippets of OYW Oceania ambassadors from last years Summit.
- Blogging/Tweeting/ Social Media: You get to commission blogs from OYW Ambassadors and have these featured on the OYW website and Huffington Post. Here are two blogs we were grateful to have promoted from Sameer Chand (Fiji), and Andrew Ponton (Tuvalu). In addition to the Facebook group page, we have a twitter account @OYWOceania which I have been using to promote ambassadors, updating/ live tweeting on the summit, and keeping people updated about news in the region related to youth.
- Regional discussions: Part of your responsibility will be conducting a regional discussion via skype/ google hangout on a thematic areas which OYW will give to you. Your role is to facilitate the discussion, canvas the opinions of ambassadors spread across the region, and then present a summary of that discussion to OYW – which in turn is then used to shape the focus and structure of that thematic area at the next OYW Summit.
- Local/ Regional physical Meetings: We are fortunate to have Triona Maddic our National Youth League Partner in Australia who has been organising events and meet ups for ambassadors. I did try and host a Regional Caucus meet in Samoa earlier this year, however given the time constraints, peoples work commitments and so on, we were not able to meet physically. What we did do quite well is keep in touch on Facebook. In future perhaps 2 years worth of planning, and developing a clear purpose and tangible outcome may be more reason for people to meet.
Internet access, and access to quality fibre, and affordable access is an ongoing challenge across the region – especially for our Small island developing states (SIDS). This makes it incredibly difficult to maintain contact, to have full participation in any campaigns organised, or proposed skype/online meetings. 3 Months into my term as CA, I admit feeling somewhat distressed and unappreciated after having being (what I thought was super organised) in organising online consultations for thematic discussions for OYW – only to be told by Luke not to take it personally. He reminded me and rightfully so that most of us are volunteers, with full time jobs, actual lives, and in some parts limited connectivity.
Gmail/Mailchimp/Database/: You will receive a copy of the database of all previous OYW Oceania Ambassadors. We have over 100 strong. The problem is most of the emails have changed. There are ambassadors who no longer wish to be part of the network. Also Gmail’s recently revised regulations on spam and mass mailing effectively mean the free mailchimp account you’re given will not work. You could spend time sending the same email in batches but that takes time. Resolution: I’ve been posting updates via this blog and then sharing it via the Facebook Group Page. It seems to have worked in the last few months.
- Regional Campaigns: given the diversity of sectors/ thematic interests of our ambassadors it was difficult to find a campaign that we could get going region wide. The ambassadors of 2015 had focused a considerable amount of effort on Climate Change – via all Call on COP Videos and climate related activism in our respective organisations. This is my fault given the pressure to get something done before the next summit, and the pressure then to prepare to represent the region at the Summit, meet, connect and induct a whole new batch of ambassadors. On reflecting, it would have been better to continue promoting the individual work/ projects.
In moving forward I still see an incredible amount of potential, hampered by the volunteer status of all our ambassadors, no funding from HQ, the immense responsibility and work load on one person, and the need to grow the network across the region particularly in our Pacific Countries. On this make the following recommendations:
- I have contacted HQ about the need for more Pacific representation and the need to allocate resources specifically to drumming up participants from Pacific countries (offered the NYLOC as an example).
- I would strongly advocate for the creating of an OYW Oceania Executive Committee formed of OYW Oceania Ambassadors whose role is to support and progress the work of the Coordinating Ambassador. As noted the CA has particular responsibilities in reporting to, connecting with HQ. We need an Executive Committee that will progress all the other work, develop funding applications, developing a database of sponsors, partners, continue building networks with youth focused/ led organisations across Oceania, organise campaigns, provide opportunities for physical meetings and to continue building the OYW Ambassador and OYW Oceania brand across the region.
- I would strongly advocate that the CA term be increased to 2 years Minimum and that a proposed executive committee be given a term of 3 years.
As always I am happy to answer any questions or have conversations with ambassadors considering taking on the CA role. It is a lot of work, and tapping into the knowledge, insight, strength and passion of our regions ambassadors is the way forward.
Fa’afetai tele lava.