While they arrived as individuals, the representatives selected for the Young Pacific Leaders Conference 2019 in Fiji left as family, making long-lasting and valuable connections from across the Pacific.
Wellington-based Samoan Natalia Fareti was selected to represent New Zealand - and was one of the 46 leaders (aged 25-35) from 20 Pacific countries and territories chosen to attend the four-day event in Suva in early March, hosted by the United States Department of State, in partnership with Cultural Vistas.
The Wellington City Council Pacific Advisory Group member and PACIFICA Inc Central Region Vice President says she was prompted to apply to attend the conference for a variety of reasons.
“The opportunity to upskill; share my own, and learn from others’ experiences; network and collaborate with others from across le vasa Pasifika, and be able to bring all those experiences and learnings back to Aotearoa to share with others and incorporate into my work and community initiatives really motivated me to apply,” Natalia says.
With access to a wealth of knowledgeable speakers and leaders, Natalia adds what she learnt at the conference has been invaluable.
“Learnings from speakers, for instance who have already implemented various economic development strategies for women and small communities in Papua New Guinea for example was really inspiring, especially since my day job is about economic development.”
Her current “day job” is as the Principal Advisor to the Head of Regional Development, at the Provincial Development Unit, which administers the Government’s $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund.
Natalia also had the opportunity to chair a meeting of “senior officials” at the first ever mock Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS).
“Here the negotiation skills and learning to balance and compromise individual country agendas with that of the Pacific as a region were vital and very applicable to my roles at the Council Pacific Advisory Group and PACIFICA,” she adds.
“There is a beauty of connecting with like-minded people from across the vasa that are passionate and dedicated in their various roles and this is already translating into collaboration across different initiatives and knowledge sharing.”
Without a doubt, the connections and life-long friendships made with the other conference delegates has been the highlight of the experience, Natalia says.
“We arrived as individuals and left as a family; it’s these connections, much as we have always done across the vasa and historically, that serve as foundations for future collaborations – both professionally and socially.
“From Vanuatu, Palau, Guam, across to Hawaii, Tahiti, and Fiji, no matter the distance between our island nations, we face much the same issues and with this conference we’ve crossed the boundaries of the vasa to make it smaller in terms of our connections to each other.”
The delegates are buoyed by each other’s passion and commitment to continue with our respective efforts in our home countries, she adds.
Natalia highly recommends the experience to others, and says the chance to learn, collaborate and experience unique opportunities has been life-changing.
It is an opportunity to prepare leaders from across the Pacific to effectively manage future issues in the region.
Also representing New Zealand at the conference was Ayla Hoeta and Brad Cherrington (both Māori, from Auckland).
Two delegates attending as alumni mentors represented New Zealand - Carinnya Feaunati of Samoan descent from Wellington, and Sammy Aaron (Māori, Auckland).
Representing Tonga was Wellington resident Siosaia Tu’ineau Mataele, and attending on behalf of Fiji, was Auckland resident Lora Waqabitu.