Small island developing States offer opportunities for genuine and sustainable business partnerships, said executives and officials participating in a United Nations co-hosted private sector forum in Samoa.
Held in the capital, Apia, ahead of the opening of the UN Conference on Small Island Developing States on Monday, the two-day forum is meant to bring companies together to share information and best practices, and to network. It is organized jointly with the Government and the Samoa Chamber of Commerce.
The expectations are for “dialogue and collaboration, but also some concrete partnerships,” said UN Under-Secretary General Gyan Chandra Acharya. He is also the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. His office (OHRLLS) co-organized the forum.
“They know what the opportunities are,” he told the UN News Centre in reference to private sector investment in the region. “Distance is a big challenge, that's true. The smallness of the market is a big challenge, that is also true. But if you look at some of the key resources that these countries have – whether it is tourism, the agricultural sector – whether it is the ocean, or fishing, they are not poor.
“It is trying to find the proper niche, and the area that they want to focus on, and then build on that,” he added.
In the Samoan Convention Centre, Charles Huflett, Managing Director of the seafood company, Solander, is on a panel focusing on sharing and scaling up of best practices on responsible fishing and protecting oceans and marine resources. He is discussing the high cost of fuel and the impact that has on his shipping costs to New Zealand.
Solander, which is now available in Whole Foods in the United States, is a member of the non-profit Pacific Cooperation Foundation, which works with island producers to help them grow and reach new markets. The fresh seafood company is one of 33 under its True Pacific Project label, which also includes Pure Fiji, a cosmetic line available in the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Papa New Guinea's Banz Kofi, and Hot Samoan Boys Chili Sauce by Apia Bottling.
“Probably a lot of the products are not well known,” said Frances Hartnell, the project manager for True Pacific. In addition to access to markets, partnering with the project provides a quality label that certifies the products used came from the Pacific and were created in a sustainable manner.
“For New Zealand, this is our backyard. My mom is from the Cook Islands. Many of us working in this area are passionate to raise the standards of and employ people from here,” she added.
Back upstairs, Jennifer Austin Foulkes, Manager of Google's Oceans Program was showing a monitor with a swimming sea turtle. Google took its street view camera underwater to 25 different locations. People can now see the Hourglass Reef in Bermuda, for example, by typing 'oceans' into the Google map browser.
“It's a great tool to bring the ocean to more people,” Ms. Foulkes said. The company is creating more virtual ocean content to show people “what it looks like under the ocean and why it matters.”
The tool has been used by local communities to divide a marine sanctuary up into regions. It could also help residents pinpoint areas where they should not be fishing, such as the recently created Palau National Marine Sanctuary, according to the President's office press secretary.
Meanwhile, Google has teamed up with National Geographic Society and the Waitt Foundation, both represented at the forum, along with other partners, to inspire care of the oceans under the banner 'Mission Blue'.
As part of the forum, the UN is also trying to present the case to the private sector to also look at the sustainability and social impact of their work.
“I think that type of trend is slowly coming as well,” Mr. Acharya said. “If you look as the sustainable development goals, many of the things we are looking at – whether it is the oceans, energy, sustainable patterns, the biodiversity – the role of the private sector will be critical because they are the ones who are the players and they are the ones who should be looking at the environment and sustainability.”
The UN is currently pushing for accelerated progress towards the eight anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and pushing for a new set of sustainable development goals to take their place after the 2015 deadline.
“And I think if you take the issue of small island developing States from the larger global perspective, that fits well,” he continued. “Sensitize them to do something towards the goal.”
The forum is holding meetings in six key areas: oceans and marine resources, connectivity, sustainable agriculture, sustainable tourism, disaster risk reduction, and renewable energy. Hundreds of representatives are attending, including from Philips Lighting, Digicel, The Body Shop and Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
The forum's high-level dialogue is scheduled for tomorrow and will include UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Other UN officials participating in the forum are Margareta Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, and Elizabeth Thompson, Senior Adviser to Mr. Ban's Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.
In addition to businesses, the forum includes representatives from the Asian Development Bank, Caribbean Development Bank and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, among others.
The partnership commitments formed during the forum will be included in the overall partnerships to be announced at the end of the UN conference on Thursday. The theme for the conference focuses on partnerships.
“We intend to pursue it further by working on creating a kind of sustainable business network,” Mr. Acharya said, stressing that the network would also include cooperation between small islands, international organizations and other development partners. “We intend to make sure that what we agree on is not a one-off event here, but something that can be really taken forward.”