Young entrepreneur keen on boosting education through digital hub

By Soli Wilson 17 April 2019, 12:00AM

A 23-year-old entrepreneur, Olisana Mariner has just returned from the 2019 Youth Co:Lab Summit in Vietnam with more passion to try and improve Samoa's education system.

Essentially the Hub is a high-end, mini-conference room for up to 10 people where they can come together, share ideas, find synergies, and form partnerships. It is located in the O.S.M. headquarters at Lotopa. 

But because Olisana is constantly learning and exposed to various contexts, she is always looking for ways to modify her business model, not only for sustainability in long term revenue, but also have a social impact.

"And with the hub, its changed again and I think that’s the beauty of business – you always have to evolve according to the market's need – and that’s what makes Youth Co Lab different from normal businesses, is that they really push the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)."

Olisana  is particularly passionate about tackling the issue of youth unemployment, through education by providing a digital Hub to make learning easier, more accessible and provide more streams for learning.

"Because I really believe that Samoa’s education system is prime for digital disruption. And I think that comparatively, looking at the whole Pacifica and where were headed as a nation, I think education is one of those institutions that needs to go with development. 

"And so the solution that I pitched was the Hub and it’s a content creation engine that creates e-learning platforms and digital media, such as online videos, e-books that are contextualized and made by Samoans for Samoans," she added. 

Currently, Olisana said they are running a pilot program with her local high school.

"It makes no sense to go big and go to the rural area and it fails. I’d rather start and make sure that the glitches and stuff are picked up here before we roll it out to the people who really need it most.

"Because I’m passionate about public education and giving the resources that the students need to succeed.

"I’m also talking about the social impact so for me, like my heart is in education and that’s a challenging thing in general and I know that if nobody does it, it would never hook up and I think we need more advocacy for education in Samoa," she said.

Olisana said while Samoa's adult and primary school literacy rates are high, there is a big gap in participation levels with high drop out rates from primary to secondary schools, and she hopes to target ways to make students stay longer in school.

"I’m trying to target, how do we keep those kids in school longer and work with the parents and the communities to find more pathways in learning and more opportunities in digital technology, so that they see it as attractive to keep their students in or for students to see value in going to school," she said.

The young woman from Tulaele and Lano, Savai'i said 34 start ups were pitched in Vietnam where she met other aspiring entrepreneurs and inspirational mentors, who she said gave her "invaluable" experiences.

"Meeting so many young entrepreneurs and meeting so many experts on education technology and Government leaders in the Pacific who are very open to e-learning. 

"So having those mentors come along and these are people that get thousands of dollars an hour for consultation, and to get them to come and give me free advice, and really help comment on my business model and business idea and validate it or rip it apart which was beautiful.

"And I was so grateful for that because if you’re not open to failing when you start, then you have already failed yourself, because as an entrepreneur at this age, you cant love your idea and hold on to your idea; you kind of have to sort of separate yourself from it to really let it grow," she added. 

But with all the critiques and feedback on her business model, one would need a breath of fresh air and she said she got just that too with the trip.

"And so I did get overwhelmed at some point but another mentor who was really encouraging, she said at the end of the day you have to make the final call. It doesn’t matter what other people say, we can only give advice but you know what’s best, so it was great to hear that after all the ripping apart and I really  feel like I’ve come back with more personal growth. 

"But yeah the networking was extremely invaluable, like it’s worth more than anything," she said.

When asked what drives her daily, she said she wants everyone who wants an education to be able to afford it, and be able to have the resources that they need to succeed.

Her ultimate inspiration comes from her 92-year-old great grandmother, Laufaleaina Eli.

"I love her so much, she's one of the reason why I've dealt a lot with education recently; I think her story and her testimony is fantastic because when she was growing up and started having children, the cost of a tuition in Samoa was the same as the cost of a pair of shoes.

"And she literally gave up the shoe on her feet in order to afford her children quality education, and so to this day my [great] grandmother walks around with no shoes because she thinks it's uncomfortable wearing it and so, for me, that testimony of sacrifice is such a legacy, that I really feel I'm supposed to live up to.

"And my grandmother every time i see her, it reminds me that change is not comfortable and that sacrifice is not comfortable but its so worth it.  and that's why I do it," she said.


By Soli Wilson 17 April 2019, 12:00AM

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