Conference seeks digital change to overcome pandemic

Samoa's second Digital Pacific Conference was launched on Tuesday and highlighted the role digital transformation will play in Samoa’s recovery from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A small ceremony to mark the opening of the 2020 conference was held at Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey's Hotel & Bungalows.

The conference, which has not been held since 2018,  is co-hosted by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (M.C.I.T.) and the United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P.).It is also being staged with the support of the Australian Government. 

The conference provides a chance for participants to hold debates and exchange dialogue on the theme: “Empowering the Pacific: Sustainable Development and Digital Transformation for All.”

Samoa’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupai, said that the 2020 conference seeks to build on the 2018 iteration of the conference, which drew attendees from more than a dozen countries. 

Afamasaga said that hosting the conference this year was an achievement in itself against the backdrop of the restrictions on incoming freight and travel to Samoa. 

He said that the conference will bring together influential thinkers, practitioners and leaders in the digital sphere across the Pacific. 

On the agenda are matters of national and regional importance but also how Small Islands States can better capitalise on developments in the international arena. 

Afamasaga said he was encouraged to see experts, private sector representatives, Government officials, civil society and youth organisations come together to participate in the conference. 

“[Participants will] share their own experiences and perspectives for which everyone present can learn from,” he told the audience.

Afamasaga said that the conference hopes to share stories of digital transformation, case studies, stories of institutions overcoming challenges, develop new means for knowledge transfer and build participants’ digital skills. 

“But [we will] also do a stock take of how far we, as a region, have progressed and put into action the outcomes of the [2018] conference,” he said. 

Kanni Wignaraja, the United Nations Development Programme’s (U.N.D.P.) Assistant Secretary-General, and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific delivered the conference’s opening speech via the U.N.D.P.’s New York headquarters. 

“At this critical time, as the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake of digital solutions, tools and services across the Pacific [which is] mitigating [the pandemic’s] socio-economic consequences,” she said.

“The global transition to digital societies is happening right before our very eyes.”

Ms. Wignaraja added that the message about the link between digital investment and recovery from COVID-19 was crystal clear. 

“Digital transformation is our pathway to recovery,” she said. 

“This journey is built on [... a] grand coalition of actors [...] including governments, the private sector, academia, media and development partners, working with the people and for the people.”

“This is the reason we are all here today. 

“The Digital Pacific Conference 2020 is a forum for facilitating partnerships, [small island developing states] cooperation and knowledge-sharing to complement the Pacific experience.” 

The three-day conference combines individual expert presentations, panel and roundtable discussions, and parallel sessions being run by Youth Co. Lab (a group of young digital entrepreneurs). 

Also on offer will be a tech showcase offering opportunities for engagement and fostering opportunities for greater cooperation between public sector delegates and private sector exhibitors.

Australia’s High Commissioner to Samoa, Sara Moriarty, said the COVID-19 pandemic has already redefined what is considered normal in the way in which we live, how we connect with family and friends and how we work.

“What was the normal of face to face meetings and contact is being challenged and restrictions under the new normal have challenged us to explore new methods of doing business,” she said. 

“This has caused an increased usage of [information and communication technology] products and services. 

“This provides opportunities but it also exposes vulnerabilities in Pacific Island countries and territories’ [information and communication technology] capabilities and capacities.

“Pacific island countries and territories need to be efficient in their responses to COVID, and to develop strategies and mechanisms to ensure that their economies and communities are not further marginalized due to the impacts of the pandemic.” 

It is envisaged that this conference will establish a regional network of public sector and private sector institutions to foster digital cooperation. 

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