Fiji Sets Sights on a Billion-Dollar Digital Transformation by 2030

The digitalFIJI strategy has set its sights on cultivating a $1 billion digital economy in Fiji by 2030, equivalent in scale to the nation’s thriving tourism sector.

In an exclusive interview, Satyendra Prasad, the Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations, underscores the indispensability of digitalization for Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

In what ways can digitalization catalyze during the remaining two years of the SAMOA Pathway?

The urgency is palpable, with just two brief years left to fulfill the SAMOA Pathway and a mere eight years left to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our window to adapt our economies and societies for a 1.5°C or higher future is rapidly closing. In this critical juncture, digitalization takes center stage. Fortunately, the silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the swift recognition and adoption of digital tools, serving as a linchpin for modernizing governance, expediting public service advancements and inclusivity, and propelling transformation across industry and government.

In Fiji, we are recognizing the immense potential that digital technology brings to the table. Our digitalFIJI strategy is focused on fortifying our digital infrastructure to achieve development outcomes across various sectors. Collaboration between the Ministry for Health and Medical Services and the University of the South Pacific has resulted in the creation of the My Kana mobile app, which aims to combat the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases. Additionally, we are addressing the issue of illegal tuna fishing by implementing blockchain technology to register catches, enabling consumers to trace the origins of their purchased tuna, including when and where it was caught, by whom, and the method used.

Throughout the Pacific region, we are witnessing a wide array of innovative applications of technology to address critical development challenges, whether in ordinary circumstances, in the aftermath of disasters, or amidst climate-related crises. For instance, in Vanuatu, drones are being leveraged to enhance the delivery of vaccines to children in remote islands, overcoming logistical hurdles and reducing the associated high transportation costs.

“This technology has the potential to expand its services to communities scattered across thousands of islands in the vast Blue Pacific region, covering approximately 15% of the Earth’s surface. In Tuvalu, the application of LiDAR technology plays a vital role in monitoring sea-level changes and enhancing climate adaptation planning. Protecting Tuvalu means safeguarding the entire planet, as this is the frontline of the frontline in climate change challenges. It is imperative that digital technologies not only facilitate but also drive efforts towards effective adaptation.”

“As we approach the final two years of the SAMOA Pathway, and with only eight years remaining to achieve the SDGs and adapt our economies for a future above 1.5°C, the importance of digitalization cannot be overstated. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the recognition of digital tools as essential for modernizing governments, advancing public services, fostering inclusion, and driving transformation in both industry and government.

In Fiji, we are embracing the potential of digitalization through our digitalFIJI strategy, which aims to strengthen our digital infrastructure to achieve development goals across the spectrum. An exemplary initiative is the collaboration between our Ministry for Health and Medical Services and the University of the South Pacific, resulting in the My Kana mobile app designed to address the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases. Additionally, we are combatting illegal tuna fishing by implementing blockchain technology to register catches, enabling consumers to trace the origin of their store-bought tuna – including when and where it was caught, by whom, and the method used.”

In the Pacific region, we witness various innovative technological applications to address crucial developmental challenges under normal circumstances, in the aftermath of disasters, and in the face of climate catastrophes. For instance, in Vanuatu, drones have been deployed to enhance the distribution of vaccines to children residing in remote islands, effectively overcoming logistical hurdles and the high costs associated with delivery. There exists a significant potential for extending this technology to offer various services to communities scattered across the vast expanse of the Blue Pacific, which encompasses approximately 15% of the Earth’s surface. In Tuvalu, the utilization of LiDAR technology plays a pivotal role in monitoring fluctuations in sea levels and improving climate adaptation planning. Recognizing that safeguarding Tuvalu also means safeguarding the entire world is essential. This represents the forefront of the battle against climate change, where digital technologies must serve as facilitators and catalysts for adaptation efforts.

How can we ensure that young people are drivers of digital transformation across SIDS?

The youth play a central role in the digital transformation across the Blue Pacific region. With a strong emphasis on education, many countries, including Fiji, are approaching near-universal literacy rates. Young individuals are at the forefront of embracing and pioneering technological advancements, driving innovation. They are spurred to find solutions for numerous challenges that await technology-driven answers. Consider a young person in a capital city who must send money to their parents residing on an island without banks or post offices. Similarly, think about a scenario where a young person must quickly and securely send funds to relatives on remote islands following natural disasters like volcanic eruptions or cyclones. These real-world problems motivate and engage the youth in the Blue Pacific region.

“Young individuals embrace the opportunity to test and adapt emerging technologies without fear. They are deeply connected to a global network of ideas, which makes them acutely aware of the consequences of falling behind. This awareness fuels their imagination and determination to shape a distinct future. It’s essential to remember that the Pacific is not only breathtakingly blue but also teeming with youthful energy and innovation. Unfortunately, many of our youth from Small Island Developing States (SIDS) choose to study abroad and often don’t return. To reverse this trend, we must ensure they have opportunities to actively participate in and drive digital transformation. This requires the establishment of innovation ecosystems that not only nurture digital skills but also incubate and support startups. The era of digitalization presents a unique chance to stem the brain drain. Furthermore, it offers Fiji and the Pacific a compelling opportunity to attract international investors and businesses. Fiji has already made a commitment to develop a thriving $1 billion digital economy by 2030, a sector with the potential to rival its world-renowned tourism industry.”

While it’s true that not all young individuals possess strong digital competencies, it’s imperative to recognize that the future job market will pose significant limitations for those who lack fundamental or intermediate-level digital skills. To ensure a level playing field for all, we must integrate digital skills training into our educational institutions, spanning all levels of schooling. Additionally, it’s crucial to make affordable devices and dependable internet connectivity accessible to everyone, thereby providing every child with the opportunity to excel in our rapidly evolving job market. Achieving this goal necessitates forging digital partnerships with development organizations and the private sector.

What role can – and should – government play in making the Fourth Industrial Revolution valuable and relevant for SIDS?

In the realm of digital innovation, the private sector often takes the lead, leaving governments lagging. However, governments must engage with technology and play an active driving role. This involvement can span various areas, such as guiding the shift towards eco-friendly shipping practices, establishing robust national ID systems, delivering comprehensive service bundles, and promoting financial inclusion, especially among women. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) cannot afford to remain passive observers.

To remain relevant in the ever-evolving landscape of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, SIDS has an opportunity to seize the reins. Blockchain technology, for instance, has the potential to reshape traditional power structures and institutions. SIDS, due to their smaller size, can position themselves at the forefront of this transformation. They can serve as testbeds and incubators, leading the way in adopting new and emerging technologies. Moreover, governments in SIDS can create favorable fiscal environments and other incentives to attract global finance and technology companies, often with more agility than larger nations. Collaborative efforts with the private sector are also essential in developing regulatory frameworks that promote innovation and benefit citizens.

In light of these considerations, governments must ensure that the advantages of the digital transformation far outweigh the associated risks. Governments are responsible for safeguarding citizens, implementing robust measures to combat cybercrimes, and protecting intellectual property rights and data. Achieving these goals necessitates the development of new capacities and capabilities both within and beyond the government sphere. Importantly, these efforts are expected to generate fresh employment opportunities and prospects.

Governments and civil society play a pivotal role in assisting citizens from a young age in acquiring digital skills, ensuring affordable access to devices and internet connectivity, and fostering a digitally-aware and proficient populace. We anticipate the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) collaborating closely with Pacific governments on this transformative journey.



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