NGO Hui, Locally led development and amplifying Pacific voices Location: National Library, Tiakiwai Conference Centre

Tēnā koutou katoa, talofa lava, warm Pacific greetings to you all.

Thank you for joining us for the 2022 MFAT-NGO Hui-ā-tau — annual hui.

This is the first time in three years that we have gathered kānohi-ki-te-kānohi for this event. I am delighted to be here, today, to lend my support to this important talanoa. 

At last year’s hui online — I think you called it a zui! — I spoke of Pacific resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the work you all undertake with your local civil society partners to uplift communities.

In spite of closed borders, disrupted supply chains, and other restrictions making access to your areas of work tremendously difficult, you and your partners continued to deliver.

Unfortunately, for many of us and our Pacific whanaunga, the effects of COVID-19 are a continuing reality. I would like to honour those in your aiga, your organisations, and the communities you live and work in, who are sadly no longer with us.

I would also like to thank you — our partners here in Aotearoa New Zealand — for your fortitude and persistent mahi. In this challenging, and often disheartening time, your work helps to sustain communities and their hope for a better future.

I have been asked to share some thoughts with you today on locally led development.

Communities and kotahitanga — working together for collective benefit — are, by nature, central to your kaupapa. It is so important that we continue to ensure that everything we do for our Pacific communities is anchored by Pacific values and people, with each generation weaving the whāriki — the mat — for the next generation to stand on.

Of course, I get to work with Pacific communities in Aotearoa New Zealand as well as in the Blue Pacific Continent, and it excites me to see that the same community-led approach we have taken to Pacific issues in Aotearoa is the one that you are taking in your mahi across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa.

As we emerge from the immediate impacts of COVID-19, and address the range of compounding crises and challenges in our region and across the world, the value and timeliness of this hui and its focus — on locally led development and amplifying Pacific voices — cannot be over-emphasised.

Our Pacific whanaunga, like us all, are still feeling the shocks of the global pandemic, with health systems under sustained pressure. The economic downturn driven by the pandemic continues to have bearing on individuals, communities, businesses and governments in the Pacific, and globally. At the national level, governments have taken on additional debt to offset reductions in revenue; at the local level, goods and services have become more expensive, and people have lost jobs and incomes.

While there are positive signs, including borders reopening and tourists returning to destinations across the Pacific, it will take a number of years to recover fully from the negative economic and social impacts of COVID-19.  

There has also been much discussion of the increasingly contested goestrategic space we find ourselves in, creating a more complex operating environment.

And we also need to recognise and respond to the biggest security threat in our region: climate change.  Aotearoa New Zealand’s new Climate Finance Strategy, Tuia te Waka a Kiwa, and our emissions reduction targets and policies at home, reflect our commitment to tackling this threat.  We hope to have further information to share with you in the coming months on our Tuia te Waka a Kiwa work and look forward to working with you on the design of the new mechanisms.

These are challenging times, so how can we work with local partners to respond?

As partners we need to be ready to listen, ensure that our local partners are front and centre in our development processes, and respond accordingly.

It remains critical for all of us to try to ensure that hard won development gains and the delivery of essential services are not further eroded during periods of economic or political difficulty.    

Your role in this is vital. Along with delivering sustainable development outcomes, and helping to enhance  the capacity of your local civil society partners to achieve their development aspirations, you also hold a unique position in demonstrating the importance of respecting, protecting, and promoting civic space. Without this space, local voices can be diluted or lost. A vibrant and vocal civil society provides the roots of a healthy democracy.

I acknowledge that actively seeking local voices out is not always straight forward across the vast blue Pacific. I understand that at the recent CID Conference —which many of you attended — the Reverend James Bhagwan provided comment on civil society engagaement on the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. Reverend Bhagwan was sitting on a rock, on a beach, as he tried to get the best connection from the nearest mobile tower, on the next island over. This example proves that where space is made to hear a local voice, Pacific Islanders are well practiced at navigating their own local challenges in order to be heard.

While the concept of locally led development is still being considered and refined at a global level, and I thank you for your contribution to that global debate, it is clear to me that — at its minimum — this is about locally or partner led development.  It puts our partners at the centre of their own development, in a meaningful and perhaps, even disruptive, way. 

It is for us to create partnerships that make space for this model of working – where local actors working alongside international partners are able to play a key role in defining the problems, solutions and assessing the results. These partnerships — whether they are with governments, organisations, or communities — must be based on openness, trust and respect.  How we partner is as important as who we partner with.

To really put our partners in the lead, we also probably need a dose of courage – including acceptance of some degree of risk.  And we might need to be ready to undo some of our existing ways of working. To be transformational, we all need to work together on this.

From our position, our Government is working hard to put our Pacific partners at the heart of everything we do, across every level — from the global to the individual – and to amplify their voices.

For example, at a global level, I will be advancing the work of the United Nations–Commonwealth Small States Advocacy Strategy. I accepted this advocacy role because of the importance Aotearoa New Zealand attaches to advocating alongside our Pacific partners.  The role will be a great opportunity for Aotearoa New Zealand to amplify the interests, particularly those of our Pacific whanaunga, at international fora.

Issues we are raising with multilateral parties are ones that our Tuia te Waka a Kiwa Pacific partners themselves are focused on the global stage. These include how to better measure and respond to Small States unique vulnerabilities, including when considering access to development finance. 

With our Pacific partners across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, we are supporting national development plans and COVID-19 response plans by providing untagged budget support. Pacific governments know the most pressing issues, and through budget support, we are delivering support in a way that respects their sovereignty and enhances their mana.

Through our partnerships with Aotearoa New Zealand NGOs we are supporting you to prioritise local ownership and participation in your work. We are supporting you to facilitate co-design processes and build capability with your local partners.

We are also entering more partnerships direct with civil society groups in the Pacific. The Pacific Feminist Fund, into which we provide funding, is one example. This is a Pacific-based and led regional women’s fund that will provide grants to Pacific women’s rights organisations. 

Another example, and one many of your partner organisations were involved in, is the Oxfam led Unblocked Cash Transfer programme in Vanuatu, following Tropical Cyclone Harold. This programme delivered financial support directly to vulnerable families and ensured the decision making power was at the individual household level. 

Aotearoa New Zealand’s engagement within the region is steered by our desire for a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and resilient Pacific in which Aotearoa operates as a true partner, collaborating with others in the shared stewardship of Te Moana-a-Kiwa.

For us as Government, we know that how we engage matters. How others feel about the way that we engage matters. Within a values-based approach, our impact is measured not only in our delivery of strategic priorities, but also in how Pacific partners regard our ways of working, and how well we meet expectations.

I understand that this afternoon you will look at this same issue from the perspective of your local in-country partners. I applaud your willingness to put your local partners on the stage — albeit by Zoom — and your willingness to listen and learn from them.

Locally led development is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. There is no standalone solution, but instead many interconnected approaches woven together. As we know, this is not always going to be a comfortable process. It requires us to give up some of our own space to make room for something else. It requires innovative ways of working, with flexible approaches to solving development challenges.

Wrapping this all into something that can drive best practice is a big piece of work. We are lucky, then, that problem-solving is in the DNA of your organisations.

We, as Government, will look to draw on your experiences as we work together to define what best practice looks like. As you develop strategies to support and enable locally-led development, we want to hear from you.

I challenge you to consider what opportunities are offered through a locally-led development approach, and how your organisation might be able to support more locally-driven partnerships.

I encourage you to collaborate with one another: share ideas and stories; discuss mistakes and missteps. Listen to each other as you step forward through this process, and, as you do so, you may wish to keep this alagaupu Samoa — or proverb — in your frame of reference:

O lupe sa vao ese’ese, ae ua fuifui faatasi

We are from different parts of the forest but connected in one cause

I wish you all well in your mahi, both in the Pacific, and further afield.

Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts at this important event, and I welcome questions.

Nga mihi nunui, faafetai tele lava.