“Never, never, never give up!” said Hon. Manasseh Sogavare to the young people in the audience at the Youth Peacebuilding Innovation Forum (YPIF), narrating the story of his journey from cleaning toilets to becoming the prime minister of the Solomon Islands. After decades of civil instability, ethnic violence and lack of economic opportunities, the country’s 600,000 inhabitants are seeing a gradual return to peace. The YPIF is one of the ways in which UNDP aims to empower young people in the country to become active agents and leaders in this process of peacebuilding.
The YPIF is part of Youth Co:Lab - a regional Asia-Pacific wide project co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation that aims to build an inclusive platform where youth, policy makers and other stakeholders can collaborate in empowering young people to use social entrepreneurship and innovation to find solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Youth Co:Lab enhances the YPIF effort by providing knowledge exchange opportunities between countries and greater exposure for the young entrepreneurs. The UNDP Youth Co:Lab team was able to support by sending Cynthia Cheung, the Youth Economic Empowerment Consultant from the UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub, to speak on SDG Innovation and to provide training for the young entrepreneurs, as well as Esmeralda Lo Tam, founder of Eight Sportswear from Youth Co:Lab Samoa, who shared her experience as a young woman entrepreneur in the Pacific.
This is the second year of the annual YPIF, and this time the event was held in the provincial capital of Auki, Malaita, instead of in the country’s capital, Honiara. According to Ms. Azusa Kubota, Country Manager of UNDP Solomon Islands, the reason for this decision was to ensure that the activities are not just accessible to the urban elites, but also to some of the country’s most marginalised communities. In organising the event, UNDP received tremendous support from the national and provincial governments, and partnered with local organisations such as the Youth Entrepreneur Council Solomon Islands (YECSI) and the Young Professionals in Agriculture and Rural Development (YPARD). Over 200 young people overcame great logistical challenges to attend from all corners of the province. To some, it was a three day boat journey. Eleven youth teams had the opportunity to present their social enterprises to the audience, and their passion and enthusiasm became a defining feature of the event. These teams went through two weeks of intensive training prior to the YPIF organised by UNDP Solomon Islands - “this is to help the youth to better consolidate the problems in their communities and to think out of the box for economically viable and sustainable solutions to break the poverty cycle”, Hillary Vanderwey, the Social Entrepreneurship and Private Partnership Consultant at UNDP Solomon Islands, explained. The teams received highly positive responses to their pitches, and were eager to encourage other young people to be part of the social innovation movement.
The participating social enterprises were evaluated by experienced judges based on their viability, scalability potentials and progress achieved to date. The top three teams, described below, were awarded smartphones with internet credits sponsored by Bmobile-Vodafone, in-kind support to mobilise their businesses, and follow-up packages co-developed by UNDP and local partners.
Stone Raisers design and craft sustainable sanitary solutions for water-bounded rural communities. Most villagers in the area currently dispose of their waste in the mangroves, and Stone Raisers aim to overcome contamination challenges in their water sources as well as to accommodate the disabled and elderly members of the community. Their sustainable toilet unit prototypes are built from upcycled materials, and they promote up-skilling and hygiene education throughout their operations.
Malamanila produce organic cold-pressed pineapple juice. Pineapples are known in the province as “Malaitan gold”, because they are said to be unmatched in their fragrance and sweetness. Malamanila use a sustainably designed bamboo juicer, and employ young people from the community. Youth between the ages of 18-35 make up over 70% of the province’s population and suffer from high levels of unemployment, therefore initiatives such as Malamanila offer a great opportunity for community development.
Malcassava produce cassava chips, using innovative technology to process the Malaitan staple vegetable and seasoning the chips with a range of natural flavours. Malaita has the optimal conditions for growing cassavas but crops are often underutilized. By scaling their cassava processing operations, Malcassava hope to be able to provide jobs and skills training opportunities for the province’s youth.
“This is just the beginning, where the youth are starting to realise their potential” said Esmeralda Lo Tam, the young founder of Eight Sportswear in the closing remarks. UNDP looks forward to working with the young people, governments and supporting partners in the Solomon Islands to foster youth innovation and the sustainable development in the country.
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