Written by Maureen Hilyard
Board members of the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC): 2018–2020
COVID-19 created great upheaval globally but throughout and continuing, the Pacific continues to demonstrate the resiliency that has developed over years of overcoming the many natural disasters that are a constant for the many island communities within the region.
One particular IT organisation took advantage of the pandemic and has contributed to the increased use of the internet by its members through the use of its major channel of communication to develop opportunities that can enhance the lives for people within the Pacific region.
The Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society has connected with its members using its firstname.lastname@example.org mailing list for nearly 25 years and the activity among pacific members since the beginning of 2020, has really proved its worth during the course of the pandemic. Its main purpose is to facilitate discussion among the members of issues of interest or of concern to the region. Most times, these matters are raised by the members themselves and they can come from any corner of the Pacific because the Chapter members which number nearly 400 members is unique within the Internet Society.
PICOSOC members are not from one city or even one country, but are from the 22 Pacific Islands Countries and Territories (PICTs) that are members of the Pacific Island Forum [PIFS,2020] which includes American Samoa, Cook Islands, The Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Northern Marianas, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Wallis and Futuna.
PICISOC was first established in 1994 when two IT managers of the Forum Fisheries Agency and SOPAC decided to hold a formal meeting for Pacific IT administrators and managers. The IT-PacNet was formed and held annual meetings until 1999 when the creation of a Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC) was recommended. This finally happened in 2002 which allowed the IT-PacNet to become a Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific ICT Working Group concentrating more on dealing with the regional group’s policies.
PICISOC grew until its annual general meetings became more popular each year so that PacINET was created which evolved over the years into the premier ICT conference for the Pacific region, incorporating discussions about Pacific-related internet governance issues as well as offering training opportunities for the more technically-inclined, courtesy of the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre [APNIC, 2020].
PICISOC focuses on Internet-related issues of interest to the Pacific Islands region and works with various organisations and governments to ensure the continued development of ICT within the region. Its greatest asset is the mailing list that has been the communication channel that connects members of the ISOC Chapter from around the Pacific region and incorporating the countries of the Pacific Forum. The Chapter grew to nearly 700 members from across the Pan-Pacific. Changes of personnel on the Board created a situation after a brief hiatus, experienced leaders, many of them former Board Chairs, decided to take action to rekindle the interest in developments were occurring in the Pacific and to re-engage its members more actively and to restore the Chapter to its former position as the hub of ICT activity in the Pacific
In 2018, a new Board of PICISOC was elected with an important aim during the pandemic — rekindle the use of the PICISOC mailing list as the focal point for raising concerns and discussions across the Pacific, and developing solutions from within the Pacific, for the Pacific. The members included:
Emani Fakaotimanava-Lui (PICISOC Chair 2019–20) who had established what was said to be the first wifi system in the world, on his island of Niue when he managed Niue’s internet to ensure that everyone on his small island was connected. After gaining more experience with large telecom companies in New Zealand as well as working with Kacific Broadband Satellites [Kacific, 2020], he set up his own network [MakaNet, 2020] and now connects Pacific Island families to the internet in the Auckland region. A major initiative that he established during the pandemic was FamilyNet where he collaborated with other sponsors to provide six-months Fibre Unlimited internet connection to the homes of Pacific Island families who had children who needed to do their schoolwork online during national lockdowns. Through his connections with Kacific and his return during 2019–20, his home country of Niue is now upgraded to the Kacific satellite and fully connected to a faster and more affordable internet service. MakaNet (NZ) operates out of the Pacific Business Hub, which is a Manukau-City-based centre for Pacific business start-ups to rent space and work together to test the market for their products — another great innovation to support Pacific initiatives.
Maureen Hilyard (PICISOC Chair 2011–14) returned to the PICISOC Board with more organisational experience since she was in the Board 4 years earlier, now as the Chair of the At-Large Advisory Council (ALAC) of ICANN (the Internet Corporation of Names and Numbers) [ICANN, 2020], a member of DNS Women in ICANN, the Chair of the Board of DotAsia, and a member of the Advisory Council of the Public Interest Registry [PIR, 2020]. She is also the founder of the Cook Islands Internet Action Group [CIIAG, 2020] which is a member organisation of ICANN. In collaboration with the Tracy Hackshaw of ISOC Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, she is a co-founder of the UN Internet Governance Forum’s Dynamic Coalition of Small Island Developing States in the Internet Economy [IGF, 2020b].
Her association with PICISOC and organising regional PacINET events were driven by an interest in capacity building development and raising awareness about ICANN and ISOC Internet issues that relate to Pacific Island internet users. During 2020, 14 PICISOC members participated in a Pacific ICANN Learn programme to understand how ICANN works — on topics such as Cybersecurity, and Introduction to ICANN, DNS and Policy Fundamentals, as well as introductions to various sections of the ICANN community. About 20 PICISOC members enlisted in the first global cohort of students for the first Virtual School of Internet Governance [VSIG, 2020]. While Maureen’s IT engagements are all volunteer positions, as a day job she is a strategic development consultant working mainly for government agencies. She is also keeping a watching brief over developments related to the fibre optic cable that was landed on Rarotonga, Cook Islands in January 2020, yet in October, was still awaiting connection of the cable network due to the government’s lack of preparedness to ensure that the required infrastructure was in place to facilitate the last mile connection into users’ homes. Redirection of funding to support safekeeping of citizens during the pandemic means that this activity is now in the hands of the private sector which does not bode well for future affordability expectations of Cook Islands internet users.
Andrew Molivurae (PICISOC Chair 2009–2011) is Ni-Vanuatu works as an Internet Governance & Child Online Protection Officer with the Telecommunications & Radiocommunications Regulator. He is also engaged in Cyber-security awareness around Vanuatu under the TRR Consumer Protection Regulation. Prior to that he was IT Billing Engineer for Digicel Vanuatu Ltd, IT Manager for Vanuatu SDA Mission, Internet Technician for Telecom Vanuatu Ltd and Systems Administrator for Vanuatu Financial Services Commission.
Apart from his full-time jobs, he was also founding Chair of Vanuatu IT Users Society [VITUS, 2020] which is a legal ICT Charitable Association in Vanuatu and an ICANN At-Large organisational member (with over 200 members) that was formed in 2005. As a member of the Vanuatu ICT Development Committee, Andrew has been an advocate for ICT development in Vanuatu for over 10 years. During 2020, Vanuatu Internet users have benefited from the introduction of the Kacific network to previously unconnected areas of Vanuatu, particularly the rural areas.
Anju Mangal (PICISOC Vice Chair 2019–20) spent many years with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community [SPC, 2020] a regional inter-governmental organisation providing technical assistance to the 22 PICTs. She worked on cross-sectoral ICT projects such as e-Agriculture, e-Health, before joining SPC’s digital transformation team. She is an alumna of the Internet Governance (IG) Capacity Building Programme, an ISOC ambassador as well as a former Fellow of the Commonwealth IGF, ICANN, APRIGF, APNOG and the UN IGF Secretariat in Geneva. All of which she maintains contact with to strengthen Pacific links.
In 2020 she moved to the World Wide Web Foundation to work as the Head of the Asia and Pacific Region, Alliance for Affordable Internet. While on the PICISOC Board, Anju has been a strong advocate for the interests of women and youth in ICT, as well as ICT for disability. She has launched a social media campaign to increase engagement via the PICISOC Facebook page which in turn has led to an increase of its mailing list subscribers. PICISOC website and social media pages are regularly updated with ICT news, announcements, and capacity building efforts from the region. ICANN and ISOC events and newsletters are also included. She was a former member of the UN IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) and continues to maintain contact with former MAG members to support the interests of the people of the Pacific.
Cherie Lagakali (Board Member 2017–2019, PICISOC Chair — 2020+) started her ICT career in the private sector as a webmaster then as a programmer — part of a team that developed an in-house Bank Management System at the Fiji Development Bank. Later she developed Internet-related applications for resorts and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Fiji Tourism industry, eventually becoming an increasingly active member of the Pacific Internet community. As an alumna of the ICANN Fellowship programme she keeps the region up to date on At-Large engagement and outreach programmes as well as ISOC activities.
PICISOC INITIATIVES AND PARTNERSHIPS
During the Asia Pacific Top Level Domain Association [APTLD, 2020] meeting in Melbourne in February 2020, on behalf of PICISOC Cherie signed an MOU with the group to formalise strategic partnership to explore possible areas of cooperation in the field of outreach and engagement of, and capacity building for, ccTLD managers across the PICTs. This was in preparation for a collaborative event with InternetNZ to be held in Fiji in September 2021. As PICISOC is also a member of At-Large of ICANN, Leonid Todorov, APTLD General Manager said “PICISOC has been a key player in the Pacific region and we believe this partnership will allow us to collaborate in holding public activities, as well as aim at education and awareness raising among the At-Large community and ccTLD managers in the Pacific.” Also, while in Melbourne, Cherie attended the 2020 Global Cyber Security Capacity Building Conference [Pacific Online, 2020] where she and other Pacific participants made presentations on cybersecurity in the Pacific region as well as engaged in panel discussions on future national capacity building and international collaboration. Alongside that meeting, the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise [GFCE, 2020a] organized a Pacific Regional Forum to discuss the way forward on cyber capacity building across the region. Cherie was later appointed to the Advisory Board of the GFCE [GFCE, 2020b].
PACIFIC WOMEN IN ICT
During 2020, Cherie has been a strong advocate for the formation of the Pacific Women in ICT, and in September held an inaugural meeting of Pacific women at which nearly 40 women participated, including two who were later elected to the PICISOC Board [PICISOC, 2020c]. As a follow-up, the ITU Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, DTC-PNG and APCICT of United Nation’s ESCAP jointly co-organised virtual training sessions on “Leveraging ICTs for Women Entrepreneurship in Papua New Guinea” [UNESCAP, 2020]. Pacific Women are also discussing the World Wide Web Foundation report “Closing the Gender Gap for a more equal world” which illustrates the barriers that prevent women globally from accessing and using the internet and the challenges limiting their experiences [WWWF, 2020]. The findings of the report reflected many of the experiences in the Pacific relating to access, privacy issues and employment opportunities.
“I strongly believe the key challenges for the Pacific women in ICT today is keeping up with the current and trending technologies, and constantly upgrading your skillset as technology evolves… and reversing the whole mentality and perception that women only belong in administration and documentation field.” Bandana Elisha Devi (Fiji)
“I have a BSc in Computer Science and been in the industry for almost seven years after graduating in 2013. The challenge I face, is trying to fit into the industry. Women lack opportunities to further our careers and be certified in specific fields and a lack of mentorship for young women and girls in the ICT space. I would like to see more government support towards the growth of women and girls in this industry.” Samanaia Ned (Papua New Guinea)
“Women in rural areas have limited access to basic resources and literacy. Lack of access to information makes digital inclusion a major challenge, as it impedes their growth and well-being in many facets of their lives.” Swaran Ravindra (Fiji)
“The Papua New Guinea ICT Cluster has had several successes this year as more females are starting to work in the fields of Computer Science, ICT, Engineering, Life and Social Sciences, Maths and Physics; one of their women has recently been appointed to a major company as their Technical Solutions Specialist PNG; four of their top female Computer Science & Communication Engineering students from PNG University of Technology have been selected for a three month technical training course, where if they pass the end of training exam, they will be awarded a 2 year contract to work on global, regional and domestic software engineering projects; six of their female youth have been invited to join the Get Safe Online Ambassador program; and finally, PNG women have been invited to sign up to the recent Women in ICT Frontier Initiative (WiFI) training by ITU DTC in October 2020.” From PriscillaKevin (PNG ICT Cluster)
Georgina Sakimi-Naigulevu (2020 Board member) brings a strong background in banking for her role as Board Treasurer. Georgina is a strong advocate for the regional Pacific Disability Forum [PDF 2020] in Fiji. She is pictured speaking in March 2020 at the Fiji National University’s conference “Leveraging Technology for Productivity Growth and Sustainability” about a community engagement project that promotes digital inclusion for persons with disabilities. She attended the APRICOT meeting in Melbourne [PICISOC, 2020d] and brought the perspective of the disabled into many of her interventions. She has since established links with ISOC’s Accessibility SIG [A11YSIG, 2020] and Gunela Astbrink (Vice President of the SIG in Australia) who has had a long association with PICISOC. “When PICISOC ran annual PacINETs, I was invited to hold workshops and presentations on accessibility for persons with disability over several years. Maureen was a champion in ensuring that the disability voice was heard at these events”. Now, PICISOC, the PDF team, ISOC’s Accessibility SIG and the IGF Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability (DCAD) [IGF, 2020a], are collaborating to develop ways to meaningfully dialogue online with audiences that include people with disabilities. The inclusion of captioning and sign language interpretation, using interpreters from the PDF team, are being proposed to ensure that all virtual meetings are accessible for people with disabilities.
Kanaan Ngutu is the Senior ICT Officer at the Ministry of Information, Communication, Transport and Tourism Development, Government of Kiribati. His background brings Cybersecurity and e-Government initiatives and experience to the Board, but he is also involved in the buildup of e-Commerce environment for Kiribati, ICT in Education, and the improvement of the Government Finance Management Information System. He also serves as the correspondent on Cybersecurity works with regional and global bodies such as Oceania Cybersecurity Center [OSCS, 2020] and Get Safe Online [GSO, 2020]. He has attended various ICANN and Internet Society meetings as well as actively represented the Pacific at the DC-SIDS sessions of the Global IGF.
Supported by the Board, PICISOC member and former Board member, Will Tibben from the University of Wollongong organised the first e-Talanoa which was a traditional discussion forum (but online) to discuss “FOSS: it’s free, its open but how does it work?” His speakers came from Tonga, Fiji, and Australia, to present their contributions before discussing issues raised by the other 16 participants in true talanoa (roundtable) tradition. Edwin Liava’a (Former PICISOC Board Chair, 2014), from Tonga works for Kacific Broadband Satellites as Regional Director for the Pacific and collaborates with a number of regional agencies in the Pacific in project delivery and capacity building. Kenneth Katafono (PICISOC member, from Fiji) founded a Fijian traceability tech start-up, TraSeable Solutions, which supports global food sustainability by providing a blockchain-ready software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform for fisheries and agriculture traceability. Both Kenneth and Edwin believe that accessibility and affordability in the Pacific, are connected to “bigger picture” issues about wholesale and retail availability of broadband, and more particularly by government regulation. Ashley Maher, a Director to the Australian Computer Society, concluded that with regards to the uptake of FOSS in the Pacific, “It takes time for new ideas to emerge, be communicated and then be accepted. One factor that constrains FOSS is the reality that many IT specialists who have developed their careers on Windows are not going to voluntarily make their store of knowledge redundant by introducing new concepts. Learning new concepts takes time and effort — it’s much easier to stick with the familiar.”
Maureen Hilyard: President, Cook Islands Internet Action Group; Chair, At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC, ICANN); Chair, DotAsia Board of Directors; Member, Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC); Member of the Public Interest Registry (.org) Advisory Committee (PIRAC); Diplo Foundation IG Graduate.
First published via for Cook Islands Internet Action Group (ciiag)