The GFCE Meets the Pacific

Written by Cherie Lagakali, Board Secretary, PICISOC (Pacific Island Chapter of the Internet Society); and Klee Aiken, GFCE Advisory Board member.

In February 2020, the GFCE held its inaugural regional Pacific event in Melbourne, in the margins of the OCSC-GCSCC 2020 Global Cybersecurity Capacity Building Conference. During the event, donors, project implementers and Pacific partners discussed a common goal of identifying and addressing opportunities and challenges for cyber capacity in the region. This article aims to give insight on the three core themes that emerged from these collaborative discussions: coordination, contextualization and commitment; and opportunities for further engagement with the Pacific communities.

In the third week of February, the Asia-Pacific Internet community descended on Melbourne for a number of events including APRICOT 2020, APNIC 49, APTLD 77, the OCSC Global Cybersecurity Capacity Building Conference and a FIRST Technical Colloquium.

In such a crowded field, the GFCE managed to stand out with a lively, solution-oriented Pacific Regional Forum. The event was bolstered by the gracious support of OCSC, Global Partners Digital, and the World Bank; Forum partners and members who helped with logistics and the travel costs for Pacific delegates.

For anyone working on cyber capacity building through the GFCE or in the Pacific, the room was full of familiar faces, however for most, the inaugural GFCE Pacific event was the first introduction between the different communities. With a bit of boldness in the agenda, the group was able to draw out frank insights to address a common goal of identifying and addressing opportunities and challenges for cyber capacity building in the region.

From these discussions three core themes emerged: Coordination; Contextualization, and Commitment.

While these themes are hardly unique to the Pacific, in collaboratively unpacking them in Melbourne, the group was able to gain a richer understanding of each. This resulted in a better appreciation for the different perspectives of donors, implementers, and Pacific partners, as well as, the opportunity to begin exploring pragmatic solutions to improve the way we work.

Coordination

Coordination has been at the heart of the GFCE since its inception at the 2015 Global Conference on CyberSpace (GCCS). With limited resources and a growing pool of actors, efforts to improve efficiency, avoid duplication, and amplify impact are a consistent area of focus. This need is particularly acute in the Pacific, where participants identified the challenge of limited staff resources dedicating time to attend and organize training, workshops, and consultations that were often duplicative or lacked the needed wrap around support to have a substantive impact.

In the spirit of avoiding duplication the event leveraged an existing Pacific community mapping initiative and the GFCE’s own Cybil portal to build a more complete picture of activities in the region.

The community driven mapping initiative sought to draw on local expertise and knowledge and emphasized the facilitating of peer-to-peer experience sharing. Developed over the course of independent events in Papua New Guinea and Fiji, the ongoing, crowd-sourced Pacific mapping exercise brought invaluable on-the-ground insights into the conversation in Melbourne. At the GFCE event, missing pieces of the existing puzzle were filled; particularly insights from the donor community. While far from perfect, this marriage of global perspective and local insight contributed to a more comprehensive picture of activities that can help donors coordinate funding, implementers find potential collaboration, and Pacific partners gain inspiration and learn from each other’s experience directly.

In mapping these activities across the region the need for coordination came to the fore, not only between the different stakeholder groups, but also between donors themselves and implementers; as well as at the local level between government ministries and with the private sector, civil society, academia, the technical community and others.

Contextualization

While coordination offers tools for delivery, to ensure sustainable impact, the main message from the Pacific was contextualization. In experimenting with the agenda and putting Pacific voices at the center, the GFCE meeting provided a strong platform for this context to be better understood.

The group noted that initiatives designed with awareness of the local ecosystem, needs, and capabilities rather than driven by external KPIs or prebaked solutions were most effective. While predetermined solutions come with inherent shortcomings, these are amplified in a region that has its own unique challenges of scale and distance and neglect inherent advantages that local approaches and cultures provide to address common

issues. Examples shared from across the region, including the establishment of national CERTs, Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), Internet Governance Forums, and community driven initiatives such as the Samoa Information Technology Association (SITA) and Coconets – a network of women in ICT in Tonga. These examples highlighted the potential of modest initiatives with long term outlooks and flexible, grassroots approaches.

Commitment

While the discussion uncovered numerous opportunities for collaboration and improved approaches to capacity building, in order to action any, the group agreed that commitment was vital.

Commitment from decision makers was highlighted as important to enable initiatives at the outset and even more so for sustainability. The Pacific partners were in favor of support to raise the priority of cybersecurity on the political agenda. It was recommended that cyber security be sold to decision makers by stressing its contribution to sustainable development and economic growth.

Commitment to the region from donors and implementers was also seen as key to building the necessary relationships and understanding of local context for better informed projects. Additionally, this ensures efforts receive holistic support and are placed within the wider ecosystem of programs. Moving away from one-off workshops to a more strategic approach and committing to follow-up after scoping were also highlighted as key to gain traction and for meaningful, operational goals to be achieved. This was seen as particularly important as Pacific regional approaches often received increased attention without the necessary local tailoring or follow-up to carry momentum forward

From Plans to Practice

The week began with a workshop on moving ‘From Plans to Practice.’ Although focused on incident response teams in the Pacific, the discussions there set the broader tone that resonated throughout the rest of the week. That is, the need to move beyond the rhetoric and to meaningful partnership and action. That
now is time for the community to come together and to get to work.

Although they may be different in detail or scale, the themes of coordination, contextualization, and commitment are not unique to the Pacific. Thanks to the hard work from Chris Painter, Manon van Tienhoven, Robert Collett, the GFCE, and the wider community; the Melbourne event provided an important platform for on-the-ground Pacific perspectives to be shared, the development of pragmatic steps forward, and the establishment of a strong foundation to operationalize these themes.

It was collectively agreed that the regional event and discussions were relevant, timely, and valuable for moving forward with action. Delegates welcomed more opportunities to interact directly between stakeholders, particularly between donors and Pacific partners directly.

With clear benefits to be gained by sharing Pacific experiences and approaches with the international community and adapting global good practices for the region, the GFCE working group structure was flagged as a potential avenue for real mutual value to be added. Face-to-face interactions and continuous presence were highlighted as important factors that the GFCE could facilitate, while time zone challenges led to suggestions of a Pacific friendly platform for regular regional update calls to connect across the region and exchange between the global and the local.

In these challenging times, in-person interactions will be few and far between, but with the engagement in Melbourne setting the tone, there is incredible opportunity for the GFCE and Pacific communities to work together, learn from each other, and take action. After all, who better than the Pacific share their own extensive experience for connecting remotely and what better way to leverage all the excellent cyber capacity building being done across the region.

This article first appeared in the GFCE Global Cyber Expertise Magazine: Volume 7 — https://thegfce.org/presentation-of-the-global-cyber-expertise-magazine-vol-7-special-edition/

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