The Lowy Institute for International Policy, in cooperation with the Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat, the support of the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme and the ANZ Bank convened a Dialogue with emerging leaders from Melanesia in Port Vila, Vanuatu on 23 June.

The Dialogue, entitled Melanesia New Voices: Investing in the Next Generation, brought together 25 emerging leaders – five each from Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu — to discuss common challenges, their hopes for the future of their region and opportunities for cooperation.

The young leaders are drawn from a cross-section of professions, including finance, law, public service, small business, civil society, information technology, and communications. They have in common a passion for making a difference in their communities and their countries.

The participants in the Dialogue called on leaders meeting at the Melanesian Spearhead Group Leaders’ Summit in Honiara this week to better articulate a Melanesian Way for the 21st century.

This should uphold traditional Melanesian values such as a sense of community, self-reliance, and unity in diversity and incorporate values important to young people such as gender equality, participation of disabled people and minorities, and sustainable, ethical and inclusive approaches to development.

The group made a number of recommendations for leaders to consider:

• Leaders should create space for young people in Melanesia to contribute to political and economic decision-making processes.

• Melanesian countries need to better cater for the needs of their growing young populations, including through establishing youth centres, and providing targeted education and entrepreneurial programs.

• Leaders should convene regular dialogue with their people that reflects Melanesian values and ensures mutual accountability.

• The region needs to recognise that prosperity and peace is achieved through embracing the dignity of Melanesian identity. This includes respect for the decolonisation process in New Caledonia. Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders should also acknowledge the aspirations of West Papuans for human rights and self-determination.

• Resilience is an important attribute of Melanesian culture and should be supported in government policies. But it cannot be taken for granted; for example, the effects of climate change will test the limits of the people’s resilience.

• Leaders should recognise in a more substantial way the vital role women play in society and the economy and actively promote women’s rights, including through equal access to education and training.

• Traditional and social media are a powerful means of communication, particularly for young people but mainstream reporting in the region tends to be dominated by external media outlets. Melanesian countries need to build the capacity of an independent media to communicate news with a Melanesian perspective to both domestic and international audiences. This would help to build a much-needed sense of pride in their culture.

• The Melanesian Spearhead Group should find ways to leverage lessons from the region on financial inclusion to allow young people to have access to better economic opportunities. Governments should create an enabling environment that fosters innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship and better consultation with the private sector.

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