Progressive entrepreneurs bring new prosperity to Pacific Islands

  • UQ Masters students are providing training for start-ups and small firms on the islands
  • Creating local businesses with global market reach
  • Students are examining how traditional industries can be enhanced via innovation

On the South Pacific island of Rarotonga, a busload of tourists are about to sample a revolutionary new dining experience. The Progressive Dinner offers visitors a true taste of island life – for instead of a restaurant, each course is served in the home of a different local family.

The concept was created by Tofinga Aisake, one of a new wave of entrepreneurs who are revitalising the economies of the island states with help from UQ Business School. UQ Masters students studying project management are providing training for start-ups and small firms on the islands in an attempt to generate jobs and prosperity.

The first stop for tonight’s diners is the home of Ngatuaine Maui, who takes the party on a tour of the extensive garden where tamarinds, coffee beans and guavas grow alongside neat rows of tomatoes and spring onions. After dining on ika mata, or marinated fish, and cooked cassava, Ngatuaine introduces guests to the four generations of the family who live under the same roof, from his father to his grandson.

Then, to the sounds of ukulele and group singing, it is off to the house of Ta’amo Heather. Ta’amo’s grandchildren form a guard of honour at the door, shaking hands and beaming as guests take their seats on the verandah. She and her husband Rereao serve up roast chicken and fish accompanied by a delicious rukau - young taro leaves cooked with coconut cream.

Later on the bus back to the hotel one tourist says, between songs: “I feel honoured... Visiting people in their homes, and being welcomed, has given me far greater insight into island life.”

Tofinga launched the Progressive Dinner after taking part in a course conducted by UQ students, and he plans to extend it to other islands using a franchising model. It is just one of a number of small enterprises he now operates.

“What I learned from the Australian student advisors was that establishing a new business is not about ‘inventing’ something new, it’s about modifying or innovating on an existing idea and developing it and bringing it to the market,” he says.

Lary Fatu, another entrepreneur who attended the course, launched Rarotonga Guided Tours to supplement his income from his existing horticultural business. The idea came to him while visiting an overseas art gallery, where visitors could hire an MP3 player for a guided tour. The students helped him to develop the business case.

“One of the important learnings that I took from the Australian team,” said Lary, “is that you find inspiration for business opportunities from various places and not necessarily from the business sector you are in – these ideas might be called transferable innovations.”

The business courses are amongst a range of initiatives involving UQ Business School students at locations throughout the Cook Islands, Solomon Island, Marshall Islands, Tonga and Fiji, in partnership with the University of the South Pacific.

Dr David Parker, an expert in business operations management at UQ Business School says that a key theme of the projects is ‘economic gardening’ - enhancing economic growth by cultivating small firms.

“We aim to create local businesses with global market reach,” he says. “Given the very small populations of the Pacific island nations, it is important to generate more globally focused enterprises in addition to addressing the challenges they face at home.

“Enhancing growth is not just about creating new ventures, though. There is a lot that can be done to enhance existing industries via marketing, market development or operational innovations.

“Family business and community enterprises are a key part of the Pacific economies but there is a need for training within these enterprises. Students are also examining how traditional industries can be enhanced via innovation to create new opportunities for these communities and add value to the national economy.”

For further information about UQ Business School programs, please click here