Connecting Communities in Samoa

The Commitment – Summer 2014, SIDS Special

INTERVIEW

The Commitment spoke to Fia’ailetoa Pepe Christan Fruean, Chief Executive Officer, Digicel Samoa.

After 13 years of operation, Digicel Group Limited has over 13 million customers across its 32 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia-Pacific. In addition to providing communications services to Small Island Developing States, Digicel has also taken the step of assisting island communities and partnering with national initiatives.

Reliable communication networks are vital for remote island communities. PHOTO: World Bank

Reliable communication networks are vital for remote island communities. PHOTO: World Bank

The Commitment In the past 6 months you renewed partnerships with government ministries, local businesses and NGOs to strengthen communities in Samoa. How will these partnerships assist with development in Samoan communities?

Fia’ailetoa Pepe Christan Fruean As a fundamental core value, Digicel believes in giving back to the communities in which we operate. Our focus in Samoa is on initiatives to assist in the development of health; youth; culture; education and community services. We select partners that have programmes with an educational focus as we feel that knowledge is the key to implementing positive change in communities. Digicel Samoa’s current partnerships and initiatives include The National Youth Awards, an initiative by the Ministry of Women and Ministry of Community and Social Development encouraging, mentoring and recognizing entrepreneurial Samoan youth. We also supported the Ray of Hope Concert fundraiser for the Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG) Maternity Shelter that provides care and shelter for women and girls that have been subjected to all forms of violence. Digicel Samoa was pivotal in the development and success of Special Olympics Samoa (SOS). Beginning with only 14 athletes in 2007, SOS now boasts over 400 athletes today with a formally established Secretariat office that organizes a bi-annual Torch Run and National Games with a fully structured training and sports program for the year. Digicel helped enable a delegation to participate in the 2011 Special Olympics in Athens, Greece for the first time in history.

Q While the focus of Digicel community involvement is on development of sector projects like health, education and youth programmes in the Pacific, has Digicel turned its attention to social issues?

We assist in areas where we feel we can drive awareness and affect change. We work to select projects aligned with the Government of Samoa’s Development Strategy to support the vulnerable and under-served sectors and help them to achieve their goals. Part of this is our involvement with Special Olympics Samoa in the Pacific and in other Digicel markets. Through our involvement in Special Olympics initiatives we aim to help bring about social equality and to increase public awareness and knowledge.

Q You have now entered the Pacific market with Digicel Samoa. Do you see yourself getting involved with disaster risk reduction in the islands as they face the impact of climate change?

A Samoa was the first Pacific Island to launch as a Digicel market in 2006 and we now have five other markets in the Pacific region. In this time, we as a business have established many initiatives that assist in disaster risk preparedness, warning systems and post disaster rehabilitation programmes. With competencies in the area of technology and communications, we leverage these to help the right authorities and agencies to develop the necessary systems for alerting, informing and coordinating during times of disaster. Digicel initiated Samoa’s first tsunami warning system and set up the Emergency Radio Network with Samoa Red Cross, Disaster Management Office, the Ministry of Police and Prisons, and Fire and Emergency Services Authority, this system assisted with notifications in the 2009 tsunami. network continuity after a natural disaster. This will ensure priority communication channels needed by search and rescue and other emergency services are reliable and accessible.

Q What do you hope to achieve with your participation in the private sector forum on connectivity at the Conference?

A As a major direct foreign investor in SIDS, Digicel has demonstrated its commitment to the development of economies and there are economic indicators that attest to this. In the Private Sector Forum we hope to share our experience; highlight the technological solutions for disaster preparedness and also showcase the positive economic and social impacts that accessible, affordable high quality internet connectivity provides to small island developing states.