By PIANGO, regional platform and member of Forus in the Pacific region

The impacts of COVID 19 have meant that regional NGOs such as thePacific Islands Association of Non-governmental Organisations (PIANGO) shifts its ways of working. As a FORUS member and a regional platform consisting of national umbrella NGOs in 24 Pacific Island Countries and Territories; PIANGOheld its Strategic Planning Retreat to reflect on some of its learnings whilst at the same time chart its way forward.  The retreat which was jointly supported by FORUS was held at the Warwick Resort in Sigatoka,Fiji from the 2nd to the 7th of November, 2020.

PIANGO utilized the conventional Pacific approach of ‘talanoa’ which is normally conducted face to face and refers “to as a conversation, a talk, an exchange of ideas or thinking, whether formal or informal.[1]It provides an enabling space for PIANGO staff to voice their opinions and cohesively discuss solutions and way forward. The ‘talanoa’ approach has allowed PIANGO to digress more on ways in which they can adapt to the changing context and environment in which it operates. It has also allowed PIANGO to capture its learnings from all its programs/projects as well as charting its way forward through its new Strategic Plan 2020-2030. 

In line with our FORUS focus areas on Capacity Strengthening and Advocacy, the use of the ‘talanoa’ approach has built the capacity of PIANGOstaff to take ownership of the organization’s programs and to steer the strategic direction of the organization. This also meant that PIANGO plans ahead on how it will absorb the costs for two of their staff as well as sustaining its current focus areas once the FORUS project is completed in February 2021.

As a regional coalition, much of our ‘talanoa’ through our programs include country visits to our regional members via workshops or meetings. However, as a result of COVID 19, PIANGO recognizes that the ‘talanoa’ modality will now shift to a virtual platform such as Zoom or Whatsapp; as we provide remote support[2]to our members on our Strategic Focus Areas such as capacity strengthening and advocacy. It also meant that we will also need to shift our ways of working toa virtual platform when engaging with our partners at the international fora.

With the shift in modality to a virtual platform, PIANGO is cognizant of the digital divide in our Pacific Island countries which means that our virtual ‘talanoa’ to provide remote support for our members will incur high internet and communications costs. Nevertheless, PIANGO is optimistic that the remote support through the ‘talanoa’ modality will strengthen our members ownership of PIANGO’s overall operations and strategic direction.

One of the features of ‘talanoa’ is not to be confined to structured agenda so some of the conversations continued on the balcony tea area, where most reflections were shared about the impact of COVID 19 on the tourism industries.  We were the first group to be hosted by the resort since they opened to business only for weekends.  Ten of their staff were recalled back in shifts to look after us.  Some of the resort staff shared with us their struggles when there were no jobs and appreciation, that the week we were there, they were taking some money home. 

In previous PIANGO retreats, we factored in team building activities to the program.  This year, in our freetime we sit around the ‘kava bowl’ and talanoa about our families and ourresponsibilities outside of work that is just as important to our team as wecharter our way forward.  There were very personal and emotional sharing even about our own relationships that the team had been looking for the right space to share. It was refreshing and in our context this kind of talanoa can only be staged when there is trust within the group.

As the curtains closed during our retreat, there is a generalrecognition by the PIANGO staff on the value of our own Pacific modality of‘talanoa’ as an integral process that can be used to steer our strategicdirections in a changing environment. Even as we shift to a virtual platformdue to COVID 19, PIANGO recognizes that there will be a need for regular‘talanoa’ with our members to provide heart to heart conversations so that wecan co-create solutions to the regional issues facing our organisations and ourregion. Our Pacific forbearers have always utilized the ‘talanoa’ as a modality to discuss as well as solving the issues that they face. It is only appropriate that we, as the incumbents revive this ancient practice for its intended purpose and use it to our advantage; whether on a face-to-face mode or on a virtual mode.

[1] See Vaioleti, T. (2006) Talanoa Research Methodology: A DevelopingPosition on Pacific Research.