By Marc Gerad, President, IDEA Association Marc-Antoine Morel, President, V-Lab Association Howard Aru, General Manager, Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry

On 11th and 12th of December last year, the Vanuatu Innovation and Digital Economy Association (IDEA)
organized a 2-day visit in Port-Vila of a high-level delegation from New Caledonia which was led by Hon. Vaimua Muliava, member of the New Caledonian Government in charge notably of innovation on this territory. The objectives of this visit were to share experience and lessons learned between the two islands on how best to promote and support innovation on their respective territories as well as to enhance the cooperation between key actors of the two nations. The New Caledonian delegation included innovative entrepreneurs, and representatives from various organizations involved in innovation, such as French Tech, New Caledonian University, business incubators and Clubs (Adecal, Open NC, Initiative NC, NCT&I, Pépite NC).

According to Vanuatu IDEA’s President, Marc Gérard, “The reason why we invited such an important and high level delegation is that New Caledonia successfully implemented a strategy to support entrepreneurship and innovation those last 10 years. Vanuatu stakeholders wanted to understand
the key success factors, and to start collaborating with those motivated and experienced Caledonian partners”.

This event provided an opportunity for many organizations and entrepreneurs from both Vanuatu and NC to showcase their innovative products and services. These included: mobile payment solutions (Vodafone’s m-vatu) geo spatial case studies (INIGHT NC), use of Artificial Intelligence (APID), connected bee hives (La Case du Miel), marketplaces (Salem Nomo), E-commerce programs (PIFS). But innovation in not necessarily about Tech, it can focus on social or environmental impact, as showcased by v-Lab, Engineers without borders (washing machine without electricity), Piloblong (local production of pillows),
Arbotech (layering), Catamarine (bamboo boats), and Yelden Empowerment (mediation). Besides, Burnet Institute presented its activities in the Health sector, as an illustration of Research’s role in innovation.

This visit on our island provides an excellent and timely opportunity for Vanuatu to reflect on where it
stands with regards to promoting and encouraging innovation and what remains to be done in order to create an ecosystem which, similar to NewCaledonia’s one, is fully conducive and supportive to innovative thinking.

New Caledonia: Pioneering Innovation in the Pacific Region

For a number of years now, NewCaledonia and its government have been actively promoting and
supporting innovation. This was done through various actions.

One of the key pillars of New Caledonia’s innovation strategy is supporting the establishment of innovation hubs and incubators (such as Adecal, Open NC, Initiative NC, NCT&I, or Pépite NC) These
hubs serve as collaborative spaces where entrepreneurs, researchers, and policymakers come together to
exchange ideas, access resources, and receive mentorship. Initiatives like the South Province Innovation
Hub and the North Province Incubator have been instrumental in nurturing startups and fostering a culture of innovation.

Moreover, the NC government has been proactive in investing in research and development (R&D) to drive technological advancement and address local needs. Through partnerships with universities,
research institutions, and private sector stakeholders, New Caledonia has been able to leverage expertise and resources to tackle challenges ranging from environmental sustainability to healthcare innovation.

In addition to supporting startups and R&D, New Caledonia has implemented various policies and incentives to encourage innovation across different sectors. Tax breaks, grants, and subsidies are provided to businesses engaged in R&D activities, incentivizing investment in innovation. Furthermore, the government has prioritized the development of key sectors such as renewable energy, marine resources, and agritech, aligning innovation efforts with the territory’s strategic priorities. The NC Territorial Strategy for Innovation has been recently adopted and released on 29 February 2024.

What lessons has New-Caledonia learnt in this process?

One of the most valuable lessons learned from New Caledonia’s innovation journey is the importance of collaboration. By fostering partnerships between government agencies, academia, industry, and
civil society, New Caledonia has been able to leverage diverse expertise and resources to drive innovation forward. Collaborative initiatives such as innovation challenges, hackathons, and networking events have facilitated knowledge sharing and crosssectoral collaboration, leading to the emergence of innovative solutions to complex problems.

Another lesson learned is the significance of sustainability in innovation. With its rich biodiversity
and fragile ecosystems, New Caledonia recognizes the importance of promoting environmentally sustainable practices in innovation. Initiatives focused on green technologies, conservation, and
circular economy have been prioritized to ensure that innovation contributes to long-term environmental stewardship and resilience.

Furthermore, New Caledonia has emphasized the importance of inclusivity in its innovation agenda. Recognizing the need to ensure that innovation benefits all segments of society, the territory has implemented programs to support women, youth, indigenous communities, and other marginalized groups in entrepreneurship and innovation. By promoting diversity and inclusion, New Caledonia aims to harness the full potential of its human capital and foster a more equitable and prosperous society.

Finally, a key lesson learned is that innovation will hardly thrive unless there is strong ownership and
commitment by the Government to make it blossom through all possible means (incentives, policies, financial support, etc.). The innovation drive must be led at the highest possible level and a clear strategy / policy needs to be adopted by the government to guide all relevant actors’ efforts in that

Vanuatu’s Innovation Journey:Where is the country Now?

The Vanuatu government has recognized the importance of innovation for economic development and has included provisions for innovation in its national development plans, such as the National Sustainable Development Plan (NSDP). The NSPD for instance states that “we will seek to capitalize on the rapid advances in technology and innovation that can complement traditional knowledge to better utilize our natural assets on land and at sea to ensure our food security, maintain our cultural identity, and enhance our economic prospects”.

Also, the National E-commerce strategy recognizes the need to “Support entrepreneurs’ access to business incubators and coworking spaces” (measure 6.1.1) and to “Promote digital entrepreneurship, especially among the youth” (measure 6.1.2).

However, the extent to which innovation is prioritized in government action and policy formulation and implementation is still unclear, and there may be opportunities to strengthen the policy framework further.

In Vanuatu, a number of key sectors in the economy have started to embrace innovation as a way to foster their growth. These are:

Agriculture: Agriculture is a vital sector in Vanuatu, and there is ongoing innovation in farming practices, crop diversification, and value-added processing. Initiatives such as organic farming, aquaponics, and sustainable agriculture are driving innovation in the sector, promoting food security and rural development.

Tourism: Vanuatu’s tourism industry is a significant driver of economic growth, and there is increasing innovation in tourism products and services. Eco-tourism, adventure tourism, and cultural tourism initiatives are leveraging Vanuatu’s natural beauty and cultural heritage to attract visitors while promoting sustainable tourism practices.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT): The ICT sector is experiencing rapid growth in Vanuatu, driven by increased access to mobile and internet technologies. Innovations in mobile banking, e-commerce, and digital services are expanding financial inclusion and driving economic activity in the country.

Renewable Energy: Vanuatu is committed to transitioning to renewable energy sources to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and mitigate climate change. Innovations in solar power, wind energy, and
bioenergy are transforming the energy sector, providing sustainable and affordable energy solutions for
communities across the country.

Despite this, much remain to be done to fully unleash the potential that innovation can bring to the country. And the government of Vanuatu should identify and encourage innovation by mainstreaming it throughout its policies and plans. If we compare Vanuatu with New-Caledonia, the gap between the two islands is wide and fast growing.

In order to bridge that gap, we recommend that the government of Vanuatu undertake as soon as
possible the following actions:

  1. Develop and adopt a policy document on innovation and entrepreneurship. This high-level
    document (such as a white paper) will:
  • Analyze thoroughly the current state of entrepreneurship and innovation in Vanuatu (opportunities
    and challenges) and compare it with that of other countries.
  • Identify the measures necessary for promoting innovative entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial spirit, especially among young people and for overcoming existing challenges and constraints.
  • Set an action plan with clear roles, responsibilities and timelines to implement the identified measures This document will serve as a guide for the government and all relevant stakeholders to take innovation to the next level in the country.
  1. Support the establishment (or development) of new or existing innovation hubs and incubators. Today in Vanuatu only a handful of actors operate to support small businesses and even a smaller number is looking at innovation consistently throughout its activities and programs. In addition, most of these organizations have their headquarters in Port-Vila, with existing but limited outreach to the other islands. The government of Vanuatu should provide funding to enable these organizations to scale up their activities and replicate them in other locations in the country.
  2. Adopt policies and create incentives for encouraging innovation, particularly in the context of small
    business development. Innovation is everyone’s business and its key principles and benefits should be understood and applied by all relevant actors (including government departments, schools, universities, etc.). Innovation competitions could be organized at the national and ,provincial level with a view to identify, promote and support innovative solutions (Not only high-tech, but also low-tech).
  3. Encourage and fund Research, and Development (R&D), in close coordination with the universities and relevant civil society organizations with the view to drive technological change and social development.
  4. Consider creating a Government Department or office or a similar structure within the government
    which will be exclusively in charge of promoting and mainstreaming innovation in the country. Depending on where this structure is located, the government could envisage adding the portfolio of “Innovation” to an existing Ministry, such as the Ministry of Trade and Commerce for instance. These are just a few examples of what we feel Vanuatu should initiate if the country wants to take important steps to promote and support innovation. By strengthening its policy framework, increasing investment in infrastructure and capacity-building initiatives, fostering greater collaboration with stakeholders, and addressing barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation the Vanuatu Government would, with no doubt, contribute to maximize the potential for innovation-led growth and sustainable development of the country.

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