NAURU Private Sector Development Road Map Project

After gaining its independence in 1968, the 1970s saw the small pacific island nation of Nauru enjoying the second highest GDP per capita in the world, generated from extensive phosphate mining. When the primary reserves were largely exhausted in the 90s, however, the country was left in an economic and environmental quagmire. The noughties saw significant investment to support economic recovery efforts through the Pacific Regional Assistance to Nauru, along with the development of Nauru’s commercial fishing industry, tapping into some of the richest fishing grounds in the Pacific. In recent times, the services sector connected with Australia’s Regional Processing Centre (RPC) for asylum seekers has replaced phosphate mining and manufacturing as the main source of growth.    

Today, Nauru is at a point of transition.1 High unemployment (38%)2 and an over reliance on the public sector for employment (64%)3, combined with the decline in phosphate mining and the activity associated with the RPC, highlights the imperative for Nauru to diversify its economy and create a sustainable future for its population of approximately 13,000 people. 

At the ‘Desperate Imagination’ meeting held by the President of Nauru in January 2020, Nauru Chamber of Commerce (NCC) President, Mr. Sean Oppenheimer, was invited to deliver a presentation to Nauru’s Ministers and Heads of Missions on the private sector development opportunities for Nauru. 

‘As a national priority, private sector development had become urgent, so prompt action needed to be taken,’ said Sean. ‘Nauru is now facing a moment of change, with a great opportunity to develop a vibrant private sector that can significantly contribute to resilient economic growth in Nauru.’ 

In February 2020, a conference call between Australian Business Volunteers (ABV), members of the NCC and a representative of DFAT Australia discussed how ABV might support and strengthen the work of the NCC and promote stronger government collaboration and private sector development.  

Since that initial call, the Nauru Chamber of Commerce and ABV, supported by the Australian High Commission in Nauru and UK High Commission in Solomon Islands, have worked in partnership to develop a Private Sector Development Road Map with the goal of supporting the development of a vibrant and inclusive private sector that contributes to sustainable economic development in Nauru.  

Cross-sector collaboration is central to achieving the Road Map’s goal. From the outset, the project sought to engage widely across government, public and private sectors, as well as community and regional stakeholders. The first step was to establish a Project Governance Group (PGG) to provide inputs and guidance on the stakeholder engagement activities and Road Map development. PGG members consisted of representatives from government, state-owned enterprises, private sector and the community. 

‘The Chamber aspires to foster cross-sector collaboration and the Road Map will advance private sector development in alignment with Nauru’s broader socioeconomic aims,’ said Sean Oppenheimer. 

Responding to the need for Nauru to develop new sources of economic growth and income, the subsequent co-design process involved the active participation of a wide range of stakeholders committed to the development of a practical Road Map that would support locally-led private sector growth, generating employment opportunities and promoting social inclusion. 

CEO Liz Mackinlay acknowledged that ABV has been privileged to walk alongside the Nauru Chamber of Commerce in the development of the Road Map. 

‘The Road Map is intended to be a practical, ‘living document’ that strengthens communities through business, and supports and promotes locally-led, private sector driven solutions, open collaboration across all sectors, as well as youth leadership and entrepreneurship,’ Liz said. ‘It is an important step towards developing a diversified, inclusive, and sustainable private sector and a resilient Nauruan economy into the future. The Chamber of Commerce Board and all who participated in the process showed creativity, enthusiasm and entrepreneurship.’  

The Road Map was developed through a collaborative stakeholder consultation process consisting of a document review (informed by the NCC and PGG members), a consensus building Delphi survey process with local and regional subject matter experts, micro, small and medium enterprise questionnaire and interviews as well as interviews with larger private enterprises, interviews with government representatives and a series of workshops with community and youth leaders. Out of these consultations, four key strategic development priorities emerged which formed the basis of a two-day co-design workshop with cross-sector stakeholders, mapping out practical activities, collaboration mechanisms and partnership opportunities.  

Although the COVID-19 global pandemic prevented ABV’s ability to travel to Nauru, it also strengthened the project’s locally-led approach, with ABV supporting the NCC to implement several key activities in-country, thereby building greater awareness of the NCC with stakeholders. These in-country activities were supported by online components including the Delphi survey and co-design workshop facilitated by ABV with in-country support from the NCC.  

The resulting Road Map has been designed in stages, with Stage 1 focusing on short-term priority development areas, with a view to medium and longer-term priorities being developed through subsequent stages of the Road Map. 

Moving forward, implementation of the Private Sector Development Road Map centres around working groups made up of cross-sector representatives, supported by the Nauru Chamber of Commerce, thereby promoting inclusive collaboration and shared accountability. It is anticipated that regular review cycles will be conducted (at least annually) to review progress and update activities and/or milestones as required.  

The first stage of the Nauru Private Sector Development Road Map was released in June 2021 and identified four priority areas: Fishing Sector; Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Capacity Building; Sustainable Tourism; and Diverse Land Uses. 

One element of the Road Map is to generate business opportunities from Nauru’s new seaport and resurfaced airstrip.  The port construction project is jointly funded by the Government of Nauru, the Government of Australia, the Asian Development Bank and the Global Climate Fund to build a climate resilient sea transport hub for Nauru. Aside from reducing shipping costs, ensuring reliable shipment of food, medical supplies, fuel and other essentials, the project will open opportunities for the private sector in and around the new port facility. The airstrip resurfacing project funded by the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific will increase certainty for business owners and managers by increasing the safety for Nauru’s air transport for another two decades.

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