The Journey to the Accelerator Lab

April 12, 2023

Hi, my name is Fili, and I am the new Head of Experimentation for the Accelerator Lab at the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji. Today, I will take you on a journey on how I came to this role. Growing up in the islands, I was always gravitated towards science, something about proving facts and knowing the actual processes of how life on earth came to be, fascinated me. I was influenced by many things including my love for wetlands, the mangroves, and everything around me.

Fast track to university life, the passion became reality when I was forced to decide whether to continue my journey of the hard sciences or deviate towards Marine Science - something I was familiar with and had positive influences and memories of. Being a marine science student at the University of the South Pacific (USP) got me into the thick of things such as coral surveys, the biology of different sea creatures and crustaceans, the microbiology of shrimps, and the importance of keeping the oceans clean and healthy. It was a world of beauty and danger, but it was all worth it.

During graduation, I joined the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division which was formerly known as the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) as an intern in 2013. It was my first real job at a prestigious scientific institution in the Pacific region. I was put to work right away working on SOPAC’s Geo-network.

I had no background in the Geographic Information System (GIS) and Data management and I quickly learned that everything in this business was personality, personal initiative, and listening to guidance from peers. After three months of internship, I joined the GIS unit SPC and was guided through programming and other virtual tools that SPC was working on at the time. At the end of my contract, I had an opportunity to work for a UN FAO project under the United Nations collaborative initiative Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Programme looking at land use, Collect Earth, Earth Engine and Remote Sensing, in 12 project countries. We dealt with agriculture, forestry, and other forms of land use.

As the project came to an end, I rejoined the Regional Maritime Boundaries Project of SPC where I provided updated gazetted boundaries in GIS formats to Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) for their Vessel Monitoring System under the FFA-SPC SLA project. It was a privilege to work with so many ocean practitioners from GIS Experts to Law of the Sea experts from the region.

Octopus Survey in Malake, Ra, Rakiraki, Fiji Islands with PEUMP USP & PEUMP SPC

In addition to the work, SPC allowed me to build my capacity when I was chosen for the United Nations Nippon Foundation fellowship to represent not only Fiji but SPC. The Programme really helped in terms of exposure to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in particular SDG 14 (Life Below Water) and how it correlates to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. I got to experience lectures from international experts from different reputable organizations and be an observer at the General Assembly and BBNJ IGC 1 negotiation. Eight years in SPC was a huge honor and now my focus was to see what was happening inside the maritime zones which is why my focus shifted to conservation work with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

With the NIPPON Foundation fellows.

Photo: UNDP / Filimoni Yaya

My journey continued with the International Union for Conservation of Nature Oceania Regional Office under the Marine Programme working on Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) in seven countries in the region. I was privileged to work with a team I could learn from and that allowed me to pursue my other passions of working in communities as part of consultations, training, and scientific expeditions. IUCN instilled a belief in me of nature conservation and how we should curb the thinking that nature will always provide. There is a limit to everything, especially when dealing with wildlife, species, flora fauna, and resources. Engaging science with local traditional knowledge is very important. Practices of MSP were already existing in the Pacific but were known by other names and forms like the Qoliqoli or Tabu areas in Fiji. The people and the communities are the natural stewards of all these vast ocean spaces and resources.

CI Fiji Lau Seascape Expedition with IUCN

Coral Planting in Lakeba, Lau, Fiji Islands

In a nutshell, I have worked in various scientific and research roles over the past five years covering a large range of topics from marine science to land use and marine spatial planning. Through my work, I have gained a deep appreciation of the unique, vibrant, and diverse cultures here in the Pacific as well as a passion for protecting and preserving our natural resources. I am excited to join the UNDP's Accelerator Lab and support innovations to address sustainable development challenges in the region – as well as foster and support innovative solutions to sustainable development challenges in the region. The Accelerator lab facilitates and incubates projects, initiatives, and experiments that can rapidly transform innovations into impact. I look forward to serving the Pacific communities in this new and exciting adventure.