Informal Economy

Diary of a Project Coordinator: Katrina Ma'u Fatiaki’s Observations from the COVID-Free Kingdom of Tonga

Katrina has put down some of her interesting observations in the form of a diary entry, to give us a snapshot of what the Informal Economies Recovery Project is doing on the ground in Tonga, and what life is looking like at the moment, as COVID remains safely locked out of the Island Kingdom

Article | Tonga | 22 July 2021
Katrina Ma'u Fatiaki
Katrina Ma'u Fatiaki is Country coordinator for the UNESCO project in Tonga, and has more than 15 years of experience in research, evaluation and program management experience in the Pacific. She is currently the owner and lead consultant for Tapuaki Mei Langi Consultancy based in Tonga with core services in human rights and gender project design and delivery support. Katrina describes herself as a certified trainer, coach and speaker in the field of leadership and human rights, with advanced communication skills in negotiating and advocating for the realization of human rights, good governance and gender equality.

Below, Katrina has put down some of her interesting observations in the form of a diary entry, to give us a snapshot of what the Informal Economies Recovery Project is doing on the ground in Tonga, and what life is looking like at the moment, as COVID remains safely locked out of the Island Kingdom:

July 2021 - Tonga remains one of the 5 countries in the world without Coronavirus; with no declared cases. Whilst its borders remain closed to the rest of the world, life continues as normal, however, the economy has somehow grown more resilient with new business ventures starting as well as artists in the Creative and Cultural industry working towards building their talents.

The UNESCO project is supporting the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) as a part of the informal economy in Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga and Palau. The project addresses unemployment and aims to support sustainable enterprises in the informal sub-sectors following the impact of COVID-19.

In Tonga, like other Pacific Islands countries, the Tourism sector has been affected. This project aims to strengthen the CCIs, and capitalize on local creative talent through specialized skills transfer, market linkages, and by addressing pre-existing challenges in the structure and mechanisms of the informal economy.

In Tonga, the journey of setting up the systems in place through UNESCO guidance has been a challenge but it has gained momentum and work is in progress.

Being recruited in mid-April, my role was to scope the priority areas for Tonga for the Creative and Cultural industry space and work closely with the Ministry of Tourism on this. The priority areas for Tonga include the following; with identified known artists as Master trainers:

Priority areas for Tonga:

  1. Wood carving & design: Artists Sitiveni Fe’ao Fehoko
  2. Fine design handcrafts: Artists Akosita Hu’ahulu Ha’unga
  3. Visual & Performing arts: Seleka International Arts Society Initiative & Onion Squad
Tongan wood carving

Identifying these amazing artists was not a problem, but the challenge was working with them to complete all the necessary requirements needed for compliance from UNESCO. English is our second language and so language is a barrier for them in completing paper work and providing key documentations for the project, such as ensuring they have CVs and filling up vendor forms. Translating their training programmes was also needed. Despite this, one must have the patience to provide the support needed and see the potential in them and how this project will benefit them and also the country at large.

It must be shared that whilst this project brings benefit in different ways, it needs to be better adapted to the various contexts also. There has been a challenge also with the key partner - Ministry of Tourism - in ensuring they also meet all requirements and paper work to be completed which has also taken a bit of time.

Traditional wood carvings from Tonga

Currently the Ministry is completing the last few requirements with the hope that the project will be rolled out at the end of this month or early August. This has been a great learning experience also because this new type of support to government is new. The process may have a lot of requirements but it is good practice to support government systems in this type of financial support in projects.

In the meantime, the artists are all geared up and ready for implementation and are excited. Working closely with them on the ground has been inspiring. Talking to them on the project and seeing their work on the ground is a reminder of the roles of local consultants to ensure their voices are heard and they are supported in whatever way. Below are a few shared quotes about the project from them.

“I look forward to building the talents and working closely with artists in the wood carving and design industry, this project will help boost opportunities for them.”
Artist -Sitiveni Fe’ao Fehoko
“My passion with working with the local artists in Tonga has always been my drive and this project will add value in the work they are doing.”
Artist - Akosita Hu’ahulu Ha’unga
“Any support to help our work is much appreciated, but our work in art and dancing is slowly picking up in our country and so this project will strengthen work and support our artists we look forward to work with.’
Artist - Tevita Latu, Seleka International Arts Society Initiative Tonga

Mr. Latu looks forward to when this project will be implemented. It is a great opportunity to building local artists in the Creative and Cultural industry space to global standards and professionalism, so there is more recognition in the region and also international arena with what they do.