COVID-19 and the World of Work

From Volcanoes to Cultural Trade

Sandrine Wallez is the founder of ‘Alternative Communities Trade In Vanuatu’ - ACTIV. A former volcanologist, she speaks to us about her role in the UN’s Informal Economies Recovery Project and the current state of the cultural and creative industry in Vanuatu

Project documentation | 31 August 2021
Sandrine Wallez is one of our Project Coordinators in Vanuatu. Born in France, she arrived in Vanuatu in 1998 and fell in love with the country. The former Volcanologist talks to us about her current work in the Cultural and Creative Industry.

Sandrine Wallez
1. Hi Sandrine, wonderful to be speaking with you today. Could you please introduce yourself for our readers?

I was born in France, arrived in Vanuatu in 1998 and worked previously as consultant volcanologist with the Vanuatu Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources travelling throughout the volcanic islands of the archipelago. During the field visits I met several communities and decided to get more involved and I created a local non-profit organisation, ACTIV (Alternative Communities Trade in Vanuatu) with the aim to empower the most economic, social and environmental disadvantaged people of the archipelago. I am the founding member and managing director of ACTIV association since 2008.

2. How has COVID-19 has impacted the CCIs in Vanuatu?

The COVID-19 pandemic has indirectly affected the Creative and Cultural Industries (CCIs) in Vanuatu. Even though our nation is free of COVID-19, the closure of our borders since March 2020 has highly impacted producers due to the sudden lack of tourists, which represented the main income source for cultural producers. Reports shown that the tourism sector, which represented 35% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, and contributed 36% of total employment (the largest sector in the country) has been significantly affected by the border closer. The short to long term economic impacts are food insecurity, loss of education, unemployment, and a rise in poverty. Lack of job opportunities and higher unemployment levels have increased economic vulnerability for the CCIs. Loss of tourism revenues resulted in drastic economic vulnerabilities that have affected a large proportion of the population whose livelihoods are linked to both the formal and informal sectors.

3. What are some of the strengths of the CCIs in Vanuatu?

The local CCIs, within formal and informal structures, benefit from a large range of products drawing on Vanuatu’s rich cultural heritage. Handcrafters work with their families and communities and are supported by the Ni-Vanuatu community overseas. A high number of people depend on handicrafts and music for a living when the tourism industry is flourishing. Over the past few years the Vanuatu Government, with donor partner assistance, has worked towards better organising the handcrafts industry.

4. What are some of the weaknesses of the CCIs in Vanuatu and how do you see this project addressing them and also helping overcome COVID impacts?

The CCIs in Vanuatu are poorly organised and often represented sit within the informal sector, lack structure and proper training facilities and opportunities. The artisans and artists lack understanding of the market locally and internationally, have little grasp of branding, marketing and copyright areas and often do not have enough capital. The Informal Economies Recovery Project will support some artists and artisans to access trainings and workshops to better assist them strengthening their own businesses and adapt to the current economic situation.

5. What are some of the exciting aspects of this project from your perspective?

This project aims to build the capacities of existing CCIs currently suffering from the lack of tourism in the country and is looking at finding solutions to adapt to this situation and creating new opportunities locally and internationally to increase artists and artisans’ income and improve their livelihoods. This project will assist in Vanuatu CCIs from the handcrafts sector and from the music industry with tailored trainings, workshops and mentoring activities to diversify their activities, better understand their business and reach new market opportunities.