Tatiana Burn -  USP Alumni Network

Kia Orana! A few years ago I was among the happy and relieved graduates in the graduation day audience. Happy – because I got the MBA and relieved, because the enormous personal pressure of the past 2 years was over and I could get on with my life.

There is no better way to discuss the role USP plays in the development of the Private Sector in the Cook Islands, than through personal experiences and demonstrate how taking 2 years in the middle of running your own business can change you and your business.

When I embarked on the MBA programme a few people from the business community were sceptical – they believed business knowledge comes with practice and experience and the longer you do it, the better your understanding is. What is a business theory? What can Statistics and Organisational Behaviour teach you when you are running a small business on a small island in the middle of the Pacific?

My most powerful experience of MBA was the outstanding calibre of academic staff who came from all parts of the world and immediately elevated the level of the discussion from LOCAL and NATIONAL to GLOBAL. A lot of us found it very challenging to switch our minds from where we are in our business, our island, our village to where are we in the global world? How do all the factors that affect the global economy, environment, technology – influence and affect us in the Cook Islands. Where is our economy going? What will be the shape of it in 10, 20, 30 years? What is the role of Government? How it can positively influence or hamper the development of the private sector? These are just some of the issues we discussed and I am forever grateful to all these scholars.

After graduation I suddenly felt empowered. It was a strange feeling of “I can do it”, “I know how to do it”, “I know what is the best practice of doing it and how I can adapt it to our environment” and “I know how to do it better!” So I put a lot of effort into our business transformation and new business ideas. I also felt the need to give back to the country and the people by using my new skills for the common good – I became a Member of the Price Tribunal, Executive of the Chamber of Commerce, taking active position on all issues affecting our economy. This would not have happened for me without USP. Now imagine that my experience is multiplied by 100. Imagine the CHANGE it can bring!

What is it like doing business in the Cook Islands? I can tell you - It is tough! Great expression “the tyranny of distance” just about summarising it all – high costs of electricity, telecommunications, postal rates, shortages of skilled labour, general shortage of a labour force, high cost of finance, business fees and now the latest measures of the Government which are likely to lead to price increases, reduced sales and revenues, and possible staff cuts. There are no clear steps from Government aimed at energising the private sector, or to reduce the costs of doing business, or to provide incentives for business development, and new investment – yet only through these measures have we any hope of halting in some way the depopulation process.

In my opinion the continued depopulation trend is a serious issue affecting the future of this country. With a continued increase in the imported labour force – there is no other choice for businesses now, but to import labour to insure the survival of the business – a big question is: what our country’s population is going to look like in 5 to 10 years’ time?

Not only in terms of numbers but the actual composition of it? How might it affect land issues, culture, language, economy? Has our government got a strategy which should be in place right now on how this shift in population composition is going to be handled? What should be our immigration strategies? Maybe USP can encourage academic research in these areas? I don’t think anyone has clear answers at this stage, but we need to start putting the strategies in place now which can affect our future. An academic research and analysis of how similar trends were handled by other countries and how their national identity was affected might be of great value.

Another area of required support from USP is the opportunity for businesses to Up-skill our existing staff without losing them to lengthy overseas study, because we will never see them again. What we need help with is STAFF retention through up-skilling and offering higher paid positions within local organisations. Some of the areas we need up-skilling in are: accounting, management, business basics, marketing. There should be an opportunity to have evening and weekend classes and tutorials, structured around individual’s work schedule. USP should adapt to the needs of the business community, tobecome our partner in economic development.

I would encourage all Cook Islands graduates to put skills learned at USP into practice for the good of our beautiful country and its people.

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