Creating a shared vision for Yap

In April I had the unique opportunity to facilitate a one-week scenario-building workshop on the beautiful island of Yap in the Western Pacific. Yap is one of four states in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and lies in the far western part of the Pacific Ocean, close to Guam and Palau. We were invited by the Yap State Chamber of Commerce, who is working to guide and support Yap’s development amidst a sea of uncertainty and change. One of the Chamber’s members, Berna Gorong, attended our Economic Tools for Conservation in Micronesia in Pohnpei in March of 2012. Instructors included myself, Heidi Gjertsen, and Nicholas Conner.

Over the next ten years, a cycle of substantial funding from the U.S. that started in the 1980s is poised to end, and Yapese are faced with a critical development decision: how to replace this income to purchase the many imported goods – including food, cars, medical care, and technology – that they have come to rely upon. Yap has some of the strongest cultural traditions and healthiest marine environments in the entire Pacific. What development pathway can they pursue that will take advantage, and safeguard, these significant social and natural assets? How can they balance their dependency on imported technology without losing their traditional resilience in the face of change?

Development of small island economies is fraught with challenges, and we were asked to develop a scenarios process to help Yapese think outside of the box of conservation versus development – to consider what internal and external forces will shape their future, and what things the Yapese want to protect, begin and build. During the first three days, participants crafted future scenarios and discussed a shared vision for the future. The last two days focused on economic tools that can used to evaluate proposed projects and development scenarios in terms of the total benefits (such as jobs and tax revenues) and total costs (such as pollution, loss of natural resources and environmental services, and erosion of culture).

The workshop opened new ways of thinking for participants and gave them important new tools – ones that they hope to bring to government leaders as well as communities throughout the state. As one participant told us at the close of the week, "The workshop has been very helpful to me. It finally woke me up from a very long sleep. I now know where my state is in terms of economic growth and climate change. I would recommend for this workshop to be conducted in every community in Yap State."

For me, it was an honor to spend a week with such gracious, kind and committed people.

Projects or courses this news item is about: 
Economic Tools for Conservation in Micronesia