Oxfam’s Sandra Hart was a featured speaker during the opening session at the Pacific Resilience Partnership meeting in Suva in May. Highlights from her speech follow:

To innovate is to adapt. To adapt is to take risks and to face risks in order to better anticipate and mitigate risks for the future. In order to face risks in this manner, we must be ready to respond.

These pictures represent the most experienced cash transfer research and response field team in the Pacific today – all of whom are under 30 years of age. This is what I mean when I talk about the next generation of disaster assistance, and this is the case of Vanuatu.

This is a new way of responding, built from the ground up.

It is community-centric,

it is evidence driven,

it is participatory,

it is dignified and flexible for those affected

And we have delivered this approach at a high pace, at low cost, with high-level tech.

Vanuatu’s cash transfer programme is a global approach that has been locally adapted by a team of youth working on the front lines.

And what exactly are cash transfers? Well, many of us already know – this is the practice of sending money across long distances to those who need it – via banks, via western union, via mobile. Pacific islanders do this nearly every day in the form of remittances from abroad.

Humanitarian action, in the form of cash transfers, seeks to do this for people affected by disasters at the times they need it most. In so doing, we enable them to do what they are already used to doing each day within their local markets and economies – to buy what they and their families need to recover and get back on track.

In a single year, this team of youth in Vanuatu has been involved in developing not just one – but 3 innovations in this space. With their dedication, we have developed and delivered these approaches first, faster, and at a fraction of the usual cost.

One year, triple the work: Here’s what this team has shown themselves to be capable of:

  • A nationwide feasibility study to consult with local communities to gain insight into their own needs and preferences regarding this approach. Over 1500 surveys across 18 islands, in over 90 communities…just to be sure we had the evidence.
  • The first-ever large-scale, delivery of multi-purpose cash grants to thousands of volcano-affected people, delivered in 3 months, with 3 financial service providers, 4 government departments, and 2 civil society partners
  • And now – UnBlocked Cash – the delivery of electronic vouchers using tap and pay technology that is powered by blockchain, easy and simple to use from the smallest market mama, to the biggest shops, with payments to vendors into their Vanuatu bank accounts, in Vatu, twice a week

When we first started, we encountered a lot of scepticism. So, how exactly did we do it? With this team of dedicated young islanders, they not only accomplished this, but they also did so first, they did it fast, and fearlessly.

Again, how? We placed our bets and invested in our youth, and doing so gave us triple the impact for a fraction of the cost. This team began as a group of volunteers, who have grown into field responders and innovators. Bringing new minds, they have developed new skills and scaled new approaches at a blistering pace. This is not “island time” any more, trust me.

Who are these heroes? As we say in Vanuatu, oli TUFF TUMAS. Oxfam has sourced locally grown talent from the grassroots, with the help of our network partner Youth Challenge Vanuatu we have a deep well of youthful energy to draw from.

These individuals have grown through a whirlwind experience – thousands of surveys, hundreds of sites, having touched the lives of over 20,000 people, and  now…they are leading the pack in testing cutting-edge technology in what many would consider to be a low-tech environment.

The minds of these youth – and others – are open to new approaches. They are natural, out-of-the box thinkers, they are rallying to have their voices heard and their impact felt. And most of all, they are tireless.

After all, are working for their own futures and those of their peers and their children. We need to remember that. They will inherit this earth.

This is the next generation – the future is innovation, and innovation thrives in the minds and the actions of our youth.

What I have learned from this youth I am trying to pass on to you. I believe it is more than what I have taught them, as they have given me inspiration and purpose in the work that I do.

Our youth admire tradition and culture, but they crave a new vision, and want to break boundaries using a medium they can lead with and relate to. Advanced applications like blockchain technology may seem far off to most of us, but it is already being put to work in Vanuatu because it mirrors these motivations.  Right now they are leading the first and largest pilot to test the use of blockchain technology for disaster response in the Pacific region.

I leave you with this.

We have demonstrated that we need and can benefit from fresh minds to solve new and changing problems. We know that we need to fundamentally change our approaches to disaster preparedness and response whilst the impacts of climate change are upon us.

I look to my elders for wisdom, tradition, love, education and guidance.

Now, I look to our youth for innovation, vision, energy and change. We took a leap of faith in them, and they have now taken the first leap forward. Now, we’d like inspire youth across the rest of Pacific to follow in their tracks.

Sandra Hart is Oxfam in the Pacific‘s Cash and Livelihoods Lead. She is based in Vanuatu.