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Last days in Palau: All Stories Come to A Close

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Their Stories

The other major deliverable of my work with Palau Conservation Society was a consultancy in assessing the potential for conflict over fisheries management, the various interests of stakeholders in the fisheries industry, and a strategy for helping communities engage in consensus-building and effective problem solving.

At Insight Collaborative, one aspect of our training in Effective Communication is to appreciate the power and effectiveness of devoting a lot of our time in interactions to asking questions about the other side’s perspectives, opinions and views. It provides us access to a treasure trove of information that we can then use to be more effective in moving conversations towards better understanding, and strengthening the relationships that matter to us most. Implicit, with respect to the Fellowship, in this training, is to take advantage of interviews as an immense source of data and perspectives on conflicts, risks of conflict, and first-hand accounts.

You may recall I interviewed many farmers and seed-bank operators in India. In Palau, the nature of my fisheries management consultancy also gave me the opportunity to interview individuals from nearly every walk of life in Palau, all of whom had both shared and differing opinions on Palau’s marine resources, their significance, their value and the culture of fishing.

I am not at liberty to divulge the exact content of what was shared with me, nor could I in good faith reveal the originators of comments made on Palau’s fishing culture, marine resources and fisheries management. However I do wish to highlight some aspects of this story and its intriguing complexity:

  • All imaginable stakeholders stated the income provided by marine resources as the most important issue surrounding managing fisheries and resolving the conflict between overfishing and tourism, except for Palau’s own traditional leaders and chiefs. This illustrates many aspects of conflicting ideals in Palau, the most significant of which is that traditional leadership believes marine resources to be part of Palauan identity, and feels the management of fisheries must draw from this principle, which empowers traditional leaders to suggest a different range of options because their position is based on different interests.
  • All stakeholders believe, unanimously, that enforcing laws and involving fishermen in decision making are necessary (though not sufficient) conditions for successfully curbing overfishing.
  • I noticed that in most cases, the interests of each stakeholders were not opposed—rather they were differing, and this provides exciting opportunities to make high-value, low-cost trade-offs. My meta-level advice to Palau Conservation Society was to pursue mutual gains through making such trade offs. For example, increasing fishermen income through training in other skills or through low-cost aquacultural techniques to farm fish would meet their interest in income, while ensuring the interests of traditional leaders and conservationists are met.

It is still too early to know the exact impact of my work here. I have trust in Palau Conservation Society’s commitment to leveraging my contributions to further the environmental protection goals that are in Palau’s interests. However, three months only allows an Insight Collaborative Fellow to scratch the surface—perhaps just enough to set something in motion, not nearly enough time to wait at the long-term checkpoints.

Nonetheless, I am proud of my work with Palau Conservation Society, and eternally grateful to the opportunity they gave me to play a crucial role in their work.

A Story About Short Notice

I imagine that the majority of our experiences with last-minute decisions and quick fixes and all those other circumstances involving a shortage of time tend not to end in our favour, or not with our interests being met. That all-too-familiar phrase ‘short notice’ is too often appended to some apology. I’m sorry…I just can’t accommodate you on such short notice.

Well I suppose the majority of us also can’t be having grand expectations in those scenarios either—we hope, that things will work out, and we say those equally clichéd words: ‘I’m going to need a miracle.’

This story is about the other outcome. This story is about how I managed to string together an opportunity on exceptionally short notice, and how it went swimmingly.

In effort to get more training experience, do more for Palau, and hopefully meet some of my fundraising objectives as well, I contacted one individual amongst the many strategic relationships I had the good fortune of forging in Palau. Through her, I entered into talks with both the Palau National Development Bank and Palau’s banking intelligence agency, the Financial Institutions Commission.

On the day before I flew out of Palau, I gave a workshop to the Financial Institutions Commission, with great results and feedback. It felt nice to have gotten another workshop’s experience under my belt before heading to my last placement, and it was very rewarding to see how this training can be useful in really any field.

All Stories Come to a Close

All good stories have endings. And my story in Palau came to a bittersweet ending, with a farewell party at the office and a day out by the Airai Bridge with the friends I made in the apartment building where I was living.

Three months in one of the most culturally unique and isolated nations in the world, where only weeks prior to my first day in Palau I was resigned to thinking it would never work out. I’ve been told that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well a day of experience is worth a thousand lessons in theory.

Before flying into Tel Aviv, I was able to take advantage of a several hour layover in Seoul to witness a lesser-known ‘Changing of the Guard’ at Gyeongbeok Palace. I must say, the vibrant colours of the guards set against the stern architecture vaults this ceremony over the two others I have witnessed, in India and in Britain.

I do want to end the story of Palau with a short reflection.

Palau has taught me to respect the sense of urgency with which we must address climate change, and has also taught me that conflict, and the precursors to conflict, are to be found everywhere. Conflict is necessary: as I have seen in Palau, it arises because all sides involved care about the issues and about their interests. Palau’s beautiful natural environment is worth the effort we put in when we engage in peacebuilding and conflict resolution. What I understand now is that our ecology also has interests, and negotiation must adapt its structures to be more sensitive to those interests, even if the human parties involved are not.

The End.