Living Islands propose to build a step-by-step toolkit for starting and running a successful and independent eco-tourism business for the under-developed Pacific ocean region. The primary focus will be on operating and educating stakeholders and clients across the traditional polarized male and female domains. Women ownership of companies in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is far and few. More often, the women are working for their male counterparts, with little or no direct influence on the business. This project will help women become primary stakeholders in a business. Ecotourism is currently very limited and largely untapped and will allow teaching and strengthen business skills, marketing, media, financial and administrative knowledge, sustainability, trade, and communication efforts.
This project is an exploratory grant with the goal of producing an easy to follow toolkit and training system for starting a successful ecotourism business. The toolkit is targeted at breaking the genderization currently predominant in large parts of the Pacific region by deliberately designing the program to entwine job functions and tasks traditionally separated in the male and female domain. At this time, genderization is being nearly imposed exclusively on women, and the general consensus is that the man can inherit utmost any job under the pretext that he has to provide for his family. Combined with a heavy influence of US culture, this has lead to a large interest among the young female population to break down the stereotypes. It has become increasingly important to provide the opportunity for women to succeed in a business that crosses both domains to show, by example, that gender is of little importance compared to the massive economic, health and climate impact challenges the RMI is facing. The Marshall Islands have the currents of being ready to change but is significantly lacking visible projects showing that it’s possible.
The eco-tourism we propose will contain cross-gender trades, involving both traditional male jobs, like navigation, sailing, and fishing as well as “female jobs” such as ethnic and traditional cultural education, weaving and food preparation. This allows us to coil the domains, making the project cross-gender in nature and avoid some of the very strong stigma currently associated with women trying out “a mans job”. Avoiding this stigma, while showing success through achieved fiscal independence, is the first step towards a broader openness to business ran by women, more specifically by both genders. Genderfication is located largest in the traditional rural areas, aka. the Marshall Islands outer atolls. At the same time, the outer atolls possess a pristine, and in many cases untouched coral reef and Pacific islands ecology, making it uniquely interesting as an eco-tourism attraction. This market is currently unexplored, apart from limited diving opportunities near the US nuclear bomb test ranges in the Bikini Atoll region. As such the atolls themselves represent a strong possible income source that’s severely needed. The proposed eco-tourism project will involve traveling between several outer atolls and the main islands, giving an increased mobility to a group of women, and allowing further exploration into trade, education, and commerce. The finished toolkit is designed to be used as a joint effort between several non-profit and institutions in the Marshall Islands, such as Living Islands, WAM, Kio Club and local governments.
Once the toolkit is completed, Living Islands plan to seek support through grants and financing to start a pilot company. This will identify target atolls for the pilot project and work with the local community of women to find candidates. We anticipate that the full toolkit, addressing the education of women and supporting women run businesses, will translate directly into several new business ventures by women, as the remaining islands open up for similar ventures.
Within 3-5 years we anticipate a rise in women driven initiatives across the male and female domain, as a direct result of this project.
Living Islands approach for all projects are divided into three distinct phases; Teach Local, Replicate Local, Distribute Global. The idea being that if we can implement a project locally and the project can be replicated locally without Living Islands (or with Living Islands as observers only), then we can use the same program on a larger scale.
Objective 1: Business Education in isolated regions
With limited access to communication and teaching resources for part of the community of women implies that all teaching material has to be available locally on-site and in a form understandable by the local community of women. Living Islands are working with educators and (cultural and language) translators to provide all material in both English as well as Marshallese, and in a form that makes sense in the ethnical and cultural setting. At the end of the toolkit development, the toolkit will be used with a pilot group and the outcome documented and evaluated by both Living Islands’ sociologist and economists as well as reviewed by third party evaluators from College of Marshall Islands. The result should be a basic understanding of business ethics and process in a global context rather than a traditional Marshallese interpretation.
Objective 2: Market Research
As part of the initial development, Living Islands will have the pilot group develop marketing and procedures for a single (or few) instance(s) of an ecotourism trip to the region. The market research will show the initial market. The market research done by the pilot group should result in real customers, and success will be measured by this.
Objective 3: Inter Collaboration
Since the project spans women from several atolls, the project will encourage more direct interaction between the communities. The interaction will be evaluated through interviews and surveys.
Objective 4: Increased Place Attachment Value
Living Islands is currently starting a collaboration on a research study on place attachment value. By comparing the target atolls with similar atolls in the region, we will be able to identify an increased place attachment value for the community of women on the target islands.
Living Islands have formed partnerships with local government, communities, and organizations in the region, with the purpose of empowering the local population through education and lead roles in project collaborations to enhance climate adaptation, trade, health, education and energy sectors on a broader scale. These partnerships currently include A) a highly skilled team of experts and professionals directly working for Living Islands; B) collaboration with a University of Oregon Ph.D. study to measure the impact of projects on place attachment value; C) established working partnerships with the most significant women empowerment groups in the Marshall Islands D) direct collaboration with local Marshallese governmental leaders.
Waan Aelõñ in Majel (Canoes of the Marshall Islands) will help facilitate knowledge of the sea, charting waves and stars. They will help design the program teaching both employers and passengers, how to navigate at sea. They will also help with lessons in canoe constructing, materials and understanding from traditional building to modern canoe building and its transitions.
Kora In Okrane. The charter of the KIO club is to specifically assist women and children on the outer atolls. They work on social and community efforts, to assist women to enter into leadership roles and introduce modern techniques to assist with daily function. KIO will help design the business education program for Marshallese women. They will also assist in creating a program to teach traditional values through handicrafts, exploring and interacting with various atoll communities, to bring understanding and appreciation to the traditional way of life.
Living Islands already have the support for its projects, including this, from both the government through Minister of Foreign Affairs Tony de Brum, as well as from senators and mayors of several outer atolls.
Living Islands will collaborate with the College of Marshall Islands to support and utilize students and apply their education to our project.
Living Islands is currently collaborating with Ph.D. students from both University of Oregon as well as Portland State University on designing our projects in the outer atolls.
The research involved in developing this toolkit and run the pilot trial is estimated to take roughly 24 months and will involve 15 people, all volunteers at minimum pay. Most of these are already identified, but Living Islands currently do not have the facility to house the project. We have secure highly competitive office pricing, in Portland, Oregon through a not for profit office project and in Majuro, Marshall Islands, through personal connections.
Cost is split into three main groups.
Facility (PDX and RMI): $195.000 / 24 months
Paid Staff (15 part time): $276.000 / 24 months
Travel and per diem: $39.000