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Profiling Women on Boards in the Pacific: Liz Pechan

Co-Founder of The Havanah Resort in Vanuatu, serves on numerous boards

Today PLN is delighted to profile Liz Pechan as part of our ongoing focus on some of the amazing women in the Pacific. Liz is a ni-Vanuatu, and graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Environmental Geography degree. Liz (alongside husband Greg), is a co-founder of The Havannah Resort in Vanuatu (a multi international award winning property and member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World). She serves on numerous boards, including the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee, Vanuatu Foreign Investment and Promotion Authority, Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association, Port Vila International School and more recently the Tamtam Bubble Taskforce. She is an elected Council member of the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce.

She has 20+ years’ private sector experience in Vanuatu, in a range of roles including business, project and financial management, management consulting, capacity building and business development. In these roles, she has regularly interfaced with Government, donors and civil society and has facilitated public-private collaboration for projects of public value.

Liz is a mentor for young women, engaging with diverse groups of ni-Vanuatu women in sports, local handicraft industry, business and education. She also volunteers for a range of charities including Kiwanis’ support of literacy in Vanuatu and has established and continues to care for the Vila Central Hospital front garden.

Q. Let’s start by giving you some kudos – congrats to all at The Havannah for making the Travellers Choice list in the 2020 Tripadvisor Top 25 Luxury Boutique Hotels of the World!! That must be a very welcome reward during such a difficult year for tourism – particularly in the Pacific. How has the team in Vanuatu reacted to that?

A. Our team is hugely proud of this achievement, particularly during the COVID challenges which totally prevented our overseas guests from travelling to Vanuatu. At the same time, we realise that we have to maintain these standards and it gives us motivation to work to maintain and continue to be creative in our development as a unique eco-boutique resort. I’d like to acknowledge the respectful investment in culture-based livelihoods and positive partnerships with our neighbouring communities that provided important contributions to The Havannah experience such as the Chief Roimata Cultural Domain tour. Additionally, I’d like to recognise the commitment of women-led associations that continue to encourage and empower community-led livelihood initiatives such as Serah Tari of the Local Handicraft Connection Association

Q. Being a co-founder of such an amazing property must have had its challenges over the years. What do you think have been a couple of the most challenging things that you have had to overcome to get where you are with The Havannah?

A. Natural disasters (pre-COVID-19) were our number one challenge in the tourism industry. According to a World Bank survey, Vanuatu is categorised as the most vulnerable country in the world to natural disasters. Vanuatu is exposed to multiple natural hazards including cyclones and earthquakes which bring high risks to doing business. For example, Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015 which had devastating effects nation-wide and destroyed much of our resort. As a result, the resort was closed for four months, in order to rebuild and reopen. And of course the closing of borders from 2020 and high restrictions on travel and mobility, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have stopped the Vanuatu tourism industry in its tracks.

Another really important challenge is meeting international hotel standards within local contexts. We spend a great deal of time, personally working with and alongside our staff to train them in specialised hospitality practices specific to our resort. We have blended cultural responsive management approaches in alignment with national labour requirements to enable a positive work and business environment. A key lesson here is that there is real return of investment in our staff. They are our greatest asset.

Q. It has been interesting seeing the push in Vanuatu for the creation of the Tamtam Travel Bubble, and a taskforce to facilitate that. As a co-founder of The Havannah, obviously you are invested in seeing something like this occur sooner rather than later. How has the tourism industry in Vanuatu coped with the difficulties that COVID-19 in 2020 brought to all of us?

A. The initiative for a travel corridor is a key component of Vanuatu’s national COVID-19 recovery strategy. There is widespread recognition of safe and secure mobility and trade routes that stimulate safe economic recovery also provide significant social, cultural and environmental protection. Regional trust and local stability are at the core of our national recovery.

The tourism industry (and its community value stream and contribution to up to 30% of Vanuatu’s GDP,) has been decimated. Hundreds of people have lost employment. Relying on domestic tourism is not viable, given the fact that we are a small island nation, without the quantitative scale required to fill the gap of international tourists.

The tourism industry has been the most active industry in partnering with Government during this crisis to find a way forward that restores community livelihoods and public revenue sources. The Tourism Crisis Response and Recovery Plan (TCRRP), of which I am the team leader for Product Readiness, was quickly endorsed and implemented by the Government as part of the country’s COVID-19 recovery plan. More recently, the Prime Minister’s Office invited me to sit on the Tamtam Bubble Taskforce. This is an initiative to safely open borders with other low risk countries, whilst safeguarding our people’s health and at the same time supporting socio-economic recovery.

As the Private Sector Lead for the COVID Safe Business Operations Guidelines (2020), I have coordinated over 100 businesses, government stakeholders, NGOs, training providers and community groups to input, review and agree actions in a limited timeframe. Due recognition is given to the leadership within these respective entities for their commitment to protecting livelihoods and open sharing of operational intelligence to inform realistic implementation.

I have driven the initiative for high-level dialogue between Vanuatu Government, private and community sectors enabling constructive and inclusive solution oriented discussions. This has provided a basis for enabling the development of responsible actions for travel corridors. My relationship with Government as a member of the private sector was transformed into a collaborative relationship to a degree I could not have anticipated a year ago.

As both a private sector and industry representative, my voluntary professional contributions and advocacy have established professional relationships that have been cornerstones of trust and confidence and provided pragmatic roadmaps for securing the required resources and will realise effective outcomes. For example, I have brokered and coordinated relationships between the Ministry of Health and the private sector to ensure that the dual objectives of health security and economic recovery received integrated policy attention.

Q. Tell us a bit about your involvement with the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee (VPC) – how did you get involved, and why?

A. As a Melanesian woman, community service is at the core of my personal and professional values. As a known and trusted treasurer of other charitable organisations, I was approached by the President of the VPC to join the committee and help grow para-athletes in Vanuatu. My role here is to provide accountability, transparency and trust in respect of the responsible expenditure of donor funds and linked to performance measurement of the beneficiary. I have secured local business and private sponsorship for the Committee’s work plan and strengthened relationships with our international partners like the IPC.

The Vanuatu Paralympic Committee has 6 board members of whom 5 are women. We female members have been able to focus on efficient, timely and transparent governance through regular board meetings, AGMs, planning and reporting. Using our individual networks and knowledge, and by working as a team, we have achieved a lot. These achievements would not have been realised had we not all worked together as a unit. The improved governance regarding finance brought the trust to attract funding. The Board now has a good governance reputation. This Board in particular, has become a good example for other sporting federations, locally and regionally.

Q. What are the biggest challenges for that Committee and how can fans of Vanuatu and the Pacific based in place like Australia and New Zealand help?

Our biggest challenge has been expanding partnerships and sponsorship to secure necessary resources for our coaches and administrators and getting our athletes qualified and classified internationally. Our Paralympic Association survives on the good will of its volunteer members, particularly our coaches and Board members. We do not have a salaried Manager to be responsible for the day to day operations and administration so, funding for such a position is currently our biggest challenge.

Offshore supporters (thank you!) can amplify national advocacy for Vanuatu para-athletes through social media campaigns and they can also alert us to potential new partnership and resource mobilisation opportunities.

Q. More broadly, why do you think it’s important to have women represented on boards in the Pacific?

A. Let me be frank: no matter the gender identification, I believe the essential criteria for any appointed Board member are (alphabetically); accountability, honesty, integrity, knowledge, and transparency to provide sound strategic guidance to an organisation. Women (and other voices – e.g. young people, people living with a disability) provide diverse experiences and perspectives to the decision-making process and bring dialogue closer to properly representing its stakeholders.

Q. Did you face any hurdles getting any of your Board appointments?

A. Whilst the under-representation of women on boards is common not just across the Pacific but globally, there is a noticeable shift to ensure that women are adequately represented in key decision-making roles (gender equality and social justice). However, there remains an additional demand for women to ‘prove’ themselves in business and for boards themselves to reform their structures and processes for improved effectiveness.

In my personal experience, my Board membership has been anchored in my professional reputation and action history, professional networks and trusted relationships. However, this has not been completely free of politics played against skills, competencies and commitment to robust and effective decision making.

I had to compete for a position for the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I was nominated by the Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association and voted in by industry colleagues and the Mamas of the Handicraft Association who provided testimony of my competencies.

Q. What do you think needs to be done to ensure there are more women on boards in the future?

A. In Vanuatu, women have been quietly but steadily building capability and representation on boards but very much require locally-driven increased support for this growing representation. This is a self-perpetuating situation— when women see each other achieve we can envision ourselves doing the same, and that accelerates change. In spite of humble leadership being a cultural identifier, there remain stumbling blocks to realising encouraging women leaders in communities and business to leadership pathways.

To shift this narrative, narrators and media have important roles to play.

SOLUTIONS: Encourage media to provide more coverage of relevant industry data, contributions of women on boards and the best practices of companies with diverse boards.

Q. What advice would you give to women wanting board positions?

A. Go for it! Even if you don’t have the confidence, give it a go and learn along the way. Break the mould and have a voice. The investment in time and contribution to these boards will assist in changing and shaping our nation and lives of people for a brighter and sustainable future.


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