Christina Lasaqa, Our Telekom’s new and first woman CEO, describes her December 2021 appointment as a “massive achievement for women” in the country’s telecommunications sector “because it's been a male-dominated industry since its establishment”.
She says “it's a significant achievement both for the company as well as for myself and my family”.
One major project Ms Lasaqa will oversee as CEO is the recently announced partnership between the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and Our Telekom to roll-out mobile money services in Solomon Islands.
She says the national rollout of mobile money will boost access to financial services and reduce the digital divide in the South Pacific nation.
UNCDF, through its flagship Pacific Digital Economy Programme (PDEP), will work closely with Our Telekom to test, launch and support the adoption of the service at a national scale, especially among targeted segments such as youth, women, and micro-enterprises.
PDEP is jointly implemented by UNCDF, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD), with funding support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
According to Ms Lasaqa, while mobile money services have the potential to boost economic growth and productivity, other challenges in the country around policy and infrastructure would also need to be addressed.
The UNCDF Pacific team interviewed Ms Lasaqa about her plans as CEO, the significance of her appointment and the objectives of the mobile money project with UNCDF.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
What's your advice to women in Solomon Islands who now see you as a role model and may see themselves reaching the same heights you have one day?
Christina: My advice is, if you are a hard worker, and you are driven, goal-oriented,
disciplined and dedicated, success will meet you. Having the right attitude and spirit to your work is of high importance in such a prestigious company. Your work ethic is a must. And you never stop learning. Because if you learn, you will grow and you will teach others by your example. What is also important is to embrace the challenges. You will do more when challenges come. That will lead you to more success.
What are your short-term and long-term goals as the new CEO?
Christina: We will continue with what we are doing currently, but what I'm looking at now is collaboration between donors and the company. Recently we have received donor funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to help build six towers for border controls, which does assist our company in moving forward. More collaboration with stakeholders and building partnerships with stakeholders that can drive, especially, digital financial services in the country is my vision for the company now. And building on that vision is continuing the expansion of our infrastructure in the rural areas as well as the urban centres and improving the quality of services in order for Solomon Islanders to have more access to internet and digital services which are affordable to the community.
Our Telekom will soon be launching mobile money in Solomon Islands in a joint project with UNCDF. What kind of impact do you think mobile money can have on the daily lives of Solomon Islanders, especially during crises like COVID-19 or cyclones?
Christina: Such services will close the gap in connecting people to shop online and transfer money to families and friends online, both domestically and internationally. It will reduce the transaction costs that people are experiencing now. And, as more people own mobile phones, there will be more and easier access to financial services to the underserved rural areas in the Solomons. For the informal sector in Solomon Islands, we see a gap in accessing financial services. But with the mobile money service being launched and introduced, this will definitely close that gap.
What kind of impact do you see the introduction of mobile money having on the broader financial ecosystem in Solomon Islands?
Christina: International remittances have been increasing recently due to the labour
mobility scheme in the Solomon Islands. Most transactions were conducted via Western Union services. These transactions are quite costly for the locals here. Mobile money will bring more liquidity into the economy, which will probably have some effects on the financial system in the country as well.
How do you think women, specifically, can leverage mobile money to build resilience and develop economically?
Christina: I think the quality and access to financial services via mobile can bring
productivity and growth to their livelihoods, as well as to market their products. Like I've said, quality and access are very important for our customers, especially women, as well as the other groups and those who do business on transactions. Having the right product will definitely improve their livelihoods.
What kind of challenges do you foresee during the development and implementation phase of mobile money and how do you think these challenges can be addressed?
Christina: Solomon Islands is a cash economy and people prefer to exchange goods and services with cash. In regional areas, cash is still the major requirement for any exchange of goods and services. But driving more digital payments services, like mobile money, into the country will certainly change that attitude around cash payments.
Policies and regulations have to be aligned as well with any new financial services or digital financial services introduced into the country.
Currently, Our Telekom alone, we have about 80% coverage across the country. We have been upgrading our 2G network to 3G and 4G in the regional areas. This will certainly assist with driving the mobile money services in the most remote as well as the rural areas.
The UN Capital Development Fund makes public and private finance work for the poor in the world’s 46 least developed countries (LDCs). UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development. UNCDF’s financing models work through three channels: (1) inclusive digital economies, which connects individuals, households, and small businesses with financial eco-systems that catalyse participation in the local economy, and provide tools to climb out of poverty and manage financial lives; (2) local transformative finance, which capacitates localities through fiscal decentralisation, innovative municipal
finance, and structured project finance to drive local economic expansion and sustainable development; and (3) investment finance, which provides catalytic financial structuring, derisking, and capital deployment to drive SDG impact and domestic resource mobilisation.