I will never forget my first sight of Pitcairn Island, its intimidating beauty, its volcanic cliffs rising from the South Pacific. sense of history, sense of apprehension. I became Pitcairn’s commissioner in September 2003. This was November and I addressed public meeting where we discussed the island’s economic realities and the way forward.
Some 16 months and three visits later, significant infrastructure projects are under way. The economy is being restructured but the essential ingredients for the future – its people – remain divided by complex and still inconclusive trial process.
Whatever the outcome, as Pitcairn comes to terms with its past an essential component in building the future will be to find something better. But how do we change mindsets and will showing people something better in itself be enough?
The need to change mindsets applies to many management situations.
In societies with fixed social stratification, role expectations can be extrapolated from cradle to grave. When speaking out carries consequences, many things remain unsaid and the status quo remains. Power is power.
The first step must be to create an organisation where everyone belongs and feels part of the team, as Maslow described so well in his hierarchy of needs way back in the 1960s. Indeed, one could follow Maslow’s philosophy of building stage-by-stage from security, safety, belonging, esteem and self actualisation, to changing mindsets and developing progressively towards something better – all the time involving everyone at each level of development in tandem with change.
Reforming Pitcairn’s economy and rebuilding its infrastructure take top priority. Once people see change, one way or another, they will have to respond to it.
With my merchant banking background, the economics of Pitcairn seemed relatively simple: another small business, this one precariously balanced and in need of restructure. As income streams gradually reduced over the years, Pitcairn responded by cutting essential services. Time has proved this false economy, which ultimately cost considerably more. The accumulated surpluses built up over the years absorbed the losses until the island economy hit the proverbial brick wall.
Adapt or die? Pitcairn didn’t adapt. It now has an overhead structure for providing essential services but little income. Pitcairn’s economy needs massive support to reach base level and set the stage for growth.
Both the United Kingdom government and the European Union have pumped in funds to help rebuild the island’s infrastructure, while wealth creation projects leveraging off the opportunities which already exist on Pitcairn and the other islands in the group are taking shape. These include investigating fishing quota opportunities, eco and adventure tourism, and creating an industry out of Pitcairn honey, which is one of the purest in the world.
Next year’s budget will tackle social reforms and pension reviews, and investigate options for alternative power. All efforts are geared to repopulation, bringing people home, job creation and better standards of living. Pitcairners themselves both individually and collectively will benefit from economic reform but they must now look to the future to ensure their legacy survives, and ultimately thrives, in the 21st century.
Education is key as rebuilding from the ground up is important for people too. In this instance, education is not confined to children but applies to people of all ages and at all levels. Empowerment by education can mean learning additional skills for more responsible role within the community. The resulting increase in self-esteem and the emergence of new leaders will be hugely important consequences. Initiatives include work with NZIM to redefine education policy and partnering with Dublin’s Trinity College on botanical projects (Pitcairn has 11 endemic plants).
The vision is to create new forward-thinking focus based on communication and respect for everyone’s views on the back of economic and social reform. Understanding, accepting and managing difference is vital, for if we can achieve this at micro level it will be possible to redirect complex interpersonal relationships in small community into positive factor. Pitcairners will be able to see their beautiful island home and their place in the world from global perspective. The future will be built on healthy debate.
Regeneration is vital to balance an ageing population; everything is geared to achieving this. Ultimately, success will be measured by how many of Pitcairn’s children now scattered around the world come home.

Leslie Jaques OBE, FNZIM is president of NZIM Auckland and is currently commissioner of Pitcairn Island.

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