“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future”  – Steve Jobs

Sometimes we find ourselves in strange places, and it’s exactly where we’re meant to be.
And by strange, I mean sometimes you’re expecting a large hole in the ground and you get palm trees. We might not feel like we’re on a clear path to where we need to be while in the throes of the planning: responding to emails, shifting diary appointments around, arranging care for the kids and pets, the medicals, packing, the paperwork and bam – you’re in flight to a destination that, up until this point, has been a word on a page and perhaps a handful of photographs.

You’re off on assignment. Destination – remote.

Although I’ve had this experience before in my life, there is always the thrill and fear of the unknown.

I am writing this from the Apeketon Business Hub on Lihir island, the largest island in the Lihir group of islands, 22 km long and 14.5 km wide, in Papua New Guinea’s New Ireland Province. I’ve spent the morning preparing radio scripts for local radio station Trupla FM and writing up some reports from local business owners I have been meeting with throughout my week on island. There is a crisp blue sky, not a cloud in sight, palm trees swaying – oh and it’s raining. At moments I feel very far from home and then I catch the view of an Aussie in shorts and singlet on a jog between the Queenslander style homes surrounding the mining camp and I feel like I’m in a suburb of Australia.

If you read our regular communications from ABV or follow us on social you are probably aware of about our partnership with Newcrest Mining Lihir and what Apeketon Business Hub is. A handful of you will be thinking, ‘Know it? I’ve been!.’ It has been our largest project since our new independent structure and has been the basis of the bulk of our assignments over the past 2 years. For those that would like to know a little more about why I am currently sitting in one of the most remote parts of the world on Lihir Island, PNG – let me bring you up to speed.

ABV strengthens communities through business, yes, it’s the tagline but it’s also the descriptor of what we strive to do. Meaning we help create sustainable businesses for those who need it most. We do this through skills sharing and capacity building and a huge part of our success rests on the shoulders of our passionate and professional SBPs. That’s you guys.

In shifting our business model a couple of years ago to become independently funded, we discovered that a number of large scale corporates who have a huge responsibility to the communities they work in and near, don’t always have the expertise, or time, to ensure those communities survive and thrive around them. That’s where ABV helps.
ABV’s business model is to partner with corporates to deliver impactful corporate social responsibility programs that guarantee sustainable outcomes for communities here in Australia and across our region. And that is exactly what we do for Newcrest Mining. The Australian-based corporation is one of the world’s largest gold mine operators, with one of its most important sites here, on the largest island in the Lihir group of islands in the east of  Papua New Guinea.

I learned yesterday that Lihir is the adopted name, Aniolam is the local name, meaning ‘big island’.

ABV has been in partnership with Newcrest for 18 months and I have worked as part of the team building and implementing Apeketon Business Hub for over a year now. In addition to the monumental task of developing the framework for the actual programs Apeketon would deliver, we had a brand to establish. Letting local Lihirians know about the Hub, it’s services, location, courses available, benefits of doing the training. Working out how to reach locals and spread the message of the Hub as a partnership service from ABV and Newcrest has been a year long task.

And now, with the Hub in full swing supporting local individuals and businesses, it’s a wonderfully rewarding experience to meet the local business owners, face to face, and see life through their eyes. “Tell me a little about how things are going for your business” I’ll ask. I might be met, initially, with a few hesitant looks and before I know it I have 5 pages of notes on everything they’re experiencing as local business operators in a town that has been dominated, in every sense of the word, by a huge gold mine for over 25 years.

There are lots of positives to the mine being here and the locals have an obvious fondness for Newcrest and all it brings in work and economic opportunities. And like running any small business, there are the challenges: Understanding and meeting the expectations of a global operation, gaining access to affordable business support services, managing a network of reliable employees, understanding and defining your unique value proposition as you look left and right at several other small businesses all offering similar services, and one giant customer. “The cake is so small, how will we spread it for everybody?” Local business owner and operator, Mary-Rose asked me during our meeting.

Hearing first-hand how helpful it has been for Lihirian business owners to be able to walk into Apeketon Business Hub and gain access to independent, free business advice, training and mentoring services has been a real thrill.

From 3,500km away in an office in Sydney, it’s not always easy to think you’re having much of an impact. You rely on the experts in monitoring and evaluating to deliver stats and reports on the sustainable outcomes – but it’s not quite the same as the friendly face of a local business owner nodding and smiling at the Apeketon logo on my uniform as we chat in the beaming PNG sunshine.
I was genuinely touched, and scrambled to take notes through an emotional moment as local business operator, Isaac passionately exclaimed “Thank God you guys are here. You really help us strengthen our business. You have a heart for us.”

Australian Business Volunteers