A ride on positive network

THE latest Solomon Islander to be conferred with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) has attributed his journey to the positive networks he had developed over the years.

Dr. Derek Futaiasi was conferred his PhD at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, through the School of Regulation and Global Governance, on Tuesday 12th December 2023.

“My PhD journey was a culmination of networks that were the products of the good friendships and relationships I formed and treasured from my undergraduate studies through my public service days to the PhD level.”

Dr. Derek says these networks provided spaces and platforms to exchange ideas, and make sense of these ideas through dialogues to suit the realities these ideas represent.

“Like others who have walked the PhD journey, it was challenging, but at the end rewarding,” he adds.

The title of his PhD thesis is “Nodes and Networks: The Governance of Constituency Development Funds in Gizo/Kolombangara and Baegu/Asifola, Solomon Islands“.

“Basically, it examines state-society relations and how such relations influence the governance of constituency development funds in Solomon Islands, with case studies on two constituencies” he explained.

His supervisors were Professor Miranda Forsyth of the School of Regulation and Global Governance at ANU, Distinguished Policy Fellow James Batley of the Department of Pacific Affairs, ANU’s Coral Bell School of Asia and the Pacific and Associate Professor Tarcisius Kabutaulaka of the University of Hawaiʻi.

Professor Miranda who spent eight years from 2002 to 2009 teaching law at the USP School of Law at Emalus Campus became fascinated by the question of how Pacific islands legal systems could develop to meet the different justice needs of the populations.  

Her time teaching at Emalus Campus involved considering how customary law and state law could work together in mutually supportive ways.  

“When I left Vanuatu and went to work at the Australian National University in Canberra, I determined very much to continue this work, and to be a bridge for legal scholars in the Pacific islands region who wanted to study their PhD at the ANU.

“I was delighted to have Dr. Derek Futaiasi as one of my first PhD students, and I am so proud of him and the thesis he has produced.  It examines the ways that governance and regulation occur not just at the national level, but also through much more local structures such as village committees.  Dr. Futaiasi was driven to do his PhD through his motivation to find governance structures that are appropriate and relevant for the Solomon Islands,” Professor Miranda said.

Another of his supervisors Associate Professor Tarcisius Kabutaulaka said it was an honor serving as a member of his PhD dissertation committee.

“Dr. Futaiasi is an independent thinker and is self motivated. It was an honor being part of his PhD journey, and I learned a lot from his research. It is always great to play a role in mentoring the next generation of Solomon Islanders,” he added.

Dr. Derek said his supervisors were very supportive, admitting that he would not have reached this far without them throughout this PhD journey.

He said the pathway to PhD was also informed by other experiences and networks formed over the years since his secondary school days at Saint Joseph’s Catholic National Secondary School.

Dr. Derek eventually completed his Form Seven in 2003 at the King George Sixth National Secondary School in Honiara.

In 2004, the Solomon Islands Government provided him a scholarship to study for the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) at the University of the South Pacific’s Law School, Emalus Campus in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Dr. Derek says, “An experience I treasure as an undergraduate student was in 2007 where I met Dr Transform Aqorau through that legal fellowship program at Forum Fisheries Agency. Dr Aqorau was instrumental in encouraging me to pursue this PhD.” 

Professor Aqorau is now the Vice Chancellor of the Solomon Islands National University (SINU).

In July 2009, after completing the Professional Diploma in Legal Practice (PDLP), he was given a USP Graduate Assistant Scholarship to study for the Master of Laws (LLM) at USP Law School in Vanuatu.

After a short time with Global Lawyers – a private law firm in Honiara, and the Solomon Islands Law Reform Commission, he moved to the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC). He started as the Assistant Secretary to the Prime Minister for a year, then as a Deputy Secretary to Prime Minister for three years before he left OPMC in 2018.

The Australian National University (ANU) through the School of Regulation and Global Governance provided him with scholarships to undertake doctoral studies namely: the Australian Government Research Training Program International Fee-Offset Scholarship and Australian Government Research Training Program International Scholarship.

The COVID-19 crisis affected his studies. He therefore had to reschedule the timeline for his studies. He was thankful that ANU extended his time through the ANU COVID-19 Scholarship, the ANU Higher Research Degree (HDR) Fee Remission Merit Scholarship and the ANU Postgraduate Research Scholarship. Fieldwork for the PhD was supported by the ANU Vice-Chancellor’s Higher Degree Research Travel Grants.

Dr. Derek was also a research fellow for Regional Perspectives Project based at The University of Adelaide in early 2023, but left in July 2023 because of family commitments.

Following the conferment of his doctorate on 12th December, 2023, Dr. Derek is keen to go back to the Solomon Islands Public Service to be public servant.

“I enjoyed civil service and would like to see some of the issues I raised in my PhD project given effect, if given the opportunity to do so,” he quipped.

Dr. Derek reiterated that in general, coupled with the need to form healthy networks, one of the takes from this doctoral journey was that state-society relations in Solomon Islands will continue to demand an ongoing rethinking and commitment that requires time, sacrifice, energy and compassion of every generation.

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