APEC partnership on bilums to boost Papua New Guinea technology sector


The co-founder of Port Moresby-based software company Crysan Technology, Crystal Kewe, said a partnership with Google, the APEC Secretariats in PNG and Singapore, and the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation will aim to sell bilums online. Called the Digital Bilum Project, the aim will be to create an international presence.

Crysan’s Crystal Kewe wants to sell bilums online.

Speaking at the Business Advantage Investment Conference in Brisbane, Kewe said the aim is to create an online forum for the traditional item.

‘The idea behind it is to develop a national platform for bilum weavers or what we call Bilum mamas in PNG to promote and market bilums on a global scale.

‘We are working on a model that we will test during the APEC Leaders Meeting, we will see a major launching, where we will see APEC delegates will have the ability to purchase bilums while they are in the country.

But the focus is fundamentally on promoting traditional bilums—and not those made of synthetic fibres.


Kewe said most bilum weavers do not get an equal share of what they make by the time the bilums are sold.

‘The middle men get most of the share. There is the also the issue that tourists who come to PNG cannot connect with the traditional and cultural significance of those bilums.

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‘A country which does not innovate will stagnate and regress at the peril of its citizens.’

‘So the focus is on promoting traditional bilums in Papua New Guinea.’

Kewe says she will also be working with Westpac PNG and Mastercard to develop a payment gateway.


Kewe, who started her first company with her father when she was 15 (she is now 18), said developing an innovation culture is critical to the future of Papua New Guinea.

‘A country which does not innovate will stagnate and regress at the peril of its citizens.

‘Papua New Guinea is fortunate to have natural resources that have sustained our economy comfortably since independence.

‘There is an urgent need to develop innovation clusters and supportive government policies.’

However, most of these resources are non-renewable and will soon run out.

‘Without innovation I think the country will be doomed when resources run out and there is no inflow of new ideas, businesses and opportunities to sustain the modern economy.

‘There is a need to recognise and modernise all actors in the economy in order to sustain innovation as a critical element of national development.’

Genuine bilums for sale in PNG. Photo: RNZ


Kewe believes there is an urgent need to develop innovation clusters and supportive government policies.

‘Presently institutional actors such as the governments, science and innovation agencies and research and training institutions and the ICT industry do not harmonise because there is a lack of innovation policy, strategic framework and systems that promote innovation to enhance economic growth.

‘We have a small vibrant community of ICT start ups with a membership of over 30.’

‘But PNG is developing a National Innovation Policy.’

Kewe said the innovation policy is focusing on inclusive economic growth which aims to develop, support, fund and guide the development of non-extractive sectors such as cocoa, coffee, copra, fisheries, timber and other ordinary commodities headed by the development of regional innovation hubs.

‘This means that the PNG tech industry will be a key contributor to the changing development landscape in Papua New Guinea.

‘Currently we have a small vibrant community of ICT start-ups with a membership of over 30.

‘We have organised ourselves into the PNG ICT cluster with several of our members already contributing in the education sector, conservation, micro enterprise and other areas using web apps.

‘We are working to raise awareness and link up with international organisations.’

Kewe was a recipient of the 2017-2018 Westpac Young Achievers Category Award at the annual WOW Awards, enabling her to travel to Brisbane for the PNG Investment Conference.

Some of the companies in the PNG Digital ICT Cluster in Port Moresby include:


  1. JUDITH MONA says

    Thanks Crystal. Thats a brilliant idea. Iam frm East Sepik Province, Maprik Dist. We bilim mamas can weave and design different kind of pattern bilim using cooton wool or traditional bush rope bilum. Unfortunately. there is no proper market. I send few bilums to a friend in pom city to sell out but said market was poor, dont know how and why.

    I am really impressed with the idea and will support you should you carry on with what you want to do.
    Am very much interested.


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