Smart young things: Papua New Guinea’s brightest minds at work [part 1]


Young Papua New Guinean entrepreneurs are helping to reactivate the country’s economy with new ideas and thriving projects. In this two-part special, meet some rising stars who are setting the pace for a reinvigorated innovation nation.

Burger queen Idau Raka and the Boss LAEdy Burgers team. Credit: Pixels Perspective and Mangilea Photography

There could be more than 50,000 small-to-medium businesses (SMEs) in Papua New Guinea, helping power the nation’s economy.

The PNG government wants that number to grow to 500,000 by 2030. This growth will create two million jobs and ultimately SMEs will contribute 50 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

The Prime Minister, James Marape, has said the government will inject K200 million a year for the next 10 years into the sector, as well as offer tax incentives to SMEs.

Often, the SMEs are headed by young PNG entrepreneurs who have had a simple idea and developed it into a thriving business. Here, PNG Now meets six rising stars.

Rebekah Ilhave, 29, Tech whiz, Port Moresby

PNG entrepreneurs

Niunet’s Rebekah Ilave. Credit: Pixels Perspective and Mangilea Photography

Rebekah Ilhave and Co-founder, PNG entrepreneur David Valentine, have created Niunet, a local high-speed wireless network that provides free access in PNG to educational content, including TED talks, open-source textbooks, Wikipedia and video tutorials.

Their education start up aims to help learning institutions deliver targeted educational content to students without internet access. It came about in response to the high cost of the internet in PNG, which they say keeps information out of the reach of young adults in the country.

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Niuinet operates without the need of cellular network data or phone credit. All you need to tap is in a Wi-Fi-enabled device, such as a laptop, tablet, or a smartphone.

Before co-founding Niunet, Ilhave was working as an environmental analyst. ‘We were doing community outreach in some of the most remote parts of the Gulf Province, to talk about conservation and resource management with them,’ she says.

‘Some of the villages there had schools that only went up to Grade 2, and had a four-hour canoe trip to the nearest clinic. It was heartbreaking.

‘That night my team leader told me something I’ll never forget: “How can we talk with these people about working with us, when their basic needs like health and education aren’t being met?” That struck a chord with me, and it resonated with me for another year before I quit my job. I started developing Niunet full-time, and now I’m so much closer to living life in line with my beliefs.’

Idau Raka, 38, Burger queen, Lae

Burger queen Idau Raka and the Boss LAEdy Burgers team. Credit: Pixels Perspective and Mangilea Photography

Just two years after Raka started selling hamburgers in Lae, she has a following of 3000 people on Facebook for her Boss LAEdy Burgers homebased business.

Customers place their orders online and pick up from her house daily. Lamb kofta burgers, kumul burgers, wicked (chicken) wings and hot mess chips are some of the favourites on the menu, which ranges in price from K5–K30.

Raka runs the business while maintaining a full-time job with a courier and parcel company, but is helped by her supportive family – aunty Darusila Ranu, nephew Vian Kevon and her son Jack T Raka during school breaks.

‘My passion for cooking and being creative in the kitchen were the two main factors that nudged me to start my journey,’ she says.  ‘As well as that, I wanted to create a second income because I realised my fortnightly pay wasn’t enough to support my family of five.’

Boss LAEdy Burgers started in 2018 and early sales and the strong following on Facebook gave her confidence to invest back into the business in 2019. This year she is putting money aside for future investment.

Dean Arek, 26, Digital content provider, Port Moresby

Digital content provider Dean Arek. Credit: Pixels Perspective and Mangilea Photography

In 2016, the world came to Port Moresby in the form of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

Arek, just out of his teens, noticed that many of the soccer fans arriving into the country at that time were pleasantly surprised by what they found, despite the widespread negativity they had seen about Papua New Guinea on the internet.

Arek recalls that online searches about PNG automatically brought up stories about corruption, violence and even cannibalism.

He set about righting the wrong and started building web sites to showcase PNG in a positive way.

‘I wanted to counteract all the negativity online,’ he says.

The web sites kickstarted his entrepreneurial life in digital content creation and today he runs his own photography, videography, graphic artwork and web site creation business, called proficienteC.

His passion for digital content can keep him going 48 hours without sleep. ‘It really sets my soul on fire. I love what I do,’ he says. ‘The challenge of operating in a space that has very little structure and norms is the greatest form of motivation there is. What’s even better is I know so many amazing creators who are living their dream life through digital content creation.’

Arek has two photographers (one permanent and one casual) engaged in his photography business, which operates under the arm of Pixels Perspective. (You can see some of their work in this issue of PNG Now.)

He does most of the graphic design work but outsources when the workload gets too big. He is looking at expanding his team in the area of social media management.

The article ‘Smart Young Things: PNG’s Brightest Minds at Work’ was first published in the September 2020 issue of PNG Now

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