PNG University of Technology 49th Graduation Keynote Address by Serena Sumanop

Theme: “Leading Change with Innovation for development and sustainable societies”

On Friday 21st April, 2017, Serena Sumanop, Chairperson and Co-founder of The Voice Inc. was invited to address the graduating students of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology, as the keynote speaker. We share with you her speech, hopes and challenge to the graduating leaders.

Alexandra Abao, an alumni of the Leadership Development Program receiving her Degree during the 49th PNG UNITECH Graduation

Acting Chancellor Jean Kekedo, Pro-Vice Chancellor Peter Eafeare, Vice Chancellor, Dr Albert Schram and your Executive Management Team, Distinguished Guests most importantly graduands of the 49th Graduation Ceremony of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology, I am both humbled and privileged to address you today as your keynote speaker for your graduation. Today marks the successful completion of one chapter of your life as you receive your degree in the presence of your family –those with you physically and those who have passed on but you carry in your hearts-and friends who have been with you on this journey for close to two decades.

After four years of tireless study, head breaking exams, assignments and the anxiety that comes with wondering if you’ll pass a course, you can breath a sigh of relief that you have made it! University studies would have broadened your perspectives and hopefully also challenged some of your own preconceptions about the world for the better, Finally I hope if anything else University studies has awakened a curiosity about the world and deep hunger for learning.

The theme of this year’s graduation ceremony that I will be speaking to is “Leading Change with Innovation for development and sustainable societies”. My husband and I believe strongly in the potential of this generation to lead the type of sustainable change that PNG needs so despite the fact that this has been a very challenging period for me personally I am here to share a few insights that I have learnt in my own journey.

My speech will cover three broad themes in as short and succinct way possible and conclude with a call to action.


Our Changing Context

 The first theme I would like to speak to is leading in a changing context. Graduands I believe that two of the most important questions that you need to ask yourselves as the next generation of Nation Builders are:

  1. What will change look like?
  2. What will be my unique contribution towards this change?

The first question is about our collective vision as a society and the second question is about your unique talent and gifting and what you are able to bring to this process of change and development.

PNG is a nation in transition having gone through enormous changes in the last century. We come from a beautiful and ancient land. For thousands of years before the arrival of western civilization our people have lived in harmony with the land, environment and each other. There were strong social structures that held the community and people together.

It is against this setting that we had the first generation of nation builders emerge, the generations of our fathers. Many of them had to walk for hours to get an education, deal with the imposition of a foreign language and embrace values that were different to those of their cultural background. I can only imagine the challenges that generation would have gone through. 

There is another generation that has emerged, the generation of their children, the likes of some of you, who have grown up with less of the confusion, quality education, the technological and internet era, better road access and connectivity through social media and most importantly your generation has grown up under the banner of a nation state. It is from this threshold that you stand with degrees in hand and the weight of responsibility to take our young nation forward.

In the Constitutional Planning Committee Report our founding fathers wrote and I quote:

“At this stage of our political history we must all be concerned with the vital but difficult task of building a nation. True nation-building, however, especially in a land with people as diverse as ours cannot be achieved by the central government imposing its will through bureaucratic processes. True nation-building can come only through the active involvement and meaningful involvement of the people in their own development.

In 2005 when I was in my first year of studies at the University of PNG I remember reading this very report that set out the basis from which our Constitution was drafted. We seemed to have it right on paper but the Papua New Guinea that I was a part was far from the wise words that were penned by those that wrote it three decades ago. As my colleagues and I began to learn more about the Constitution and the Institutions that it established and all these wonderful development and legal frameworks our country had it sparked enormous debate and endless conversations as we discussed politics and issues of the day that was affecting us. We began to realize that the future we desired would not miraculously happen if we did not actively engage and begin taking positive steps forward by using our voice and education to become agents of change ourselves.

My course mates and I came together and started what was then a student organization that promoted law awareness in communities. That was the humble beginnings of The Voice Inc., an organization I had the privilege of leading for the last ten years as a student and now a mid-career professional.

I have watched God take what was an idea in my mind and bring along-side capable men and women from PNG and abroad and transform it into a fully-fledged organization. Our message has reached thousands of young people through our leadership program at three Universities, our radio programs, youth magazine. I have come to see that God will outwork a vision he has placed in your heart if you are faithful with what is in your hands.

Ladies and gentlemen this brings me to my second point about working together to create a sustainable future. As a nation we are not short of vision. From our National Goals and Directive Principles to Vision 2050 where we as a Nation aspire to be Smart, Wise, Fair and Happy by 2050 to the Stars Road Map for Responsible Sustainable Development we want to be a nation that authentically carries on its rich cultures and traditions and builds a developmental model that is sustainable and forms the basis of the legacy we will pass on to our children. But vision will continue to remain words on paper if men and women like you and I do not rise to the task of owning it and driving it forward.

To illustrate this I’d like to speak of two former students of this University who are creating a sustainable future by using what is in their hands. The first is Rosemary Korowali, an Architecture graduate from this University who co-founded an organization called Sago Network which is made up of a volunteer team of design and development professionals focused on facilitating community development projects that bring together the skill and energy of designers, architects, engineer in partnership with local communities. They have done water and sanitation projects for rural communities in different parts of Morobe and recently in Central Province which has improved the lives of thousands of people in those communities. Rosemary Korowali’s efforts was recognized with her receiving a Design and Build Excellence Award and Scholarship to do her Masters at the University of Westminster in London in 2015. I’ve had countless conversations with her over coffee and she has the ability to clearly articulate her part in contributing to sustainable change in PNG.

Another change maker from this University that I greatly admire is Jimmy Drekore, founder of Chimbu Children’s Foundation. In 2004 Mr. Drekore met a ten year old girl at a hospital. She was abandoned at the hospital after she was brought in for treatment of injuries sustained in a car accident. She had been living in the hospital for seven years entirely alone and completely abandoned. Determined to help, Jimmy called upon his community in the to help that young girl and other children in need of medical care. He pulled together a team of volunteers to support this initiative and in 2013 he left his paid employment as an engineer to dedicate himself 100% as a volunteer. He now runs a fully sustainable orphanage in Simbu where him and his wife provide a home for children that are orphaned. His foundation also provides medical treatment to disadvantaged children through Project Brave Hearts” which funds paediatric cardiac patients and a guardian to travel to the Port Moresby for CT scans and heart surgery. The Foundation also initiated and funded medical research into Osteomyelitis, a bone infection caused by bacteria that is prevalent among children of Simbu Province. This research led to the development of a much more effective treatment regimen that now allows children to recover from this painful disease in a fraction of the time it took before. His work was recognized when he received the prestigious World of Children Award in America and was also given the Men of Honour Award by Digicel.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are two ordinary people who once sat in a graduation ceremony like you today but have resolved to do much more with their degree than just make money, they are making a difference and PNG is becoming better because of people like them.

This leads me to my third and final point, that in order to effectively lead sustainable change you need to make sure you count the cost for change. The bible clearly tells us in Luke 14:28 that no builder goes to start constructing a building before first counting the cost, for if he lays the foundation and does not complete the building he will be ridiculed.

For everything in life there is a cost that you need pay to derive a benefit. People who have sought to bring about significant change have had to forgo enormous comforts today to sacrifice for the future they see in their minds tomorrow. Close to nine years ago as a young 21 year old God put a burning vision in my heart to start The Voice Inc. as He awakened me to the power of this generation to stand together as a “Clean Generation”., a generation driven by purpose, united by common values and responsible in their actions. At 25 years of age I resigned from my job as a litigation lawyer and stepped into the unknown. I had to learn a completely new skill set-project management, corporate governance, program design and facilitation. The last few years have been the most uncomfortable as I was thrown into the deep end of paying for rent, having to make sure we had sufficient cash flow to pay salaries for staff, a burden that would keep me up all night. I would ask myself countlessly why I bothered when all my colleagues were out there enjoying their lives and pursuing their own individual careers.

Fast forward close to 10 years later, little did I know that being faithful to a dream God placed in my heart that it would open up doors of opportunity including now being the youngest member appointed to the Oil Search Ltd, Board of Directors Training Program as an Independent Committee Member to the Board sub-committee for Health, Safety and Sustainability.

But through the triumphs I have also faced significant pitfalls where I have had to count the cost to continue on this journey for change. One of my greatest challenges was losing my son last year at 8months in the womb because I was not given adequate medical attention.

My sons name is Gideon Saphirus and there is not a single day that goes by that I do not shed tears for him and feel like quitting because of the bitterness of his loss. We named him after one of our favourite Bible Characters found in the book of Judges. I have always related to the story of Gideon because to me he was the reluctant leader who was quite happy to continue hiding in the shadows pressing his wheat happy to not be involved or engaged with the enemy of his day the Medianites, some of you may know the story, God spoke to him and said, Gideon you mighty man of valour, the Lord is with you. Gideon resisted what God was saying to him because of his own insecurities but after many signs God allowed him to successfully lead the Israelites to conquer the Medianites not through using swords but through raising their voices.

So young men and women, I bring this back to you. I know sitting in this room are a lot of relucent leaders, I know I was once a reluctant leader and in some ways I am still today. But I ask you if we continue to keep our voices silent what is the cost? Corruption will continue to fester, babies like my sweet Gideon will continue to die, we will cripple a generation who will not have had the educational resources they need to be critical thinkers. There is too much at stake to continue to be silent and work in the dark. I implore you to step out into the light and use your collective voice to bring down the forces that continue to suppress our people. Your generation needs to be part of a generation that has a different mindset and thinks differently. I challenge you to:

  1. Learn about how the world works. You can’t fight your enemy if you do not know anything about him or her. Don’t be content with this degree plan your second or get your Masters. Read avidly across a range of topics. Understand the rules of the games, who sets the rules and what the incentives are for change;
  2. Do not forget your roots, respect the wisdom of your elders but also know when to challenge authority when things are not right;
  3. Be humble, always be humble in all that you do. Humility is not shown in how you dress or outer appearance but through a posture of the heart. Humble people are willing to fail and learn from mistakes. They forge on into new territories and frontiers extending our current reality for the better.

So I’d like to end with revisiting the questions that I opened up my speech with -what does change look like to you and what is your role in contributing to that change? I challenge you to find answers to these questions and be serious about your role in nation building. Thank you and I wish you the best in your future.

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