World Bank Group

03/02/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 03/02/2021 08:10

Leading the Way in Solomon Islands: Shalom Akao Waita

Were you always involved in sports?

I'd always been interested in sports, even as a young kid. And I always had a very competitive nature, especially as I am the eldest daughter with three brothers. I am from Malaita and, culturally, girls have a particular role. I remember playing outside until dark with mostly boys and my mum calling me to come back inside because, as a girl, I should be helping with the cleaning and making dinner. Times have changed a lot since then, but I wouldn't change my childhood for the world.

My Dad was sent to study at Pacific Theological College in Fiji in 1989 and so we moved, and I have many fond memories from growing up there. That exposure of living abroad set the foundation for how I view the world and my confidence to not shy away from challenging situations. 

How did you get into your current role? What inspired you to start working in your field?

I have a long-standing relationship and professional affiliation with sport, having worked with netball training programs for young girls for many years and I am now also involved in the Tennis Federation. I was also the Chairperson of the Solomon Islands National Olympic Committee, Women in Sports Commission and I worked for gender equality with UN Women, as well as in Education as a Development Programme Coordinator with the New Zealand High Commission in Solomon Islands and as a Senior Program Manager with the Australian High Commission in Solomon Islands. All of my experiences have culminated in this new and exciting role. 

 I will say, however, that it was a good friend of mine who actually talked me into applying for the CEO role when it was advertised. It's an example that women need to believe in themselves a lot more and also need to encourage each other as often and as much as we can. 

What has been the greatest highlight in your career? 

Having the opportunity to represent my country in netball in 2015. Netball is my favorite sport and so representing my country through a sport that I know and love, and especially being able to do that when I was in my mid-30s and with three young kids, was, in itself, a highlight! 

 I would also have to say teaching. Using my teaching background and having the opportunity to teach others and shape young minds - empowering young people is a great passion of mine. And, of course, my current role as the first female CEO for the Organizing Committee of the 2023 Pacific Games. It is such a huge honor. 

Do you think the pandemic has created any positive changes for gender equality in Solomon Islands?

Seeing women leaders in government having to be more front and center during the pandemic has been really good. While many women have lost their jobs, which has been hard to navigate through together, it has forced women into spaces to discover other talents and provided a platform for women to try new things.

 This year's IWD theme is 'Women in Leadership'. Is there a female leader that inspires you? 

I can't say just one. There are so many women who have inspired me, in small and big ways. My mother, grandmother, my aunties, a few female friends, people that I have worked with, other women in leadership that I have come across in my career - they have all demonstrated to me that women need to continue to build each other up and support each other. 

 What do you think needs to be done to ensure more women end up in leadership positions in Solomon Islands?

In addition to supporting each other as women, I think the men in our families and in our communities also must be champions for women to support us to achieve our dreams.

When we returned from New Zealand after I had completed my studies in 2008, I went straight to work, and my husband stayed at home to take care of our children. People in Solomon Islands thought this was strange for a man, but we didn't see it that way at all because we were on the same team when it came to our family. It didn't matter if my husband was washing the clothes or caring for the children while I went to work. We were taking care of our family and it's important that our children see that too. Over time, hopefully we can see shifts in gender norms and more support for women in leadership roles as a result. 

Do you have any advice for other Pacific Island women?

Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something. Always believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who build you up, not drag you down. It won't always be easy, but with the right people to guide you that you trust you can fulfill your dreams.   

Shalom Akao Waita can be heard as part of a special International Women's Day edition of the Pacific-focused Vosa podcast that explored gender equality in the Pacific. You can listen here. 

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**The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.