The Samoa Files

What's yours is mine By: Dennis A Smith, 8 January 2011-14:50:21

In the first of a series of posts focusing on the principles that we are using to weave our magic here, I share how I see biblical principles blended creatively with the traditional Samoan way of doing things and with Western capitalism to achieve good things, perhaps even miracles.

Laden UteAnyone reading my life story in Samoa would probably consider that when I use the phrase "What's yours is mine" I am about to call it "the national Samoan motto", or the "mind of a thief". But, no, not this time!

Fortunately Prime Minister Tuila'epa in his Christmas message teaches that:
. . . we must obtain food through the sweat of our brows. The parables of the New Testament similarly proclaim that those who seek, shall find. And those also who sow honestly with earnestness, will also reap joyfully.
He also acknowledges that a sector of his own society has missed the mark somewhat. Oh, how tactful a politician he is! So I'll leave THAT Sermon from Samoa penned by the PM and not me, for a change.

[Pic: An overladen ute. A common sight in Samoa. If someone is going somewhere, say into town, then everyone from the family, extended family or village, is up for the lift. What's yours is mine, what's mine is yours is a common Samoan thinking that is basically close to communal living, but with strong family focus.]

One of the principles on which I have founded the SWAP Foundation work in Samoa is that of barter - using what WE have to get what YOU have so that we both benefit and get what we BOTH want. It works both ways in it's best usage.

I've been a barter trader since it seesm like time immemorial, before Bartercard was even born, in fact, and I can see creative ways that Samoa can offer opportunities to barter, exchange, swap and trade what it does have for what it needs.

Another Brit (that's twice I've been quoting Brits recently!) Rachel Botsman who has made it 'downunder' talks about the explosion of collaborative trading that has occurred with the development of Internet technologies and Social Media. She calls it Collaborative Consumption and she wrote most of the book by the name "What's mine is yours!". Her videoed talk made the front page of TED which is where I first "met" her. Fame and fortune will no doubt come her way now, and good on her for making good.

But the idea that we should be trading and exchanging goods and services is nothing new. Global and creative uses of the Internet however has changed the power of barter and working together.

The Good Book exhorts us to use what we have in our hands. God is very pragmatic. Just as as He didn't design monkeys to become humans nor want men to become women or marry men, He seems perfectly capable of engineering His own creative magic with regular people in regular positions in life to do great things.

Much as it is tempting to do, we also shouldn't be trying to be someone we are not. A rural Samoan is generally not and is unlikely to ever become a typical Palagi capitalist. These are people who value family and their culture over possessions and things but they do have a range of priceless experiences available on offer - cultural, social, ecological and so on.

But equally we can't just expect a Palagi to have to sit on a dirty floor somewhere slurping food from a bowl with our fingers, in between swatting flies and mosquitos and fending off dogs, chickens and pigs all after our scraps. We can't just expect Palagi to roll up to a rural village, dish out hundreds of dollars of gifts and just give away everything they own.

But when we combine the two cultures into a way and systems that we can exchange what we have for what we want, we will take the best of both worlds. We're doing exactly that.

Here are just some of the ways that the principles of barter, using what we have to 'get' what you have (What's yours is mine), or put a little less crudely, how we can help you to offer us what you have for what we have (What's yours is mine).

First off let's identify the assets that Samoa has to offer - this is what we have to trade with. Then we will identify what we need - what we are looking for.

Our assets

  1. Land - Samoa has lots of land much of it unused since the 1990 and 1991 cyclones stripped off the coconut trees and cocoa plantations and families exported their best and brightest offshore. Unfortunately for the Palagi they cannot OWN land here but there are ways that land can be used.
  2. People - Samoa has a very large unskilled labour pool, and a large ex-pat community that is passionately "Proud to be a Samoan". Some of them will relocate back home simply because they want to be "at home". This is an asset just waiting to be realised and many would do this given a little encouragement and a reason to do so.
  3. Goodwill - post-Tsunami goodwill toward the country (following a billion dollars of global negative press in September 2009) is in the stratosphere. People the world over are genuinely interested in Samoa and many would love to help if they could and knew how to.
  4. A Giving Gene - There is power in precedent. What I mean by this is that Samoa has been a giving country from the start. It will be healthy and blessed when it returns to it's genetic makeup, that of giving rather than it's current greed and passive receiving. Centuries ago it gave of it's people. It gave of its produce during the German and New Zealand years; and again it's people from the 1960s onwards.
  5. An amazingly rich and unique Island culture. Samoa is different - raw, real and very different. People like and new different experiences. Samoa offers that! Forget trying to compete with Fiji and Bali. Samoa has way more to offer than resorts and bums on beaches!
  6. The last thing that Samoa has to offer as an asset is something that I have come to understand through revelation and that is "God's love". It's certainly hard to find it here, but behind the smiles and in little pockets, it does exist and I believe is waiting to burst forth. The footnote explains this concept further.
To be brutally honest, Samoa is hopeless at marketing and their overpaid advisors are all old-school and flat. They really just don't get it. I doubt that they ever will to be quite honest. When I talk to most Samoans about the assets that they have and how to market them, I get blank stares and the "Yes" nod. The nod that says - yes, yes, yes but really means "What the **** are you talking about?" Others in the game give me words, but they are hollow.

But we do have the above assets that we can begin to trade with.

Our needs

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z
Just fill in the gaps.

D=Dentists, Diggers or Designers. M=Marketing, Magicians and Muesli. It costs me $17.00 WST for a packet of Muesli here can you believe it? Ouch!

But the real secret to the growth and development of Samoa is the only need I see - and it was the first thing and most important message that I shared when I came here: PEOPLE. Samoa just needs people to come and share the culture, share the country and get the message out to the world.

That is the goal of the SWAP Foundation to get Samoa out onto the Internet. In time we will be developing our base from which people from all walks of life can come and do their thing - engaging with Samoa in the way that they want to and spreading the word.

Some are into green projects - others health, sport, food, culture. Samoa is very open to helping and encouraging people to "do their own thing" and the key is that we have systems to help this all happen. In time it will!

So - to the trading and exchanging and examples of how the What's yours is mine thing can outwork . . .

If we get the land we are currently looking at, we will need a digger, to cut a road to the top of the mountain and to prepare for all manner of buildings and projects related to what we will probably call "Club Samoa" an eco-resort/camp/compound of some sort. We can go to the bank, borrow money, pay interest and then try to find the money to pay back the bank. We could seek a grant from an appropriate funder - they certainly exist - and we may be lucky. OR we can simply trust that somebody, somewhere knows someone who has a spare 20 ton digger we can use for the next 6-12 months. New Zealand or Samoa - it matters not.

So if we use Social Media and create an opportunity for some lucky dude to fly up here, enjoy a week or two of fun in the sun checking out the land and the project, AND who can then end up with say 100 bednights in our sparkling new clean, green eco-units (once they are built) - then all he/she has to do is pop a spare digger our way.

But it doesn't stop there. If they just happen to leave the digger here for us to use permanently (anyone who has got a spare digger can probably afford to do that anyway) and they then get 500 bednights for the friends and staff and whoever else they want to let have them, then this is starting to look like a very smart business model in deed. Why didn't I think of that before?

But it doesn't even stop there because this is all just looking at things from Samoa's perspective. We need this and we need that, so we trade and barter and deal with people who have what we want because need something.

But while this is all good and quite necessary, it is essentially quite self-centric. Moving out from our own needs and understanding the goodwill that exists towards Samoa and the massive interest in Samoa, when we offer opportunity to others to do their thing here, and to invite THEM to give what THEY have, we now have real meaning. What say we were to say: "come and give us anything you want - time, photography, journalism, marketing, exposure, computer skills, mechanical repair services, your intellectual prowess, your clothing design skills, your 10,000 book library that you don't know what to do with, your musical skills - WHATEVER ***YOU*** want and we'll give you an experience you'll never forget, or shares in an eco-resort or or or . . . whatever they want."

Now we've not only got What's yours is mine, but we've also got What's mine is yours. That's powerful.

But let's not stop there . . . let's put a system in place where you can benefit from sharing this with your friends and help you to bring your mates. That's now moving into viral marketing and friend-meets-friend and Social Media. A series of principles though for another day!

Systems make money. Systems produce. Systems enable growth. Putting trade into viral marketing systems are where some of the smartest companies on the planet live. Companies such as Groupon, the fastest company ever to a billion dollar valuation (in only 17 months and heaps faster than Google and other high flyers) does exactly this - it employs systems that engage people where they are and then encourage viral. But again that is another principle for another day.

Barter - exchange - collaborative commerce - whatever you want to call it, the principle we are working with is that of exchanging and sharing the assets of two parties, for the benefit of both. The traditional Samoan way does it with food and land and barter. The Palagi way does it with cash and business.

Combining both ways and picking the best of both cultures is our aim. Wish us luck!

In October 2009 in rural Fusi, Safata, centre of the south coast Tsunami zone, I experienced an extended period of revelation over just under a week in which a lot of concepts and ideas flooded into and through me, I believe from the Lord. I relocated to Samoa as a direct result of this life-changing experience and we established the goals and purposes of the SWAP Foundation too as a result of these visions and ideas. One of the concepts that I saw was that the Tsunami had effectively stripped away traditional tourism as primary hope for the development of the country. In asking the Lord "Why? Why allow the destruction of the only real industry left?" I came to see that it is only when we are at the bottom that we truly look up. Except for a minority of humble old-school Samoans who understand the ways of God, and who actually live them out, most of Samoa only pays lip service to God. I believe that the Lord is starting to work with a few people who truly "get it" and that over the coming years, under the radar, as key people look to Him and listen to Him, and actually DO what He is telling them, that Samoa will again become an exporter - an exporter of God's love. Not religion. Maybe not with spectacular multi-million dollar money-making schemes but myriads of people who come to Samoa, engage with it, are touched by it and God, and take back to their countries something of the true Samoan magic - God's love. This understanding is born of a Christian vision, but it has both a biblical and practical outworking.

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The Samoa Files:

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