We have learned a great deal from our work in the Pacific islands since we began this program in 1988. We have had opportunities to discover what ideas work in these environments, and we have become increasingly concerned with the loss of the traditional methods that enabled people to live on small islands for generations without the trappings of the "modern world." Over the years, we realize we have learned as much, if not more, from the people we have worked with in the Pacific islands than we have been able to share with them in the form of skills transfer.

We are now at a turning point in the evolution of the Micronesia and South Pacific Program. This year, the Office of Territorial and International Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has consistently supported our work, was disbanded. By that action, many of the people with an understanding of and concern for the Pacific islands have retired, been let go, or moved to other places in the bureaucracy. Like the islands, the MSPP is in the process of determining how it will be sustainable in a new environment.

A change in focus is something we have been contemplating for some time. Our work has convinced us that the current economic situation in most of the islands is not sustainable, just as the consumption-based economic system in the U.S. is not sustainable. Indeed, any system which is predicated on continuing growth is bound to self-distract over time. The growth of the consumer class and activities which encourage more and more buying and consuming of goods cannot continue in the U.S. The growth of the government bureaucracy, supported by U.S. taxpayer dollars, and the increasing reliance on imported packaged foods cannot be supported over the long run in the island economies.

With this in mind, the MSPP is evolving to encompass in its work a greater emphasis on the integration of the concepts of sustainable community development. This includes concerns about environmental and ecosystem integrity, local economic systems, social and cultural maintenance and support, and issues of values and ethics. We believe it is no longer enough for us to work on projects which have been requested by the agencies with which we work. It is important to begin to look at the long-term viability of the island economies, environments and cultures, and design projects which will be truly sustainable. This means we will look at whether the project will foster a community which will be able to continue to function for future generation s, as well as the current one. It is not our goal to "turn back the clock;" rather, it is critical to examine what we are doing and minimize the negative impacts of current decisions. We must make careful and well-reasoned choices when the resources that sustain us are at stake. These principles apply to the decisions made for a society as large as the United States, just as surely as they apply to small islands such as those found in Micronesia and the south Pacific. In fact, large countries can learn a great deal from small islands, as changes and results of decisions are much more rapidly apparent in the relatively closed ecosystem of an island. Within a geographic context as large as the U.S., it is difficult to determine the impact of a particular de cision made, for example, in a state the size of Oregon. But on small islands, there exists a model for the development of sustainable communities, and larger countries can learn from thoughtfully observing the impacts -positive and negative-of decisions made by the islands.

In recognition of our concern for a greater focus on sustainable community development, the Micronesia and South Pacific Program is becoming part of a larger organization, Connections for Sustainable Communities. The MSPP will continue to offer the services of advanced graduate students and community professionals to transfer skills to island communities, however, we will take a more active role in the development of projects on which we work. In addition to working with local counterparts from island government agencies, we plan to include representatives of nongovernmental organizations on our teams as well as undergraduate students from the several colleges and universities in the Pacific. Our overall focus will increasingly center on issues of sustainability, and in this way, we hope to provide a more lasting and positive impact on the future development of the islands.

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Micronesia and South Pacific Program
5244 University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403 USA
(541) 346-3815; FAX (541) 346-2040

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