The Woman Behind Samoa’s Biggest Climate Change and Disaster Resilient Project

Some of the ladies working hard behind the scenes at the VCP PMU (l-r) Nola Talaepa-Patu, Papalii Ropeta Lei Sam, Pisaina Leilua-Lei Sam, Anne Milbank, Pupaia Leung Wai.
Some of the ladies working hard behind the scenes at the VCP PMU (l-r) Nola Talaepa-Patu, Papalii Ropeta Lei Sam, Pisaina Leilua-Lei Sam, Anne Milbank, Pupaia Leung Wai.

7 March 2019, Apia Samoa.  A few years ago, the acronym GCF probably wouldn’t register on many people’s minds here in Samoa.

That’s because the GCF, or the Green Climate Fund, hadn’t had any involvement with Samoa and was seen inaccessible..

Fast forward to 2019, GCF is now behind Samoa’s biggest climate change and disaster resilient project to date, the Integrated Flood Management to Enhance Climate Resilience of the Vaisigano River Catchment in Samoa, and now it looks set to add itself to the long list of acronyms that have become a mainstay of Samoan lingo.

And leading the local Project Management Unit that is in charge of seeing this project through to successful completion is a woman who not only knows all too well the magnitude of the mammoth task ahead but is ready and able to take it all in her stride.

Pisaina Leilua-Lei Sam of Tanoale’ia, Vaivase-uta aged 61 is an independent consultant, married and a mother of two grown up children. She holds a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University, a Post Graduate Degree in Development Administration from the Australia National University and a Diploma in Commerce from the University of the South Pacific.

Pisaina has over 10 years’ experience in consultancy work in project management, financial, procurement and contract management, budgeting and strategic planning and more importantly on climate resilience policy and community engagement in Samoa, Tokelau and in the Pacific, having worked on similar projects in the region through her engagement with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

She has extensive experience in grant facility management and ensuring donor funded projects she has been involved with in their management and implementation in the past 30 years meet and comply with funders’ accountability criteria and requirements.

Pisaina has extensive board experience and is a member of the Samoa Ports Authority Board, Audit Committee and has actively participated in many Public Sector Councils and Policy Committees in Samoa and Tokelau over thirty years of her public sector career.

She is the treasurer and member of the Executive Committee of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa Tanoale’ia’s Women’s Fellowship.

She has played an active role in the past 10 years in supporting the many community and church projects as a member of the Tanoale’ia Church Projects Finance and Management Committee responsible for fundraising for church projects such as the construction of a Youth and Community Development Centre; Resourcing of the Community Study Centre and other similar church activities.

Under Pisaina’s leadership of the PMU in addition to the cooperation and support of all Implementing and Collaborating Agencies/Partners and the communities in the Vaisigano catchment that have contributed to good progress achieved so far in moving the implementation and management of the Vaisigano Catchment Project to meeting its financial targets since July 2017.

“I am well aware of the scope, the significance and the challenges of this project. But it’s not about one person or entity, but about everyone involved coming together to do what needs to be done, and achieve the project’s targets” said Ms Leilua-Lei Sam.

The Vaisigano Catchment Project

The Vaisigano Catchment Project or VCP, is worth USD$65 million, or the equivalent of Samoan Tala $165 million, and is co-funded by the GCF, providing USD$57 million, and the Government of Samoa, contributing US$8 million.

The VCP began in July 2017 and is designed to strengthen the adaptive capacity and reduce the exposure to climate risks of all 31 vulnerable communities and villages, infrastructure and the built environment in the Vaisigano Catchment area.

An estimated 26,528 people will directly benefit from the VCP and 37,000 people will be indirect beneficiaries in the Vaisigano Catchment area.

The VCP represents the Government of Samoa’s first GCF approved project and one of the largest of its kind, executed by the Ministry of Finance, the National Designated Authority, with the United Nations Development Programme as the GCF accredited entity, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Land Transport Authority, Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure and the Ministry of Health as the Implementing Agencies or IAs.

The vast area covered by the VCP, from the ridge to the reef, and the number of IAs and collaborating partners, including the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, Samoa Water Authority, Electric Power Corporation, Civil Society Support Programme, Small Business Enterprise Centre and the Samoa Umbrella of Non-Government Organisation, makes the VCP a massive, challenging and comprehensive undertaking.

Since January 2018, much progress has been made on the establishment of mechanisms for implementation including the set-up of the VCP-PMU. A number of studies have been undertaken to inform implementation of the VCP Work Plan and Budget. These included the interdependence study, design studies for drainage, sewage and other infrastructure (river walls and bridge), as well as feasibility and description of selection criteria and viability assessment.

“Progress remains on track against the investment criteria as per the VCP Implementation Plan. For the VCP, the key to its sustainability is community engagement and national ownership both of which have progressed significantly in 2018 due to a number of community participatory activities and consultations in addition to inclusive exchanges between the IAs,” said Ms Leilua-Lei Sam.


The Project Management Unit (PMU)

The PMU is comprised of 15 staff of which 80 percent (12) are females who play various key roles in the VCP implementation plan and working collaboratively with the IAs to ensure the VCP meet the annual financial targets per the Project Document.

The VCP’s IAs and CPs also have a large number of females occupying crucial positions where they have a direct input into project implementation.

The role Pisaina and her PMU team play is instrumental in ensuring that the full benefits of this historic project are realized.


International Women’s Day

It’s women like Pisaina and others like her whose achievements and contributions are being celebrated on International Women’s Day, which is commemorated on March 8th every year.

It recognizes the important role women play in all facets of society and country development. It celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call for action the accelerating of gender parity.

The day is celebrated in Samoa through a series of events hosted by different organizations.

For the United Nations in Samoa, this will in the form of a roundtable for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to be held at the One UN House at Tuanaimato on the day.