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Meet Gianluca in Solomon Islands

Our “ASI Game Changers” series introduces the people who make our work possible, and allows us to learn about what drives them in their quest to create lasting impact in some of the world’s most challenging, complex environments. In this edition, we speak to our colleague Gianluca Nardi, Business Partnerships Director in Solomon Islands.

  • Name: Gianluca Nardi 
  • Role: Business Partnerships Director (Women’s Economic Empowerment, Social Inclusion and Agriculture) – Strongim Bisnis 
  • Location: Honiara, Solomon Islands 

What’s your big “why”? What’s the positive change/impact you and others in your field are trying to achieve and what are some of the challenges you face whilst doing so? 

Markets profoundly impact our lives, but they often fail to include everyone or reach their full potential. With an academic background in economics and experience as a business consultant in Italy and Brazil, I transitioned to international development to make a more positive impact. Working with NGOs in various countries broadened my understanding of the market economy’s potential and shortcomings, including the wealth, empowerment, inequality, and exclusion it generates. 

For 15 years, I lived and worked in Brazil, witnessing the striking contrast between its vibrant emerging economy and extreme inequality, where slums exist alongside affluent financial centres. In São Paulo, the highest concentration of private helicopters in the world hoovers over a vibrant city but with thousands of homeless people living underneath. It also became even clearer how some groups have more access to opportunities than others and how gender inequalities, ethnicity and disability can affect people’s ability to fulfil their potential.  

My family background has instilled in me an understanding of the challenges faced by those with disabilities, the significance of strong women as leaders, and the discrimination endured by minority groups. A close relative I admire deeply displayed great resilience despite her severe disability, while my grandmother, an early orphan, became a trailblazing female executive and single-handedly raised her ten younger siblings and later her own two children. 

Our goal is to help markets reach their full potential, and positively impacting everyone involved without discrimination. The main challenge is long-term sustainability, which requires understanding market dynamics, inclusion, and exclusion while balancing stakeholder partnerships and strategy adaptation. 

Our work’s impact isn’t immediate, as some changes take years to manifest. Our local staff, with their in-depth knowledge of local dynamics, drive our achievements. Passionate about giving back to their communities, they are deeply connected and dedicated to making a difference, working tirelessly to create lasting change. 

If you could write your own job title that best describes what you do here, what would it be? 

Essentially, we’re Market Systems Facilitators. We could be compared to workers on old times trains. We support the guys that throw the coal into the furnace of the steam engine to start it, help develop the railroad map, facilitate tickets that grant access to everyone. However, our work is indirect, focusing on research, incentives and persuasion to make it all happen! 

What do you like about working in a global development company? 

Being a part of a global development company allows me to actively contribute to significant positive changes on both national and, at times, global levels. Collaborating with people from diverse backgrounds and countries offers incredible opportunities to learn, grow, and exchange valuable insights from similar experiences in our field. For example, our Women’s Economic Empowerment and Social Inclusion strategies have been shaped by the lessons learned from ASI programmes in the DRC (ÉLAN RDC) and Timor Leste (TOMAK). In return, our team shares our knowledge and experiences, ensuring the continuous flow of information and learning across the globe, driving meaningful change together. 

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your project/at work right now?

We are approaching the final phase of our six-year project, Strongim Bisnis. We’re witnessing significant changes in most of the sectors we’re working in. In other sectors, where we have more recently started, we are starting to understand the right direction to take in the next phase.  

For instance, we start to see women and youth organisations like WARA, YECSI and Dreamcast functioning in a more effective way and reaching out to more people, business development services providers, like Dignity Pasifik, focussing on social inclusion, starting to thrive. The cocoa and coconut sectors are now focussing more on profitable market opportunities involving added value processing. Horticulture products retailers are trying new solutions involving online sales and home delivery. 

These small, everyday changes drive our activities as we eagerly await the tipping points. 

What movements or discussions inspire you generally right now? 

I’m particularly captivated by – big surprise! (laughs) – discussions surrounding market regulations and interventions necessary for markets to function properly and be more inclusive.  

For instance, can the market economy be socially inclusive and environmentally friendly without strong legislation and regulation? Is the business case for women’s economic empowerment, social inclusion, and environmental protection self-sufficient without government (or with just minimal) intervention? Can market-based approaches alone achieve women’s economic empowerment, social inclusion, and positive environmental outcomes? These sort of questions continuously pop up when designing or implementing many of our partnerships. 

Moreover, how can we stimulate social change while respecting local culture and traditions? A prime example of tackling the latter is Dr. Alice Pollard, President of the indigenous West ‘Are ‘Are Rokotanikeni Association (WARA). She demonstrates that change occurs when strong local leaders use their voice and example to inspire the changes they believe in. After all, change can’t be imposed from the outside. 

What volunteering or passion projects do you do outside of work? 

I’m passionate about my two children, Mateus and Manuela, who visited me in Solomon Islands before returning to Italy, where they are currently studying. They had a lot of fun, made friends, connected with the local culture, and Mateus even sparked a memorable classroom discussion on gender and sexuality. Though it began hesitantly, the discussion eventually touched upon themes of kastom (pidgin word used to refer to traditional culture, incl. religion). I admire his courage to address taboo subjects and leave a lasting impression on everyone. 

Outside of family, I enjoy outdoor activities like running, swimming, and scuba diving. Living in Solomon Islands offers the opportunity to explore pristine coral reefs, which are sadly threatened by environmental destruction and pollution.  

What’s a quality a game changer should have and what’s your ambition to be one? 

A game changer ought to be (or at least try to be) selfless, always keeping the bigger picture in mind while working to develop projects and teams and getting them to the next level. They should be team players, nurturing staff growth and success, and be willing to take calculated risks while standing firm on their principles. I had the opportunity to know some amazing leaders in this country and they all are people with big dreams, talent but also courage and even stubbornness in the face of adversities. Some of them are young people, which gives me optimism. 

Most of the times, a lot of small, invisible changes need to consistently happen over time to eventually reach a tipping point. It is a matter of focus, persistence and stamina rather than magical silver bullets, like the many thousands of steps that make a marathon. 

My ambition is to maintain the persistence and energy needed to facilitate these small changes consistently, and to have the privilege of witnessing tipping points reached and significant transformations taking place from time to time.

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