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Wiliam Kostka has been appointed as the SPC Micronesia Regional Director recently. He will be stationed at SPC’s Regional Office in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. We asked him a few questions to get to know him a little better:
Can you tell us more about your background?
Growing up in Pohnpei during the 70s and 80s provided me with ample opportunities to connect with nature alongside my father, uncles, brothers, and cousins. Whether fishing, farming, or simply playing, the waters and forests were our playground. In the early 1990s, I became a certified diver and took a step towards showcasing the beauty of Pohnpei by establishing a small tour company named Micro Tours. As I guided visitors through our island, I couldn't ignore the profound changes occurring in our environment. Dying corals and diminishing fisheries signaled the impact of unsustainable fishing practices and coral reef dredging. Native forests succumbed to road construction and clearings for sakau/kava planting, while solid waste and litter added to the challenges.
Determined to address these issues, I learned about the Palau Conservation Society, an organisation making a positive impact in Palau. Motivated by their success, I approached The Nature Conservancy office in Pohnpei, seeking assistance to establish a similar organization. With their support, the Conservation Society of Pohnpei (CSP) was born, starting with a modest $15,000 grant. By the time I transitioned to the role of Executive Director of the Micronesia Conservation Trust in 2006, CSP had grown to include 22 dedicated staff members and an annual budget of approximately $800,000.
Our achievements at CSP were notable, including the establishment of over 15 community-managed protected areas in Pohnpei. We raised awareness about the various factors contributing to environmental degradation and garnered support for our programs, leaving a positive impact on the island's conservation efforts.
Together with my partners and work colleagues, we have done similar things at the Micronesia Conservation Trust across Micronesia and achieved great results. I look forward to working with colleagues and partners at SPC to achieve lasting impacts across the Pacific.
Would you share with us a event or a person that inspired you on your journey ?
My deepest gratitude goes to my parents, wife, and children, as well as all those who have been a steadfast support throughout the years, leaving a lasting impact on both my life and career. I find immense joy in dedicating the positive actions and accomplishments I have achieved to their good names. However, the late Bill Raynor has had the most influence in my career and life. Bill came to Pohnpei from Davis, California, in the 80s. He came to teach at the Pohnpei Agriculture & Trade School (PATS), where he developed a deep love for the people, cultures, and the island itself. Bill's commitment went beyond mere appreciation—he married a Pohnpeian lady, raised a family, and fully embraced the Pohnpeian way of life. Fluent in both the local and high languages of Pohnpei, he cultivated local staples and participated in all the cultural events. Remarkably, Bill even attained the prestigious traditional title of Peliendal, becoming the first foreigner to receive such an honor.
His influence extended into academia and other sectors, as his master's thesis from the University of Hawaii Manoa delved into Pohnpei's unique and complex agroforestry system. This work continues to serve as a valuable guide for smart agriculture practices across the region. Bill's dedication to understanding and integrating into Pohnpei's way of life was truly exceptional. As my work and life mentor, Bill instilled in me the importance of working hard while finding joy in the process. He played a pivotal role in establishing The Nature Conservancy's programs in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the wider region, contributing to the creation of numerous conservation and sustainable development organisations and programs throughout Micronesia. Bill's love for the people of Pohnpei, their cultures, and the environment served as a profound lesson: never take Pohnpei and Micronesia for granted.
His teaching style was marked by a constant encouragement of growth in others, including myself. One notable shared passion was his talent for growing giant yams—a passion that we share. Like Bill, while my own work achievements bring great satisfaction, they pale in comparison to the joy I derive from witnessing the success of those I've supported in becoming accomplished leaders. Today, my happiness is derived from passing on knowledge and skills to a new generation of intelligent and dedicated leaders across Micronesia, echoing the impactful mentorship I received from Bill Raynor. I have never stopped learning, and I feel that everyone can continue to learn new knowledge and skills for as long as they live.
What are your ambitions for the Micronesia office as part of our organisation?
The recent pandemic and other global challenges, such as climate change, have underscored the need for a departure from business as usual. Innovation and a relentless pursuit of sustainable solutions have become critical. In this context, the Pacific Community (SPC) is in a strategic position to contribute significantly to Micronesia and the broader Pacific region by implementing solutions that particularly benefit all our people, most especially our most vulnerable communities.
SPC has already laid a solid foundation and initiated programs and projects with the potential to bring about impactful and lasting changes in the lives of the people. One of the examples among these initiatives is the renewable energy project in Chuuk, a game-changing solution that empowers women, and addresses the needs of our most vulnerable citizens and residents. I feel that one of the key strengths of SPC lies in its ability to enhance the capacity of local organisations, both governmental and non-governmental, as well as the private sector. This capacity building will facilitate their effective utilisation of local and international financing and technical assistance, enabling them to better support their communities.
As the intergovernmental organisation mandated to support Micronesia's development, SPC must transcend the role of merely implementing its own programs and projects. It needs to position itself as a convener, bringing together all development partners in Micronesia. This collaborative approach, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is crucial for avoiding duplication of efforts and fostering genuine cooperation among entities with a shared commitment to serving the same people. While the challenges ahead may be daunting, I feel that SPC's commitment to building collaborations and partnerships is essential. By striving to align efforts around the UN SDGs and other regional and local commitments, SPC will play a pivotal role in orchestrating a harmonised and effective approach to development in Micronesia and the wider Pacific.
A word for the SPC staff and colleagues you will soon be joining ?
One of the lessons I learned early on in my professional life is the profound impact of a well-trained, well-supported, and happy team—it's a recipe for achieving remarkable outcomes. As the newest member of this team, I eagerly anticipate the wealth of knowledge I will gain from each of you. My role is clear—to provide unwavering support to help you realize your highest potential. Transparency is a value I hold dear; I am not hesitant to share my limitations. I encourage you to guide me in improving myself, just as I aim to contribute to our collective growth. I’ve learned that everyone has something unique to offer, and continual learning is the key to unlocking our full potential.
Transitioning from MCT to SPC fills me with excitement, knowing that each day in this new role will be a learning opportunity. SPC's expansive mission promises a wealth of experiences that go beyond the scope of my previous role. Having crossed paths with many of you and worked with some, I look forward to seamlessly integrating into this family. Together, as colleagues and friends, we will embark on a shared mission to enhance the lives of our people.
These are indeed exhilarating times, and I am thrilled to be in the thick of it with you. The opportunity to contribute to the success of Micronesia and its people is a calling we are fortunate to answer. Let's make the most of these exciting times and genuinely work together to make lasting impacts for our people and the generations to come.
Interview conducted by Clotilde Richalet Szuch, SPC Corporate Communications Office