Urith Toa. Photo: Paul Dymond

Urith Toa is Executive Assistant to the board and CEO of the PNG Rugby Football League. Prior to this role, she worked in a number of  communication and executive support roles including at the community support organisation The Voice Inc. She was a participant in the 2018 Australia-Papua New Guinea Emerging Leaders Dialogue.

Tell us about your current work and the path you took to get there.

I currently work in sports administration, serving in the Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League. I’ve always been into sports and as years passed connecting with sports programs and my own personal passion for sports – especially our national rugby league competition and team – it became something I felt I wanted to be more involved in because it wasn’t just about the games or teams, but about the platform that it brings for changing mindsets.

I was presented with an opportunity to travel with a national team in 2016 and it really encouraged me to stay involved and connected to sports mentors and programs, like High Performance Sports PNG. This led to an opportunity again through the media to travel with athletes in 2017 and it allowed me to see the work they do and also the impact of sports on their lives and what opportunities it presented – opportunities that they may not have gotten outside of their respective codes. These experiences reinforced what I’d gained from working with young people at The Voice Inc. It further strengthened my belief in these positive and nurturing spaces and environments that can be created through industries when our young people have the opportunity to access them.

Urith Toa at a board meeting of the PNG Rugby Football League. Photo: PNG Kumuls/Facebook

I set a goal in 2017 to eventually serve in sports, and more specifically – in rugby. Fast forward a year and the opportunity presented itself, sooner than I’d expected. I’m only just grasping the enormity of the game. It is on a pathway to become a sport that can truly educate and build our people. When I think of PNG’s National Goals and Directive Principles on Integral Human Development, I think that rugby league and sports in general appeal to a great portion our country, and have a lot of potential to influence. I see it happening already and it’s really encouraging.

How did you become interested in being part of the Aus-PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue?

In my former employment, I was surrounded by amazing leaders, many of whom had had the honour of being selected to attend the Aus-PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue. I felt watching them that it was a great opportunity to connect with our Australian wantoks, but also be able to have some sort of voice in shaping views as well as being able to have a means to reach our political leaders of both countries. It especially inspired me when I saw the connection made by those coming out of the ELD, who came together to create and address a gap they saw, forming the YPN.

I had applied in 2016 and didn’t make the cut, and that was quite a disappointment for me, but it also allowed me to understand that at that point, it wasn’t the right time for me to be there and that I wouldn’t have been able to contribute the way I knew I could. Fast forward two years later, and I was encouraged by my YPN colleagues to apply in 2018, making the cut, and it was the most amazing experience that I’m extremely grateful for.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

My focus areas this year are mainly through the work I’m involved in in rugby league. I hope to be able to have more influence in bringing ideas and experience especially to the National Schools Rugby League program. It works with our young people in the sport and provides a base to positively influence mindsets earlier on.

I’m also committed to ensuring the Young Professionals Network builds a solid base to reach our young workforce and provide that essential space for citizen participation, especially through means of communication and media.

Tess Gizoria and Urith Toa at the 2018 Australia-PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue, Cairns. Photo: Paul Dymond/Lowy Institute.

Tell us more about the Young Professionals Network and what it’s trying to achieve?

The YPN is a local initiative that started informally by a group of friends who have a collective passion for being active citizens. The group started with informal conversations on topical issues, which took place in living rooms, basements and backyards and started to bring in more friends from different circles. A number of the founding members had met through Lowy Institute’s Annual PNG Australia Emerging Leaders Dialogues (ELD) in 2016 and 2017 so naturally engaged other ELD alumni based in both PNG and Australia. The initiative continues to evolve into an organized network that works to facilitate space for people to engage on issues important to them, contest ideas, support shared learning opportunities and connect to avenues where members can take action on areas of interest. The group formally registered as an Association in November 2018.

Our target audience is young professionals in the public, private and third sector. We believe that the emergence of a dynamic middle class that has a sense of responsibility to influence discourse around leadership and good governance is critical in a weak state like Papua New Guinea. It is also critically important to harness this collective power of the emerging middle class, to begin driving meaningful change in the community.

Urith Toa touring with the PNG Pukpuks as Media Coordinator. Photo: Ikei Images

The YPN’s main program is called the “Citizen Knowledge Hub Project”. This project focuses on providing both physical and virtual spaces for young people to engage in critical discussions on topical issues and provide an opportunity to connect their voices to places of influence. It also act as a platform for networking, shared learning and a conduit connecting to opportunities for action. Research shows that an engaged, active, empowered and knowledgeable middle class is critical in any democracy as they can make demands on good governance and utilize their collective power to drive social change. Importantly also, the Citizen Knowledge Hub is a critical space to ensure the realization of PNG’s Vision 2050.

What ideas do you have on building stronger ties between PNG and Australia?

Naturally my thoughts come back to the role of sports, the existing linkages in the sport of Rugby League and I believe across codes. It gives a great opportunity for both nations to experience the cultures and realities of each country.

Dialogues like the ELD are one of those tools that can be used to build these ties, and a continued effort to share and connect in events and activities such as these as well as through sports.

I also believe that the availability of high speed internet connectivity, but with proper guidance and education, will provide more means for resource sharing and building knowledge together through virtual platforms.

The important thing to note is that, it isn’t always about going to each country learning and then just returning, but to also have that knowledge and then have the space and resources to build on what they’ve gained – pathways. I don’t have a solution exactly but I believe the creation of these pathways could assist with strengthening the ties especially in terms building on the knowledge and experience sharing.

So many opportunities exist and I know I the many who have come before us and who will come after will build on the experiences and knowledge in strengthening the ties, it is both exciting and encouraging.




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Urith Toa - PNG Rugby Football League - Lowy Institute

Urith Toa

PNG Rugby Football League

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Urith Toa is Executive Assistant to the board and CEO of the PNG Rugby Football League, and is responsible for much of the day-to-day operational support for the executive of the prominent sporting organisation. Prior to joining the PNGRFL she worked in a number of communications and executive support roles, including with community support organisation The Voice Inc. She is a board member of the Young Professionals Network (YPN) that works to link and facilitate spaces for young people in the workforce to engage in critical discussions on topical issues important to them and be actively engaged citizens.