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News & Blog > Alumni Profiles: "Know Your Network" > Know Your Network: Professor David Kavanamur (MP16)

Know Your Network: Professor David Kavanamur (MP16)

David Kavanamur's career spans continents, positions & publications, and is underscored by his commitment to explore and address the challenges that have beleaguered his native Papua New Guinea.
14 Nov 2019
Written by Esther McIntosh
Papua New Guinea
Alumni Profiles: "Know Your Network"
Image: By Kate Uvia
Image: By Kate Uvia

The destinies of ordinary men, not unlike those of young nations, can unfold in the most circuitous, wonderful and wretched ways.  On a day in 1992, David Kavanamur a recent honours graduate and Teaching Fellow, was working late one evening in his office on Waigani Drive at the University of Papua New Guinea, when the phone rang. The call brought with it a fleeting offer for a remaining scholarship place to attend the University of Cambridge. Not sensing the urgency, a slightly befuddled and unprepared David, politely asked that the caller ring him in the morning. As he reflects many decades later, Professor Kavanamur candidly admits that at the time, “I didn’t realize how competitive it was to get to Cambridge”. By the next day the opportunity had passed him by. But David was not entirely disappointed, as he was uncertain of what he wanted to pursue academically. And quite apart from that, he had a lot on his mind. His first degree in Political Science and Public Administration had triggered a preoccupation with his country’s socio-economic challenges, which in the early 1990s were complex and considerable. He had become increasingly interested in deepening his understanding of concepts and ideas about development, an area that he had started to explore for his bachelor’s thesis Development: The Papua New Guinean Experience.

“I knew that I wanted to do something in development... because I felt that it was what the country needed”.

He just wasn’t sure how one went about pursuing it as a discipline. Shortly after the phone call with the University of Cambridge, he met up with a friend, who had recently returned from studying in the UK. His friend was quite confident in prescribing a way forward, because as he advised David, there was only one place to go if he wanted to pursue development studies. That was, he told him, to the oldest institute for development studies in the world and home to the British Library of Development Studies, two factors that resonated with the aspiring academic. Equipped and encouraged by this information, a determined David applied to the Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship and so began his journey to Library Road, and the Institute of Development Studies.

It was this minor detour, this slightly reconfigured change in direction that would trigger a series of remarkable coincidences and unexpected connections that would weave the lives and work of two men into the fabric of Papua New Guinea’s past and future development. For the young David Kavanamur, it was a first step that led to a distinguished career that would span several continents, positions and publications and ignite a lasting commitment to exploring and addressing the challenges that have beleaguered his native Papua New Guinea.

The Faber Report: Capturing the aspirations of a new Nation

In the 1960s the Government of Australia faced a perplexing question about its closest neighbour and largest colony - what was the process for making the Territory of Papua and New Guinea self-governing?  The Australian government as part of the transition to independence had sought help from the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) to advise on measures to be taken towards its economic development and political preparation for independence. That resulted in a report, The Economic Development of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, which was published in 1965. The report described the territory as “an almost totally undeveloped area with an economy that is correspondingly primitive” (1965:1). The 1970s was a period of intellectual and political organization and ferment in the Melanesian country. In the first year of the decade, the University of Papua New Guinea had produced its first batch of graduates. There was a growing group of national leaders including Michael Somare who had formed the country’s first political party, the Papua and New Guinea Union (PANGU Pati) and in the same year Papua New Guinea’s third national elections had brought to office the territory’s first truly Papua New Guinean government led by Somare.

In 1972, the IBRD commissioned another report from the Overseas Development Institute at the University of East Anglia (UEA) headed by Professor Michael Faber (pictured to right was went on to become the Director of the Institute of Development Studies). The Faber Report as it became known, was in many ways a dramatic departure in tone and ethos from the previous report, it emphasized  among other things; increased indigenous control of the economy and indigenisation of many forms of economic activity (including the public service); emphasis on ‘projects and policies that will directly increase the incomes of PNG nationals, and of the poorest sections amongst PNG nationals’, a greater emphasis on rural development, and a progressive reduction in dependence on aid. “Faber,” says David Kavanamur, “was able to capture the aspirations of emerging Papua New Guinean leaders who were yearning for political participation”. The Eight Point program also known as The Eight Aims, developed by Faber and his team, was more than just a policy document. It would have a lasting impact on the development of the country and its articulation of Papua New Guinea ambition as an independent nation. The plan became etched into the new country’s constitution, forming the preamble to the constitution: integral human development, equality and participation, national sovereignty and self-reliance, natural resources and environment and to achieve development through Papua New Guinean ways.

Leaving for IDS during The Lost Decade

David (pictured at IDS on the right with the MP16 group in 1993) describes the 1990s as “a lost decade,” one of missed opportunities and considerable socio-economic setbacks. The optimism and vision of the independence leaders had soured as the country encountered a multitude of real-world challenges. In 1989, a bloody secessionist revolt had started in the island of Bougainville which would last for nine years and claim the lives of twenty thousand people. The crisis resulted in economic contraction in the early 1990s. And led to several structural problems that impacted on growth and public service delivery. The World Bank and IMF had stepped in to support the government with a reform process, structural adjustment and a programme of privatization.  There was now a greater prevalence of corruption which inter alia affected the public sector, an entity already challenged to deliver services across the 462,000-kilometre nation.
In the 1990s David had been researching aspects of these challenges. He had compiled community profiles and baseline data on urban villages and settlements in the Rabaul district of Papua New Guinea for the World Bank/Department of Finance and Planning investigations into the Special Interventions Project prompted by the 1989 Structural Adjustment Programme. He had co-authored a paper with J. Kambual on “Popular Participation as the basis for effective local social development planning and management”.

David left Port Moresby for Brighton in 1992, it was a chance to step away temporarily from the troubles of the country, and to equip himself with the skills that would help him to later play a part in solving these problems. Whilst at IDS he fully embraced the opportunity to interact with and explore new ideas. He recalls spending a lot of time reading works of several scholars that would influence his own thinking like Dudley Sears’ work on the Meaning of Development. This immersion helped David to form an understanding of development that was broader than just economic growth, and to consider the socio-cultural aspects as well.

The greatest surprise came when he found out that he would be taught by Professor Mike Faber.  It was a chance to learn from and connect with the “guru,” as he describes him, of his country’s Eight Point Plan. Perhaps a sign that he was in the exact place that he needed to be. An opportunity to discuss more about that period in his country’s history and to connect some of the ideas and thinking of the time with his own exploration of what that meant for solving contemporary development challenges. The interest was mutual, Professor Faber welcomed the young David Kavanamur to IDS but also into his home to celebrate his first Christmas in the UK with his family in Louis Village.
Whilst at IDS, David opted to study industrial development stream and would focus his research on Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SME) development in Papua New Guinea. He would go on to publish his master’s thesis several years later on “Sustainable Credit Schemes for Small Enterprises, Lessons for Papua New Guinea”.  In 1994 he was awarded a Master of Philosophy in Development.

Full circle: From Scholar to Custodian

After graduating from IDS, David went on to read for a Doctor of Philosophy in Strategic Management at the University of Western Sydney in Australia and went on to a rich and distinguished career. He lectured on Public Policy Management at the School of Business Administration at the University of Papua New Guinea. And since 2012 he has served as an Adjunct Professor at the Cairns Institute of James Cook University in Australia. Within the public sector, he served as the Secretary for the Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology for five years and today he works as an adviser to the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. 

He has served as a Board Director on a range of education, policy research, private sector and academic institutions. And has numerous professional affiliations which keeps him engaged and invested in the development of future leaders, including the Badili Club of Papua New Guinea (The Young Professionals Network) and the Papua New Guinea Human Resource Institute. Throughout his career he researched and published extensively in a number of areas including governance, public sector reform and economic growth.

“I felt ready for the role because I had been trained by the master himself.”

Of all of his accomplishments spanning two decades one year and one role, stands out. In 2009, Professor Kavanamur was appointed chair a National Strategic Plan Taskforce to update the Eight Point Plan developed by Professor Faber and adapt it to reflect Papua New Guinea of the future. It was a monumental opportunity the profoundness of which was not lost on him and one for which he felt adequately prepared. “I felt ready for the role because I had been trained by the master himself”. The position was a culmination of his life and work. He was now not only the custodian of Professor Faber’s work and the one tasked with carving the future direction and strategies of his country. Profoundly, six years after Professor Kavanamur completed the Vision 2050 Professor Faber passed away at his home in the United Kingdom.


Today, Professor Kavanamur or “Prof” (pictured on the left in his office) as he is fondly called by colleagues, is as engaged as ever in the various interests. He is expected to commence a new role as the IDS Alumni Ambassador for the Pacific. His time at IDS have given him lifelong skills and the teaching and interaction with Professor Faber has impacted his life profoundly. He continues to earnestly dedicate his life and academic prowess to the development of his country.

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