Abraham Simpson: improving electricity and water services on Nauru

Abraham Simpson (right) with Mohammed Rafiqshan Ali, General Manager Operations, in front of new generators installed last year.

In partnership with the Government of Nauru and the Australian Government through the PACTAM program, Fijian born electrical engineer Abraham Simpson was deployed to Nauru in 2013 to improve the country’s water and electricity services.

Having previously carried out a benchmarking project for the Asian Development Bank and Pacific Power Association, he knew that Nauru, the smallest island nation in the world, was one of the lowest performing countries in terms of its utilities.

“That’s what attracted me to the role,” he says. “When the job came up I thought: I would love to take up the opportunity.”

As Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nauru Utilities Corporation, his role involves designing and implementing the overall strategy

for the organisation, incorporating local knowledge and contexts. In the five years since he’s been in the position, he has seen a number of improvements.

“When I first arrived, each customer on average experienced almost 47 days of power outage in a year; that reduced to about 2.7 days in a year and it’s still going down,” he says.

“That epitomises the kind of progress we’re making, not just in power outages but in all other aspects of performance.”

Before taking on the PACTAM role, Abraham served as Managing Director of AM Consultants in Fiji, and prior to that spent 15 years working with the Fiji Electricity Authority.

He holds a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and has completed postgraduate studies in leadership, financial management, and human resources.

He says the biggest challenge he’s faced while working on Nauru has been the orientation towards a different context, systems and culture.

The other main challenge has been transitioning between operational and management roles, which meant that “as CEO sometimes I had to get into the ditch. But that’s what made it interesting.”

He says the main thing he’s learnt from the position has been patience. “But my wife does not agree,” he laughs. He has found that while change is not swift, it does eventually happen.

“People told me it’s so challenging to change organisations. But it can happen, it is possible. We just need to put the right frameworks in place.”

His advice to anyone considering a PACTAM adviser role is to focus on the opportunities.

“You’ve got to be willing to take on challenges that are outside of your experience and make the most of opportunities. Sometimes you’ve got to stick your neck out to make changes,” he says.

“But if you do it with wisdom and you do it understanding all the forces around you, it can happen. You can make a difference.”