Innovating Sustainability: Bridging Sectors and Islands

When it comes to sustainability, Islands around the world face very specific challenges. Islands, of course, are extremely diverse in form, but despite their many differences, there are big opportunities for collaboration between them. From the Caribbean, to Patagonia, to Europe and the Pacific, islands can benefit from sharing knowledge and learning from one other. However, the practical difficulties of language, distance and cost mean that often, opportunities for face-to-face meetings and exchange can be infrequent.

Despite the considerable distance between them and the differences in climates, economies, political status and culture, islands stand to gain greatly by sharing their experiences with successful (and unsuccessful) projects. Smaller islands are extremely vulnerable to climate change, and many are pioneering new strategies for climate mitigation and adaptation in the face of advancing threats. Despite contributing less than 0.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, small island developing states (SIDS) are the most affected regions by climate change and are urgently looking for solutions to better cope with the threats.

These challenges mean that island nations must rapidly innovate in order to become more sustainable and self-sufficient. As such, many islands have been at the forefront of major advances in renewable energy and sustainable development, and there is a strong argument to be made that collaboration between diverse islands can lead them to become hubs of

Island Innovations for more sustainability

Island innovation comes in many shapes and sizes: from European islands pioneering carbon-neutral technology to Pacific islands protecting vast swathes of ocean in a bid to conserve biodiversity and promote ecotourism. In a bid to become beacons of sustainability, the Caribbean region has come together with the ambition of creating the world’s first climate-smart zone. A coalition of regional governments and private sector businesses, the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator is just one initiative that has been set up to promote innovation and sustainable development in the area in a bid to reduce the impacts of climate change and other environmental issues.

The driving forces behind the accelerator — regional cooperation and united policies — have the potential to become a blueprint for islands striving for efficient environmental action. This is where the limiting constraints of islands can be repurposed for their benefit. Smaller infrastructure and government systems allowing for more nimble implementation of new policies. Islanders have long relied on making do with limited resources in order to prosper. The limitations that have defined them for centuries drive the innovation needed to tackle a range of modern challenges — often with potential applications for beyond their own shores.

Building Bridges

The challenges facing island regions require innovative solutions, and in order to promote innovation, there is a need to revolutionize how stakeholders interact and collaborate. With successful use as a tool in driving innovation, the Triple Helix is a model that promotes collaboration between public and private sectors along with knowledge-brokers such as universities in order to achieve specific goals. By promoting communication and cooperation across the industry, government and academia, the model yields multi-faceted solutions for complex problems. These three major branches of society usually have a high amount of capital and influence on development, and the triple helix model ensures that they all pool their resources and know-how together in order to innovate new solutions and technology.

For small island communities, it is even more vital that these sectors are integrated and collaborative as many issues cut across different fields. While the model has succeeded in where they benefit from strong and efficient government, industries and tertiary institutions, it has not been able to have the same result in the Caribbean — but why not?

Despite the triple helix model’s success elsewhere, it leaves out an important factor for island communities that often plays an outsized role: non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society. Their importance to the region has often been understated, but NGOs often have a stronger presence and more central role in island communities and have helped support regional economies and mobilizing stakeholders into action. By bringing these sectors into the fold, the quadruple helix is thus formed.

Integrating NGOs and civil society organizations provides a much broader outlook into regional innovative solutions for islands. It enables island nations to go beyond just sharing ideas by providing a better environment for them to learn from one another, to share information and resources, and come together to craft comprehensive policies. The Quadruple Helix model has had some early success in spurring innovation in the Caribbean and can be the genesis of a new and long-lasting partnership among not only Caribbean nations, but islands worldwide. As SIDS strive for sustainability, self-sufficiency and build a thriving economy, the quadruple helix could lead to the start of an innovation revolution.

The quadruple helix promotes integration between sectors by building bridges and pathways for cooperation between different sectors in different countries within the region. In doing so, the model enables the creation and implementation of comprehensive policies. The challenges facing islands require innovative solutions, and in order to promote innovation, there is a need to revolutionize how stakeholders interact and collaborate.

Championing Solutions

No island is an island on its own when it comes to implementing sustainable, innovative solutions. There exist major opportunities and challenges for islands to develop innovative ecosystems melding governance, science and the economy. One, in particular, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), provide the Caribbean with an opening to collaborate and work together towards targets as a united group.

It is important for islands to share ideas regardless of development level. The need for joint action targeting the core challenges clear, and by working together and collaborating on regional policies and their implementation, it will be easier to tackle overarching issues such as poverty and climate change. Islands should collaborate and help each other achieve their development goals, and digital technology provides a means to do this. Modern technology can allow for exchange and networks to be developed without the hassle of exorbitant travel costs and times with indirect routes faced by islands.

By building digital bridges between island communities we have much to share and collaborate with one another, learning goes both ways. Islands in the Caribbean can benefit from the development of cutting edge renewable technology being championed by islands off the coast of Scotland. It is true that islands in Scotland are developing cutting edge ideas around renewable energy that regions like the Caribbean can learn from, but the learning goes both ways. Likewise, Caribbean nations can teach the Pacific region how to engage with their diaspora and develop sustainable tourism.

Distances may separate islands, their culture, language and the socio-economic situation may be different, but islanders far and wide share several traits. They aren’t just resilient, they’re imbibed in a culture of community where helping one another works towards the common good, creating a model that drives sustainable development based off of these qualities will ensure that islands will be leaders in innovation. By building digital bridges between island communities we ensure that we are able to share and collaborate with one another. Creating links between both sectors, academia and NGOs creates a united front that bond islands together against their common challenges.

James Ellsmoor is a contributor to Forbes and the CEO of Island Innovation, a company operating worldwide to build digital bridges and connect distant islands. He is the organizer of the Virtual Island Summit which will be held in October 2019.

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