Island Innovation is an online platform, digital bridge builder, and an advisory firm bringing together the private sector, government agencies, NGOs, and universities to advance the fields of innovation and sustainability in island communities around the world. Initially starting as a blog focusing on renewable energy in the South Pacific, the platform has since grown to encompass all areas, challenges, and innovations in island communities around the world. Island Innovation’s Founder, James Ellsmoor, after studying in communities in the Scottish Isles and working in the Caribbean, wanted to create a platform where these places could share common practices, despite differences in geography, development status, or culture. Regardless of where they are in the world, these islands share common challenges and need a platform to share common solutions, and Island Innovation is one of them.
From the 47 island countries that are members of the United Nations, to the numerous island provinces, territories, counties, municipalities and communities around the world, all share common challenges. Regardless of their political status, development level or place in the world, islands face a multitude of issues from fresh water procurement to reliable energy generation. However, until now these communities have struggled to share best practices and common solutions, due to geographic isolation and lack of collaborative opportunities.
Island Innovation is a social enterprise that connects island communities through its global network in order to find innovative solutions and opportunities for furthering sustainable development. Using modern technology to build digital bridges, such as through the annual Virtual Island Summit, islands can tap into a global community of innovators and changemakers to drive their visions forward.
Through online trainings, webinars, on-the-ground assistance, and consultancy work with numerous experts, the Island Innovation platform helps island communities achieve a future in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Virtual Island Summit, hosted each year, is one event that is used to build bridges between islands all over the world. With free access to world-class experts, this event is held over the course of a week in order to accommodate multiple time zones, and the virtual conferences and presentations cover all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Including a diverse range of viewpoints, the Summit brings together speakers and attendees from over 100 island communities, including the Arctic, Caribbean, Europe, Indian Ocean, Pacific Islands, and South America. As a bonus, the event is entirely carbon-neutral, enabling stakeholders, policymakers, academics, and NGO leaders to convene online rather than flying to an event. This lowers both emissions and the barriers island communities often face in accessing similar resources; the summit is entirely free for participants. In 2019, more than 4,000 participants attended the Virtual Island Summit. The 2020 summit will be held from the 6th to 11th of September and expects in excess of 10,000 participants.
The Island Innovation platform intends to expand its technology and communications over the next several years. In addition to the Virtual Island Summit, the platform hopes to begin other communication channels such as podcasts to reach a wider audience and tell different island stories. As James Ellsmoor, the founder of Island Innovation, notes: “Island Innovation is about collaboration, so we want to ensure we build a central platform for remote communities to share stories on development, increase opportunities for interaction and showcase projects that can be repeated on far larger scales.”
For the Virtual Island Summit 2020, Island Innovation intends to build out their Hubs and Ambassadors programs to ensure that this global discussion can have a local impact and connect with communities at the grassroots.
The barriers Island Innovation faces in creating this network are not dissimilar to other virtual events, principally in bridging languages and cultures. In the past, internet speed has been an issue, but as even the most remote islands become better connected this is no longer a significant challenge. The challenge remains in continuing to build “digital bridges” between disparate places in order to show the many commonalities that these island communities face.
Island Innovation is creating a community of people spread across the world, with the hope that their online conferences can help change people’s ways of thinking. Virtual meetings cannot always replace in-person ones, but often serve as a key complement to them especially when dealing with the remote nature of islands. Additionally, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, virtual events such as these become even more important in ensuring we remain a globally connected society even when travel is not possible. The trend towards virtual events is likely to continue long into the future.