Welcome to SICRI’s “island conversations” podcast series.
The aim of these podcasts is to highlight the work of island studies scholars and practitioners who make a significant contribution to islands’ research, arts, and culture landscape.
The podcasts are accompanied by a curated transcript that is edited to read as an independent piece.
"Island Notes" composition in Cretan Flat Mandolin by Christophoro Gorantokaki @"Melody Box"
Dr. Evangelia Papoutsaki
Island Greetings. I'm Dr. Evangelia Papoutsaki SICRI’s co-convener and the host of this island conversations podcasts series. The aim of this podcast is to highlight the work of island studies scholars and practitioners who make a significant contribution to island's research, arts and cultural landscape. Today we have a practitioner with us. James Ellsmoor is an admirer of islands. He is both co-founder and director of Solar Head of State and CEO at Island innovation recognized on the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work on our sustainable energy. James is passionate about climate change, advocacy and environmental policy. He lives in Lisbon, Portugal, from where he leads Island innovations remote team living on different islands around the world.
James, Welcome to Island Conversations.
Thank you very much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
James, let's start on a personal note. You were born on an island, albeit a big one, the British Isles. What are some of your earliest memories of island life?
I don't necessarily identify that as an island, of being from the UK, but I think my interest in this topic grew from growing up in a very rural part of the UK on the Welsh borders. I had a broader interest in rural development and even though perhaps remote places in the UK are not remote compared to some other countries, still that idea of peripherality and the urban-rural divide is very strong in that country. I guess that was the root of this interest. But I do have fond memories of visiting some of the UK islands, Anglesey, Mall, Jersey, during that time, and then this I guess, evolved in its interests to become this idea of comparative Island studies and seeing these links between different places, which we'll go into [in this podcast].
James Ellsmoor studied a Masters in Island Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands
Thank you for that! And that brings us, I guess, to the question of how you got into Island Studies and what made you decide to take a postgraduate degree in Island Studies at the University of Highlands and Islands.
My entry into Island Studies actually started in renewable energy. My undergraduate thesis was on renewable energy policy in the South Pacific. And part of that was that I was very lucky to be able to go on a scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that had, luckily for me a lot of funding and opportunities to do projects. So, I said, right, I'm going to the South Pacific to do my research. I started really blessed with these opportunities. I was able to do a six-month program at the University of Auckland and take Pacific Studies and then do some during that trip was able to travel to Niue, Fiji, Samoa and Tuvalu. During that research, I was looking at renewable energy policy and my interest in renewables. And that was very much very relevant to the idea of island Innovation given that the energy systems on so many of these islands are quite unique and quite different to mainland areas. But from that, I also saw you can't talk about energy in an island context without talking about waste management, tourism, transportation, and all these other factors of economic development more broadly, that link in and that led me to realize all these connections. And again, I think, because of having this opportunity with the scholarship, and then being able to travel, I also became very lucky that I had these experiences in different islands and could see how different islands were, but how these common threads join them together.
That led me to do this amazing program at the University of Highlands and Islands, the Masters in Islands Studies there, which is also very comparative in its approach. And UHI, in itself, I think is an amazing experience, because it is an island first university that is that exists to provide education in these very remote and rural parts of Scotland. Seeing how UHI achieved that in itself is almost as important as the content of the studies that the system that they've developed in a very relative, relatively short period of time. And I took advantage of that. Most of my fellow students were in different parts of the Scottish islands. But I was taking my classes largely from the Caribbean, while I was working on renewable energy projects in the Caribbean, and again, able to see the Scottish Isles and the Caribbean have a lot of differences, but able to see these common threads that connected them. All of that comparative experience kind of led into the creation of island innovation and me being able to explore that passion of really connecting islands and sharing opportunities and challenges and stories between them.
What a wonderful experience you had, through your studies, in exposing yourself to different islands from your first degree coming down to the South Pacific and when subsequently joining the program at the University of Highlands and Islands that you said provided with a unique opportunity to bring people together from different parts of the world; that you could still study from another part of the world like the Caribbean. That comparative element is very important.
Tell us a little bit what was the research that you did during your postgraduate program and what was that a link to it that connected you to the Island Innovation later on.
Island Innovation has 600 Ambassadors participating in the year long program from over 400 islands. Credit: Island Innovation
I guess the undergraduate research was more focused on renewable energy policy. And then I took that idea and version two that came out of my Island Studies degree, looked at renewables and islandness in the context of Toklau, because I'd actually spent about three weeks in Samoa, waiting for the boat to Tokelau, that didn't come and I never got the experience to go there in person. But for those of you who are less familiar with Tokelau, this one of the most remote territories in the Pacific has about 2000 people spread over three atolls with no airport. Actually, because of that a large part of that administration is based in Apia in Samoa. I was able to interview in my undergraduate and make connections with a few of the people there. And then so for my master's studies expanded on that. And I was really interested in how Tokelau’s unique geography shaped its policy. For example, the fact that you have these three different atolls that are almost the same in the population actually impacted the politics very much because in Tokelau, you either have to do something on all three atolls or not at all. You have this system of rotating government where there's no one of the three islands This is an occupied logic, politics, no one of those three islands has dominance. And no one of the others wants to give dominance to those islands. And this is also one of the reasons why there are no airports and Tokelau, because where would you do the airport when this power is spread between them? And so, renewables was part of that. But also, it was very interesting, this overlap of indigenous governance systems and looking at how the relationship with New Zealand has evolved, and the specific dynamics there, and why Tokelau has this unique relationship with New Zealand. That did not evolve in the same way as the Cook Islands and Niue, which went in a different direction.
I was able, through that case study to bring a lot of the core concepts of islands studies in also diaspora. And then the Tokelauans is born in New Zealand, and kind of bring those together, and then bring that back to how that impacted renewable energy. And I had to do all that, unfortunately, without going in person to Tokelau so I still have that dream one day of making it there. But you need a lot of time and patience to be able to get there in person.
Indeed, it's almost like a luxury, being able to afford the space, the time, and the resources to get to such a remote place in the Pacific. Tell us a little bit more about what inspired you to start Island innovation.
I think a lot of that came out of the master's program. Dr. Andrew Jennings, who leads the master's program, did a fantastic job of bringing in visiting scholars from other regions. So again, that built on this comparative idea of looking from the Scottish context out to neighbors, like the Faroe Islands, or even the Falkland Islands, Tasmania, and then also the SIDs countries that the island states countries. And so that built on this comparative idea. I had also through some of my work and volunteering experiences ventured into the realm of international politics or around the cops, the climate change cups. And these two experiences, I guess, came together because what I saw from kind of trying to fight my way into the cops and just wanting to see what was going on, was the same people every year seeing the same things. And a lot of very valuable information coming out of these mega conferences, mega events, that was not necessarily accessible to a wider audience. There was this disconnect between the high-level policymakers and then groups on the ground doing work, whether that be NGOs, private sector government, and so trying to you know that that kind of made me think, okay, there's an opportunity here to use this comparative studies, but also to generate information and make information more accessible to a wider audience. I was four or five years on the Seychelles delegation to COP which was a really great experience to build access.
I started really just writing a blog about my interest in islands and comparative islands and just featuring these different projects because of these connections. I have made I was having people send me oh, this is a cool project in Fiji or the Falkland Islands, or Greenland. And so just being able to bring that together in one place with the blog and the newsletter. And that got to the point where it became a full-time job in terms of time of writing, and it was something I was passionate about and enjoyed doing that I had to think backwards and figure out a business model, okay, I've got this full-time job, but I'm still working full time as well, if I want to do this, I need to find out a way to pay for that and make it into a job.
That's where Island Innovation emerged as this blog and newsletter really, and has evolved to the point now where we have a team of 18, staff full time living on different islands in different parts of the world. But it was not, there was no business plan or intentional direction, it just kind of evolved from that. And I should just mention, I say business, partly because the work I've been doing before was in NGOs. And I'm really bad at fundraising. And I don't enjoy fundraising and that model of NGOs. And so it was really just whatever vehicle, I could find, in this case, the social enterprise model worked for me whatever vehicle I could find to do what I wanted to do with these kinds of projects, and then bring in the wider, wider team and partners. And that led to where we are now.
Island Innovation Ambassadors in Saint Lucia organised a local “Hub” on their island during the Virtual Island Summit.
It seems to me that there was an element of innovation there, […] and I like very much that concept of suddenly evolving out of a real need, you find yourself in a situation and you observe that there was a certain need, communicating about islands in a way that is engaging and relatable, because often it's either scholarly for a certain type of audience or policy […] and in terms of development and economics. I think what Island Innovation is doing very well is bringing people, different stakeholders from all these different fields, and engaging in conversations about Island issues.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the model itself now that’s been running for some years, and you have a large team working from around the world based in different islands? How do you work together? How do you make it happen?
It's interesting now because so this year will be the 5th Virtual Island Summit. We started actually, that was one of the first initiatives I started after the newsletter as a way to kind of operationalize what we were what I wanted to do. And, you know, now zoom and virtual conferences are very standard. But actually, especially in the Island Studies and sustainable development space, I didn't I don't think five or six years ago, we were actually leveraging that to its full potential COVID accelerated at all, and normalized it all. But the idea of a virtual conference like that was innovative in itself at that point. So I, we started the Virtual Island Summit as an initiative, which had a whole really broad range of panel of panels and discussions on island issues that people could participate in, we were able to get some high-level Island leaders in but also the practitioners and implementers doing work and the academics. And again, as you said, try and build those different digital bridges, I say, between the different islands and different sectors. I think that's really important we sometimes find ourselves taking the role of interpreter, well, always make sure that we try and to the extent possible, involve the four main sectors, so academia, NGOs, government, and private sector. But those four sectors speak different languages.
And so, part of the problem is that even if those four sectors have the same goals for goal for sustainable development, they might work, they might just not work together, or sometimes even work in opposition to each other, even though they in theory have the same goal. That's part of it, not only sharing ideas and information between islands, but also between those sectors. The model now as it's evolved over the years, it's been a lot of experimenting to see how we make this work. Essentially we have two sides to the business. One is the public media platform, which is where we started, the newsletter, the articles, the social media, and of course, the events that we use. And I always wanted to keep that free to access because part of this my goal and my mission was to provide information and opportunities and that is reflected in our newsletter list or newsletter. It goes out to about 50,000 islands stakeholders. And we again have this whole range of people. We have government ministers and prime ministers that receive our newsletter. And then people living on remote islands that might do local beach cleanups, or, you know, small local ecotourism projects. I think that the key is trying to still be able to make information relevant to this really broad audience in many ways. Because sometimes people say, Oh, islands, that's very niche. And it is niche. But then within that, it's kind of everything. It’s niche. On the one hand, we're talking about islands, but then it's economy, society, politics, geography, all these things coming together on the other side, and that in itself can be a challenge as well. We have two sides to the public media platform.
As a way to finance the business, we started the consulting projects. The consulting projects, basically, subsidize, there's the fun stuff that I want to do. But that allows it to be a functioning organization with a with a steady income stream, and actually decided that we will go down this route, again, as opposed to the NGO model of being grant based and program based, just because I found that we could actually have a bit more freedom and flexibility to do the things that I saw as opportunities with this model. Also a bit more continuity, it's they both have their pros and cons. And a lot of people are surprised that we didn't go down that grant based model. Part of the reason is, it's very hard to fund projects like this through grants on a real on a global level, because most organizations have an interest in the Pacific or the Caribbean or Scotland.
We are trying to be really global. And finding funders that are really global is very hard. And we even still find that now with the kind of the model that we're using that, you know, a private sector organization might be only focused on one region or the other. And then that that creates a challenge dealt with funding what we want to do, but in terms of the consulting, the kind of projects that we're using, also contribute to the core goal. We're mostly working with Island organizations to help them communicate what they do, and help them build their strategy and model. One example of that is we work for the Caribbean biodiversity Fund, which is the main organization in the region, financing conservation projects, and they do an amazing job, and that team are mostly conservationists, and they need to communicate that as conservationists in to the policy world as well as the science world and the academic world. We help them with their communications, marketing, everything else, as part of the organization strategy, and also help to use our own platform to publicize the work that they're doing. It adds or to this goal of what we're what we're doing, as well as helping to build the organization's model.
James joins Island Innovation team member Audrey Joachim and Ministers from Jamaica and Curaçao at the United Nations Ocean Conference.
That is actually very impressive! What I'm hearing you saying is that your consulting actually is about capacity building in islands.
Yes, I would say so. I haven't thought of it necessarily as that. But that's often the case. And especially now, and this is really growing as a as an opportunity. I think now we've built our, our base of consulting projects, we started doing more in the pandemic doing, actually virtual events, because we were the organization that had this virtual event experience. When that pandemic happened, we were flooded with inquiries and people saying, Can you help us do virtual events. And so that's where we started. And that's where we grew a lot as an organization. And now, obviously, that landscape has changed. There are more companies offering virtual events, and few other like less need for virtual events. We are also changing the model to reflect that. We do still do work on the virtual event side. And often clients in the sustainable development space like that. We don't just understand the technical side, but we also understand their world and their messaging and what they what they need. But now we're also building out our network of experts. We get approached by people saying, oh, I need a waste management expert in the Pacific or I need a gender expert in the Indian Ocean. We want to be that connector to help Island experts and island based experts and connect them with projects as well and build out a wider scope of the work that we're doing.
Island Innovation is constantly evolving from the early days of sharing a communication newsletter about what's happening on different islands through your special interest to moving into doing capacity building in terms of enabling some of the island agents to develop a stronger voice, being able to communicate what their needs are and what they can do and what they're doing to now shifting into that connecting space, which has always been there, but in a more proactive way, creating a network where people can go and find expertise.
I think also opening up that network. I'm not saying that we invented Island networks by any means. There were previously many different island networks internationally. And those many of those still work. So SICRI is a good example of that an academic based network. But I guess the difference with Island innovation is it's very open. And so that's reflected in the people that join, we have a lot of people who are just enthusiastic individuals that may not be involved in projects. Making that open for them, and also cutting across these, these different sectors. Sometimes that is challenging as well, because we're trying to find the balance between being inclusive and open, and effective, and being able to steal, I think that those the walls up sometimes exists for a reason. Because sometimes you need to make sure that you have something in common between them more than islands. There's always that balance there. But we don't have a specific membership structure. We'll come on to the Academic Council program in a bit, which is a specific program, but in general, there's not a structure of Island Innovation, you know, so it might just be up community might just be that you follow us on Twitter, or Instagram or that you read our newsletter. But some people are across multiple platforms, and also have joined one of our programs. In that way, it's very open.
Let's talk a little bit more now about the distinctive activities that you engage within Island innovation, you have the island summit, the online it big event, which is attracting every year more and more people, I remember your earlier ones and I also remember the last one I took part, how more sophisticated it was in the way it was organized, the different spaces for coming in to have separate conversations during the event.
Tell us a little bit about the islands Summit, how has it evolved and where do you want to take it because, as you said, when you came into this space, there weren't really many doing that. Now there is a lot more, and then the other programs you have like, for instance, the Island Ambassadors.
James speaking at a conference on sustainable energy in Iceland.
We'll start off with our events. Our first and still our flagship event is the one that I already mentioned, the Virtual Island Summit. Last year, we had 10,000, people sign up to participate in that. And again, it's a week-long event, it's a bit of a marathon for us, we have 3040 sessions, something like that at all different times of the day and night. And the reason for that is that we realize that we're not expecting people to sit in front of their computer for a week, a lot of people sign up and they just join one session of interest and or, or they don't even join any sessions. And they just want the recordings afterwards. I think that's really key with these virtual events is being flexible, not trying to put a program like you would for a physical event. And then just do it on Zoom, because people behave in a different way. Out of those 10,000 people in any one session, that might be three 400. But then also people are getting the information afterwards. So that vertical islands Summit is very broad.
We actually created a spin off event, which is our other big virtual summit in April, which is the Island Finance Forum. And the goal of that was we realized that in the Sustainable Development Summit, the issue was always coming back to where's the money, and how do we pay for this. But the way the conversation was framed, was not attracting those kinds of financial institutions. We wanted to bring in the local and regional banks, the development banks, the insurers, the accountants, the financial stakeholders, working on islands and try and build a bridge to the sustainable development world. And so that's the Island Finance Forum, which is coming up in April.
Actually, we're going in the opposite direction to a lot of organizations because we are started virtual and now we're opening up our physical events. We are going to be organizing a series of smaller regional events in different places, we have a couple coming up, although I can't actually say fully that they're not fully confirmed yet. But hopefully in the next month, we'll be announcing them but likely one in Portugal and one in the Caribbean on different islands to start off with, and hopefully one in the Pacific in the not too distant, distant future. And I think that's actually using the hybrid technology. The idea of, we don't need everyone traveling from all over the world to come to the island, having a smaller group present in person, and then also streaming that information to a virtual audience and making the most of that. So that's the model we want to work with. I guess I'll also come on to our island Ambassadors program that you mentioned.
James joins Kenyan Island Innovation Ambassador Grace Kimaru at the COP27 Climate Conference
The second part of the island ambassadors this year, we have 600 Island ambassadors on 400 islands that are taking part. That is, I think it's the fourth year we've done this program. That is a program which is free and open to sign up for people working on islands. And it's a year long commitment, where we ask them to help further our goals as an organization help be our boots on the ground ears on the ground to what's happening on those islands. And in return, we offer them a network access to a network with the other ambassadors and also various training programs of how to create change and impact on their islands. Actually, one of the tasks that we're asking them to do this year, is during our virtual islands Summit in September, have an in-person hub taking place on the island. And this could be a mini conference. It could just be a dozen people in a room discussing how to apply it. Watching some of these virtual sessions in the abstract, and then taking that and thinking okay, how does this conversation apply locally? One of our ambassadors last year, we had in the Falkland Islands did this and got the heads of the Chamber of Commerce and various government departments in a room to watch a webinar say, Okay, this is what is happening in other parts of the world. How can we apply this in the Falklands? We've had people do that in Guadeloupe, in Barbados, and St. Halina and other places as well, which I think is really exciting. We can still use this virtual model, but with the power of our ambassadors make it a bit more accessible, and a bit more tangible with those.
And then the third program we have mentioned is the one that a secret is involved with the Academic Council. The Academic Council is a relatively new initiative we've launched this year, which is to further our goals of being a link between academia and policymakers. We have a number of island-based universities that are signing onto this island-based institutions, or at least institutions working on islands, to try and make sure that any research that they think is relevant and applicable to a wider audience, we can publish through our network and put it in a format that is more accessible to people that are practitioners or policymakers. So those three different programs I mentioned. Sorry, that was a lot, the summit's ambassadors and the Academic Council.
That's really impressive; and they're all interconnected. And what I'm hearing is that you develop a model and it evolves, it constantly evolves. And what I'm hearing is that, yes, it's very important to connect people when the digital virtual space enables that, but it's also extremely important, especially for small islands, to be able to have a physical presence and engagement. And for that, I really applaud the effort being made to develop this hybrid approach. And also, what I'm hearing in what you're doing is, you know, really acting as a bridge acting as a bridge between different stakeholders, different groups of people, different interests, as you say, the islands might be small, but they are powerful in the sense that they require your full attention. They are complete entities, and you need to approach them from all different angles. At the same time, you can't separate the island economic development from its natural space or you know, its social cultural activities. Which makes it a lot more complicated as an activity.
Based on your observations all these years engaging with islands and different stakeholders and issues and looking forward, what are some of the challenges small lions are going to be facing in the future?
I think that obviously varies to a point in terms of where you're talking about. And it's not necessarily, the issues are different, but often the focus is different. If you think about the one core issue facing islands, when you're talking about the South Pacific, then climate often comes up, which we can go into a little bit more, whereas in Scotland, it's depopulation, and depopulation is going to be the key, the key. I think that that varies between different regions. We obviously have climate adaptation and climate mitigation as a big part of our program. But we're very careful not to say that climate is the only issue, I think that sometimes is an issue in the South Pacific and other islands, that climate becomes all-encompassing. And it's hard to then get away from and so again, finding that that balance and making sure, yes, we need to talk about climate and the issues faced by small islands, in adaptation and in deciding their future. But also, people living on the island, thinking about their kids education, and health care, and all these other general day-to-day things, I think, that definitely gets lost when you look at international media, and any articles on the Pacific. It's almost entirely about climate change. Making sure that these wider issues and how climate change impacts all these wider issues, I think it is really important.
And then the other side with depopulation, which is an interesting issue for many smaller islands in Europe, for example, that new trend to have the digitization, the opportunities coming from this digital transition that we've been going through for the last decade, but it was kind of accelerated through COVID the opportunities that are now coming for islands with remote work. There's a great example of this, which I love to point out in the Republic of Ireland in Donegal, where they were able to have a very high-speed internet connection, build local workspaces, and actually have attract people who had left the island to move to Dublin and get tech jobs to move back and live on the island. I think this is opening up a world of opportunities that you can stay on your island and have access to job opportunities that you wouldn't have had even five years ago. But that, again, comes with challenges with housing and other things.
Those general trends, I think, like everything, they are a double-edged sword. And housing is a really big issue in many islands as well. I would say those, those are things that come to mind. But when we're talking about Ireland issues, you know, we always try and point out the whole breadth of this. I mentioned before, waste management is something that always comes up and plastics, the dependency on one industry, which is often not always but often tourism, and that fragility that comes with that. And then also the vulnerability and the vulnerability of scale that the issue that comes with scale. I mentioned the island finance forum before.
Ultimately, the core issue of that is just scale. In an Island economy, you don't have access to the same kind of finance that you do in a larger economy. Because for an international company to go into St. Lucia with 200,000 people, or they were they could go into Mexico with I think 100 million people, it's hard for them to justify doing that. So that means that there are fewer players, and therefore things are more expensive. So yeah, that was my brain dump of things that came to mind with that question.
James moved to Lisbon, Portugal in 2020.
Yes, the issues are many, but what I'm hearing you saying is that while climate change is a top priority, not only for islands, but for all of us, one should really not lose sight of some of the other issues. The challenges of small islands are experiencing. I like what you raise there in terms of opportunity that the digital opportunity, the opportunities that digit digitization brings in. But at the same time, the challenges that brings with it, not only just about housing, for instance, but services and also infrastructure, you know, who is going to be investing on small islands.
I think the conversation around remote work is one that I find really interesting and actually we didn't get into this but having our island interview Mission Team as all remote workers. We have team members in the Caribbean and Latin America and Africa and Europe, Philippines. And most of those team members, almost all of them have never met each other, and are able to collaborate effectively online, which is more and more becoming the norm and is possible here. We're able to collaborate with all of our remote teams, but also a number of our team members were able to move back to or live on their home islands, because of this opportunity with working for Island innovation. And I really try and make sure, as much as possible that our team members are Island islanders living on living on islands. This idea of remote work, I think, is really interesting, because during the pandemic, all the buzz was about digital nomad visas and attracting tourists in a new way. But for me, okay, maybe that's an opportunity, that's part of the opportunity, the bigger opportunity is giving a wider range of job opportunities to islanders themselves, and actually making sure that people living on islands have these opportunities. And it was interesting for me, because having worked for several years in the Caribbean, before the pandemic, a lot of these remote work, and remote collaboration practices, which became more common in the corporate world during COVID. Were already quite commonplace in the Caribbean, because people were used to archipelagic thinking and very high travel costs and needing to collaborate with teams working over those areas. I think having worked in the Caribbean, and experienced what many regional organizations that were already doing was also inspiration for this. And it's interesting, again, to see that island, Island org and organizations were already doing things which then became the new practice and innovative. I really want to rethink that way of thinking of what does remote work mean for Ireland? It's not just to attract visitors coming in, but to give those opportunities for islanders themselves.
Absolutely, this is where the real innovation is going to be. How you're going to use a digital technologist to enable life on the island on its own. Right. And, that is a space really to look for in terms of future developments. What else is there? In terms of your work? What should we be expecting the island innovation to come up with in that in the near future? Do you have anything new cooking?
We do. I think the most exciting thing for me are these in person gatherings or events that we're putting on and training. I think a lot of people are familiar with Island innovation behind the screen. And they know us because they follow and actually I just we had a conference this week in Lisbon, the World Ocean summit that was taking place here. And we were lucky enough to be given an exhibitor booth with a little stand about Island innovation. And it was amazing for me to be sitting there and having a steady stream of people saying, Oh, I follow your newsletter, I was great. And it just having that in person interaction and seeing us in the real world, I think solidified that we are a real organization, because still, I think when it's behind the screen, there's a lot of opportunities for that. But that in person interaction changes something. And I think it must be what five or six years since we met in person, I'm trying to remember how long it was. But it doesn't matter that it was that long ago, it still makes the connection, I don't know a little bit more solid than purely virtual.
And we have organizations that we've worked with for four or five years, unlike our team members, and still have been able to build very successful collaborations purely virtually. But I think that for us as an organization, the next step to be able to, to evolve is to have these regional opportunities in different places. But of course, our challenges. By definition, our audience for want of a better word, is completely spread out over the world. We need to stick with this digital model and build out the opportunities to input it have in person in person connection. I think the plan summits we have around islands sustainability in different regions is going to be really, really exciting.
And then also what we mentioned before is the is the Academic Council building that so that's really a new program that we've kind of soft launched publicly, it is out there. But we have over 20 Island institutions that have signed up for that and a real range of different places. I think there was a real interest for that. And there are already academic Island academic networks like SICRI, and ISISA. I'm kind of building on the work that these organizations have done. And leveraging the policymaker audience that we've built up, I think is great. I think that with academic research, academic research, doesn't, by definition, in my opinion, need to be useful for practitioners, I think academic research can often have value in itself. But I also see so much academic research, which would be useful for policymakers. When it is trying to make sure that it is available, and increasing those connections, and so whatever we can do, as an organization to help research be applied and be more accessible, I think is an important role for us as an organization.
James speaking at a “Digital Nomads” conference on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic.
Absolutely! I think what you're referring to here is building a meta network that brings all these different networks together and creates, again, that earlier mentioned of bridging of bridges, and mining, all theinformation and the knowledge and the wisdom that exists, but really making it directly more relevant to those who matter to those people on the islands. Because, as academics and practitioners, writing and doing work about islands, the aim is to make the life on the island better for the island. I think sometimes you are as a prediction practitioner, and me as a scholar, we might be talking virtually or in a physical space. But that doesn't necessarily result in a meaningful impact for people living on the island. And so creating this meta network will offer the opportunity perhaps to mine that field that reach field of information and knowledge that has been produced by all these different networks and organizations, and associations.
So what legacy would you like to leave behind as a islands studies engaged practitioner?
Islands studies engaged practitioner, I like that title, because I have tried to keep a foot in academia, on purpose, or at least the connections that I built through the islands studies program, with academic institutions. I didn't go, I guess because of COVID, to any of the islands studies conferences, but I'm planning on trying to attend at least one academic conference in the next year just to keep her foot in that in that world. And I think there's a lot of interesting that for me, the world of islands studies really opened up my thinking to be able to do this. I think that's, that's important in terms of, I would love to see, whatever we can contribute to increasing the mainstreaming of islands studies, which I think it is a trend, it's becoming more recognized as a field. And, you know, there's a lot of amazing academics working in the sector, that have really built up the sector's profile as an interdisciplinary, interdisciplinary field. I think for me, in terms of academia, whatever we can do to build that recognition of islands studies up is important.
Also, as an organization, I think people often say, Oh, what are we? What are we doing on the ground around innovation, and we're not, we're not doing projects, we're really trying to provide a platform to enable others to do the work and to further the work that they're already doing. So sometimes, it's hard. Honestly, it's hard for me to measure our impact and see what we're doing because I don't want to take credit for things that other people have done. But sometimes I see a collaboration between Fiji and Malta, that I know has come out of as a pot, at least the connections were made through our network. In no way would I claim credit for the work that those people are doing. But it's very nice to see that those collaborations have come between these areas as a result of the work that we're doing. It's hard to say that in terms of a of a legacy, concretely what that means, but I do want to see Island innovation continue to grow.
I want to see more opportunities for Islanders as our team grows to have more Islanders in other regions, especially to India, notion in the Pacific to be part of our team. And also, I think going back to the work that we do to assist other organizations to help with the capacity building, I really like lecture framing narrative of that work as capacity building, to continue helping to do that for other organizations.
The Island Innovation team in Lisbon for the UN Ocean Conference - from left to right James Ellsmoor, Thaiz Maciel, Audrey Joachim
Well, we are certainly looking forward to being working with you, James, as a network, as colleagues. What you have achieved and your team in such a short period of time is astounding. And having participated in some of your events, I can testify to the value of your initiative because I met people from all these different islands. I remember once I was chairing a session with someone from Norfolk islands, and some from some other small island further south, here in Aorearoa, and I want to have that opportunity. And these were people outside my academic network. These were people involved in local governments, for instance, and hearing their perspective was extremely important to me. Thank you for, for doing that. Thank you for creating those opportunities. And I wish you really all the best for the future. We're looking forward to seeing what you will be innovating further in this island space.
Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed that conversation. And they really appreciate all the support you've given from afar, even though we're on opposite sides of the world as Island innovation has been growing. We're very happy to have SICRI as part of our Academic Council program and looking forward to building out those collaborations in the future.