Coastal region and small island papers 20

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Launched in 2002, Small Islands Voice, an inter-regional initiative supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) focuses on (i) sustainable development activities at the local level through ‘Communities in Action’, and (ii) sharing these experiences via direct exchanges and the media (print, radio, video, television, internet).

As a follow-up to the January 2005 United Nations meeting in Mauritius, to review the implementation of the Programme of Action for the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States, a second Small Islands Voice inter-regional planning meeting was convened to share experiences and to plan future activities.

The Mauritius (2005) Strategy reaffirmed the continued validity of the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action as the framework for sustainable development of Small Island Developing States whilst also taking into account the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Millennium Development Goals. However, implementing the Programme of Action/Mauritius Strategy is a major challenge for small islands and the international community.  Small Islands Voice is already contributing in a practical and meaningful way to all but two of the 20 chapters of the Mauritius Strategy (as yet there are no Small Islands Voice activities relating to Chapter 12 Graduation from least developed country status or Chapter 13 Trade: globalization and trade liberalization).  Many of the specific Small Islands Voice activities address several different chapter themes at the same time; this is a reflection of the comprehensive, integrated way in which islanders view issues and their solution, and the holistic nature of the sustainable development concept.

Rather than concentrating on sustainable development as an end-product or goal, many of the presentations focused on a concept of sustainable island living, whereby an island or community displays a way of thinking and caring about their island and how they want to see it develop in the future.  One of the main objectives of the meeting was to share, discuss and analyse the various Small Islands Voice activities as well as related activities. There were four main themes: (i) Community issues, activities and outreach; (ii) Outer islands; (iii) Youth and communities; (iv) Inter-island exchanges.  Many participants gave powerpoint presentations and these are available for further reference, listed in the Table of Contents, and hotlinked throughout the text.

In this first year of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, education was an important theme at the meeting.  Presentations and discussions provided background on the decade, the Small Island Developing States Universities Consortium, Sandwatch and the Small Islands Voice Youth Internet Forum.  The newly established Universities Consortium aims to enhance the capacity of tertiary institutions in small islands to share programmes, research and expertise so that they can better address the sustainable development need of small islands. Sandwatch is an educational tool for sustainable development, supported by UNESCO, whereby school-aged youth scientifically monitor their environment and then, with the help of their teachers, parents and communities, undertake activities to enhance their environment and promote sustainable island living.  The Small Islands Voice Youth Internet Forum represents a non-formal approach to education whereby school-aged youth discuss amongst themselves their experiences of island living.  Meeting participants determined ways to make the forum more attractive to students, while still maintaining its educational focus.

Ways of getting the word out were also discussed; these include the Small Islands Voice Global Internet Forum as well as other media forms, in particular radio.  Participatory radio, school radio stations and community radio stations were among the initiatives discussed. 

Meeting participants recommended the inclusion of additional islands[1] in Small Islands Voice.  This was viewed as a way of further sharing the benefits and enriching the experiences.

Building on discussions during and after the meeting, a future framework for Small Islands Voice emerged: (i) Fostering sustainable island living through specific activities on the ground; and (ii) Spreading the word so that the impact of the collective effort becomes more than just the sum of individual work.  (It is anticipated that many of the ongoing activities will also continue).

Sustainable island living activities include:

  • Helping communities cope with climate change and other natural disasters
  • Expanding the content and geographical coverage of Sandwatch to include other environmental systems and additional islands
  • Testing, applying and sharing eco-friendly practices covering environmental conservation, waste management and beach monitoring
  • Strengthening communities to plan their future development and to implement their own plans (community visioning)
  • Helping youth envision how they want their islands to change and then supporting youth-led initiatives to make this happen on the ground (youth visioning)
  • Preserving island heritage and culture, especially language, traditions and festivals, and promoting religious tolerance
  • Involving all the major groups (trade unions, women, fishers, civil rights groups, NGOs etc) of civil society in follow-up to the 2005 United Nations meeting in Mauritius

Activities relating to ‘Spreading the word’ include:

  • Regional and inter-regional youth exchanges
  • Revising and revitalising the Small Islands Voice Youth Internet Forum
  • Continuing and expanding the Small Islands Voice Global Internet Forum
  • Fully utilising community and national radio
  • Expanding Small Islands Voice to include other islands
  • Small Islands Voice to investigate a partnership arrangement with the Small Island Developing States Universities Consortium
  • Capturing the inspiration (successes and lessons learnt) of Small Islands Voice in written and video format

Whilst UNESCO’s regular programme, participation programme, and cross cutting projects may provide partial financial and in-kind support for the above activities, participants recognised that co-financing mechanisms would be required in the longer term for full implementation.  

[1] At present there are 13 partner islands involved in Small Islands Voice (Bahamas, Cook Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Fiji, Maldives, Mauritius, Palau, San Andres Archipelago, Seychelles, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Zanzibar).  This is besides the other islands from all around the world that receive and contribute to the Small Islands Voice Global Internet Forum.


‘Small Islands Voice is all about reducing the distances between the small islands in the world, understanding the differences, and helping people build for the future’ Elizabeth Taylor, San Andres Archipelago (Colombia)

Meeting participants, 15 July 2005


Small Islands Voice is an inter-regional initiative, launched in 2002, and supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Focusing on (i) sustainable development activities at the local level through ‘Communities in Action’, and (ii) sharing of these experiences via direct exchanges and the media (print, radio, video, television and the internet), Small Islands Voice seeks to strengthen cooperation and partnerships among small islands so they can actively contribute to the implementation of the Programme of Action for the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States.

Many writers have described the beauties and unique nature of small islands; similarly others have written at length about the limitations facing people living in small islands.  Both viewpoints have their merits.  However, there is one point on which most islanders agree: that there have been enough studies and assessments and the time has come for action.

Action to promote sustainable development or sustainable island living can take place at many different levels.  Small Islands Voice starts with action at the local level, and then moves to facilitate the sharing of experiences.  In this way, one small activity can have a much greater impact and can furthermore have an influence at the international level.

At the first inter-regional Small Islands Voice meeting, held in Palau in 2002, participants discussed key elements of concern and they proposed a framework for Small Islands Voice that would turn the talk into action (UNESCO 2003).  This framework, with a few additions, remains valid today:

Present a unified front for all islands: small islands need to present a strong unified front with a shared voice, while also respecting differences and diversity

Implement good governance: this requires a shared vision and a framework for collaborative decision-making for government and the general public, and should include educating and empowering women, youth and children as part of the process

Promote greater self-sufficiency: in a world undergoing globalization, promote an overall ethic for greater self-sufficiency in relation to population growth, economic consumption and energy use

Strengthen social responsibilities and ethical codes: halt the decline in the moral and social fabric of society by developing, strengthening and enforcing social responsibilities, codes of conduct and codes of ethics

Preserve traditions and culture: Maintain, and in some cases, restore identity, dignity and self-esteem, by ensuring traditions and culture are upheld and citizenship is respected

Improve education systems: improve and strengthen job training modules, job placement programmes, mentoring, career guidance programmes, and school curricula

Address environmental issues at a local level: solid waste management and climate change were identified as issues common to all islands; island populations need to be empowered to reduce these problems

Islands often find themselves at the forefront of sustainable development issues and many of the solutions they develop are relevant to communities in larger countries. In this way, small islands provide examples for the rest of the world.

Island solidarity is important in the international arena as has been seen in the Climate Change Convention and its protocols.  In 1994, the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, held in Barbados, developed a Programme of Action.  Ten years later (January 2005), during an international meeting to review the implementation of this Programme of Action, it was reiterated that this document remains the fundamental framework for the sustainable development of small islands, although it was also recognized that new issues, such as graduation from least developed country status, had emerged (Mauritius Declaration and Strategy).

Implementing the Programme of Action is a major challenge for islands around the world and the international community.  Small Islands Voice is one of many programmes and activities that can contribute to this process. Thus it was especially timely, as a follow-up to the Mauritius Declaration and the Mauritius Strategy, for Small Islands Voice partners to meet to review goals and strategies for the coming years to the end of 2007.

Meeting Arrangements

The first Small Islands Voice inter-regional meeting was held in Palau in the Pacific in 2002. Since the 2005 International Meeting to review the implementation of the Programme of Action for the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States was held in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, it was appropriate to hold the second inter-regional Small Islands Voice Meeting in the Caribbean.  Bequia, a small island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, offered to host the meeting; this invitation was welcomed, especially in view of the fact that outer islands are a special area of focus for Small Islands Voice.

The meeting was held from 11-16 July 2005 and the objectives were as follows:

  • Small Islands Voice work planning 2005 -7 within the framework of Mauritius Strategy implementation
  • Exchange of information about ongoing Small Islands Voice activities
  • Exchanges with related UNESCO programmes and projects and those of other organizations
  • Interaction between Small Islands Voice partners and UNESCO staff from field offices and headquarters
  • Exchange and interaction with communities concerning sustainable development issues in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

One representative from each of the island countries/territories involved in Small Islands Voice was invited to the meeting, with the understanding that they would share the experiences with other partners on their return home.  In addition, several persons from St. Vincent and the Grenadines – members of the Small Islands Voice team and other interested persons - attended the meeting. Representatives from UNESCO (headquarters and field offices) and other organizations also participated.  Annex 1 contains the list of participants.

The programme, Annex 2, was carefully designed to provide sufficient time for discussions, sharing of experiences, and planning sessions over the six-day period. Time was allocated for two separate field trips focusing on different sustainable issues in the host country and interaction with local communities. However, the programme for 13-14 July had to be modified due to the passage of Tropical Storm Emily, an ‘early’ Caribbean storm.  As a result, the field trip to the Marine Park in the Tobago Cays was cancelled and other sessions had to be re-arranged.  As could be expected, participants showed a willingness to adapt to the changed circumstances.  The programme in Annex 2 shows the original programme.

Tropical Storm Emily tore part of the roof off the Rotary Centre, (the meeting venue), 13 July 2005

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