Gillian Cambers
Small Islands Voice Global Coordinator
University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program
P.O. Box 9011, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico 00681
T: 1 787 832 4040 ext 5301, F: 1 787 265 2880, E



Finding a balance between rapid development and preserving island ambience and environment is one of the main challenges facing small islands. Sharing the lessons learnt and experiences gained in seeking and finding this elusive balance is one of the goals of Small Islands Voice, an inter-regional project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). One of the most promising initiatives emerging is that of island visioning whereby islanders determine how they want their islands to develop in the future and how to make this vision become reality. There are two areas of emphasis: communities and youth. A community visioning initiative has been started in Palau and is described here, along with a longer running programme in Moloka'i in Hawaii. A similar visioning approach is being adopted among island youth in a side event to the International Meeting to review the Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States to be held in Mauritius in January 2005.



Seeking a balance between rapid development and preserving the island ambience and way of life is no easy task, but it is one that must be confronted as islands seek their place in the global community in the 21st century. For each island, the balance is going to be different. Sharing the lessons learnt and experiences gained in seeking and finding this elusive balance is one of the goals of Small Islands Voice, an inter-regional project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


Small Islands Voice (SIV) started in 2002 and is all about (1) providing mechanisms for people living in small islands to discuss their views on environment and development; (2) encouraging people to get involved in sustainable development issues so that (3) they can contribute to the implementation of the Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States.

Finding out the issues

Finding out the main issues that concern people living in small islands was the first main objective. Opinion surveys were conducted in six islands on 2002:

  • St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean
  • Seychelles and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean
  • Palau and Cook Islands in the Pacific

These surveys targetted a representative 1% of the population and adopted a 'blank sheet approach'. People were asked to list a specified number of changes they has seen over the past ten years (both good and bad); to indicate changes they would like to see in the next years; and to comment on whether the public was fully involved in planning the future development of their island. Each island modified the survey slightly according to their own specific situation.

Complementary to the opinion surveys, discussions were held in many islands - through town hall-type meetings, workshops, radio call-in shows, national and regional consultations, and other means - to widen the scope and depth of the discussions. Islands involved in these activities included the six listed above as well as The Bahamas, Cuba, Dominica and San Andres Archipelago in the Caribbean, Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, and Fiji in the Pacific, a total of 12 island territories.

The process was widened to include additional islands through a global internet forum. This forum, started in 2002 and known as SIV Global, is available on the internet ( and it also goes out as an email message once every two weeks to more than 20,000 addresses of people living in small islands. The first topic was road development in Palau. Responses are compiled every two weeks and posted on the forum, as well as going out by email. Each topic is usually run for about two months, after which all the responses are compiled on the website and a brief summary is prepared. Topics have been very varied and have included:

  • Road development in Palau
  • Tourism development in Seychelles
  • Beach access in Tobago
  • Foreign investment in Cook Islands
  • Crime and violence in the Caribbean
  • Water export, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Airport development in Cook Islands
  • Foreign fishing around small islands, Ascension Island
  • Solid waste disposal, San Andres Island
  • Climate change Tuvalu

Based on the number of responses received to each article and the comments received, the forum has been very successful.

'I thank you for the forum as I think it gives a great insight into the concerns and grief of us all in small island territories.' Anthony Garland, Turks and Caicos Islands (SIV Global forum May 2003)

'An emailed response to an earlier column posed the question: Do you live in a small island? If I did, I was urged to "tell us what you think". I thought: "spam". But something stayed my hand as it moved quickly to the delete key and I read the message through to the end. It was, in fact, an interesting discussion on a problem peculiar to the people of some island states scattered around the planet.' Philippa Stevenson, New Zealand Herald, 20 July 2004

A similar forum, but this time a live, un-moderated forum was started for secondary school students in more than 40 schools across 12 island territories, in 2002 ( with username view and password only). The youth introduce their own topics and discuss them amongst themselves. Subjects have ranged from incest to island heritage, and from whaling to hydroponics. This forum, now in its third year has been very successful, providing for inter-island and inter-regional exchanges. In the case of the Maldives and Seychelles it led to a physical exchange since the students were not prepared just to discuss issues by internet, but wished to meet and work together. As a result a joint project involving the Maldives and Seychelles youth has started 'Zero tolerance for litter'. Island partners and teachers play a large role in the success of the Youth Forum.

What are the issues?

Compiling the results from the opinions surveys, internet forums and other activities was an interesting and mammoth task. The key concerns for the general public proved very similar amongst islanders in the three regions. Listed in order of priority, they are:

  1. economic concerns: high cost of living, high taxes, foreign debt
  2. employment: lack of jobs, little job security
  3. inadequate health care
  4. education needs
  5. new and improved infrastructure: roads, houses, airports
  6. environmental deterioration: waste disposal, pollution, deforestation

Other important issues were identified in particular islands, and in some cases they may have been the most important issue for a particular island, these issues were:

  1. tourism, particularly over-dependence on tourism
  2. decline in moral and/or traditional values
  3. increased crime and violence especially among young people
  4. good governance

The discussions, as seen in detail on the forums, highlight the importance of island cultural heritage and how it provides people with a sense of continuity, giving them a sense of belonging and identity. The erosion of traditions and customs, the loss of local languages, and the decline of traditional leadership (especially in the Pacific islands) are viewed with concern by many islanders, including youth. Among the social issues, increasing crime and violence, especially among youth, is a growing concern. Economic issues, foreign investment, tourism, inward and outward migration, and environmental deterioration are also concerns for islanders. This is especially so in outer islands of archipelagos such as the Cook Islands, Maldives and The Bahamas, which often stand in danger of being left out of the mainstream of development.

What comes next?

As mentioned in the beginning, one of the main objectives of Small Islands Voice is to get people involved in sustainable development, and through so doing to become a part of the Small Island Developing States Programme of Action. The Programme of Action, although drawn up in 1994, has had limited success or impact, and has yet to become a driving force for sustainable development in small islands.

So, within the framework of Small Islands Voice, island partners select key issues to address through specific action on the ground. The particular issue and activities are determined by island partners, for example several islands are working on recycling and solid waste management initiatives, another island, St. Kitts and Nevis, is working on the crime and violence issue, and yet another island, Cook Islands, is working on recording on video tape island memories from the Outer Islands before they are forever lost as the island elders die.

One of the most interesting initiatives that is emerging is 'Island visioning.' A key component of visioning is for islanders to determine how they want their communities and islands to develop, and assisting them, where necessary, with making their vision become reality.


Island visioning is all about islanders articulating how they want their islands to develop in the future and how they plan to help make this happen. Within the framework of Small Islands Voice, there are two ongoing initiatives: community visioning and youth visioning.

Community visioning

Community visioning is essentially a long term planning process whereby communities lay out a blueprint for changes they want to see within their communities, they then implement the plan and evaluate their progress on an ongoing basis.

Community visioning was developed as a programme of the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Office of Community Development. It has worked successfully in several rural areas in the USA, and one notable example is the island of Moloka'i in Hawaii.

There are three main stages:

  1. Developing a vision statement and a strategic plan
  2. Implementing the plan
  3. Monitoring and evaluation

Community visioning started in several different parts of Palau in 2001, and communities began by preparing vision statements, which are individual to each community. The following is the vision statement prepared by the inhabitants of Sonsorol, a small, isolated group of islands in southern Palau.

Visioning statement

Sonsorol State Islands and people are unique culturally, socially and environmentally to the rest of the Republic of Palau. By nature, our islands are tiny in size and located further away from neighbouring developed islands. In today's world of new and improved technology, the islands are even farther away due to lack of good communication technology and reliable transportation. Nevertheless, we love our islands and its cultures. We honour our ancestors who fist settled in the islands and called them our home.

  • We envision preservation of our cultural values and tradition of family respect and community of people who live in harmony with each other
  • We envision protection and preservation of our islands' environmental integrity and its limited natural resources that people on the islands will live self sufficiently and in harmony with the environment
  • We envision more people wanting to live on the islands with feeling of security in health care services and education for their children


However, the visioning process in Palau came to a temporary halt in 2002, due to a lack of funding and coordination. Starting in 2003 it has restarted, with the support of Small Islands Voice, and is being coordinated by the Palau Conservation Society.

A refresher workshop in 2004 has re-invigorated the community leaders to go back to their communities and begin the process of drawing up plans to implement their visions. The workshop participants were enthused by the successes of Moloka'i, one of the Hawaiian islands. Over a period of six years they have been implementing their plan and have achieved some remarkable successes:

  • Diabetes is a serious problem, especially for older Hawaiians, and the community visioning process resulted in a dialysis centre being established on Moleka'i so that people can receive treatment while living at home with their families
  • Fish ponds are being restored
  • Taro patches are returning to Moleka'i
  • Moleka'i recognises the need for development, but maintains that it has to be done the 'community' way, compatibility is the key word
  • During a conflict with the largest landowner, families and the communities became divided; now the community is working on a land use plan with the landowner, based on their vision statement
  • Moleka'i succeeded in preventing cruise ships from coming and docking on the island, instead the passengers are brought via tenders from neighbouring Oahu
  • The State Government were rather dismissive of the community strategic plan at the beginning, however, now in the sixth year the situation is reversing and policy makers are asking how they can be part of the community plan

Youth visioning

Using the same principals of community visioning a 'Youth Visioning' initiative has been started as a way to involve youth in the Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States ( Representing a significant part of the population of small islands, young people with their enthusiasm, passion and drive, need to be fully involved in the Programme of Action. Young islanders, 13-23 years, have been invited to take part in a visioning process whereby they can articulate how they want their islands to develop in the future and how they plan to help make this happen. The visioning will centre around three broad themes, which emerged from the Small Islands Voice internet discussions in 2002-3:

  • Life and love in islands - island lifestyles and cultures
  • My island home - safeguarding island environments
  • Money in my pocket - economic and employment opportunities

Three stages are involved: firstly, preparatory activities among island youth, e.g. local meetings and discussions, fund raising activities, media promotion of the visioning activity, web-based discussions about the themes. Secondly, youth participants from island countries will meet in Mauritius for a period of five days, 7-12 January 2005, to discuss concerns, share information about activities, and shape their vision. They will then present their vision backed up by proposals to the main United Nations (UN) meeting, which will be held from 10-14 January 2005. Thirdly, after the meeting in Mauritius, island youth will prioritise actions at a local and national level, and begin implementation.


This short paper has just provided a few small snapshots of the myriad of activities that islands are undertaking within the framework of Small Islands Voice. It is hoped that by continuing to work locally and sharing the experiences with others around the world, these activities will indeed make a difference.


See the corresponding powerpoint presentation