Small Islands and Indigenous Knowledge

© UNESCO/Georges Malempré Woman working on rice field, Celebes

“Sophisticated knowledge of the natural world is not confined to science. Societies from all regions of the world have developed rich sets of experience, understanding and explanation.” (from brochure of UNESCO’s LINKS programme)

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) today face unprecedented challenges. In many ways, SIDS are suffering from the impacts of global changes that are affecting their livelihoods and increasing their vulnerability. However, local and indigenous societies living in small islands have a record of thriving in challenging times, inventing and refining new and innovative approaches to development, societal mobilization and technological adaptation. The environmental knowledge of local and indigenous peoples is now widely recognized as an essential building block of sustainable development and the conservation of biological and cultural diversity, all of which can be used to build their resilience in facing global changes.

UNESCO recognizes the importance of the role of local and indigenous knowledge for sustainable development in SIDS, which has been reflected in UNESCO’s medium-term strategy (2008-2013) and implemented through its SIDS Platform to implement the Mauritius Strategy for Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, and the Local and Indigenous Knowledge System (LINKS) programme.

The mandate of the Sciences for Society (SCS) Unit of UNESCO Office, Jakarta is to foster interdisciplinary and intersectoral activities that facilitate dialogue between science and policy, and generate usable (rather than merely “useful”) context-specific scientific knowledge for society and decision makers. Among the unit’s main areas of action are:

  • Contributing to the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for the Sustainable Development of SIDS, as well as other development objectives such as the Millennium Development Goals.
  • Mobilizing endogenous capacities for sustainable natural resource use and management, including local and indigenous knowledge, skills and worldviews, and their synergies with science.
  • Supporting rural and indigenous communities in their efforts to cope with the interlinked processes of environmental, socio-economic and cultural changes.
  • Building resilience in the face of climate change and variability, while enhancing natural disaster prevention and preparedness.
  • Heightening collaboration and solidarity among vulnerable and isolated communities, across generations (including marginalized youth), and between scientists/decision-makers and society at large.

The work of the SCS unit is interdisciplinary, cutting across the Organization’s programme sectors, allowing it to interact with other initiatives on specific themes, such as, climate change, disaster preparedness and education for sustainable development. The Unit works with local knowledge holders to promote recognition of their expertise about the natural environment and to reinforce their contribution to a more equitable governance policy for natural resources. The unit focuses its activities on Timor Leste, as the only SIDS within UNESCO Office Jakarta cluster countries, nevertheless the unit also works in other countries in the Asia and the Pacific.

Activities of the SCS Unit of UNESCO Office, Jakarta fall under two broad themes:

For more information about Sciences for Society Unit programme and activities in Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Timor Leste, please contact:

Ms. Lisa Hiwasaki
Programme Specialist for Sciences for Society Unit

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