Knowledge sharing of proven solutions that address the SDGs can be particularly beneficial for island States.
Five critical success factors to leverage knowledge well are: ensure initiatives are linked to national efforts with regards to the SDGs; consider islands as places for a first step to innovate, and then roll out the insights globally; show concrete results, preferably quickly; great examples are often close by and available to learn from; and Face-to-face events remain important.
Islands face many common challenges, and often a lack of resources to address them. Therefore, knowledge sharing of proven solutions that address the SDGs can be particularly beneficial for them. ‘Islands’ are often used as metaphors in the domain of knowledge management, ie. for the silos within organizations that need to connect. In my work for islands, these metaphors come to life.
For the last few years, I have managed the UNDP’s Centre of Excellence for Small Island Developing States, based on Aruba. The core activity has been bridging islands of knowledge, in many ways. Knowledge has been shared about best practices related to sustainable tourism, renewable energy, waste management and access to finance, to name a few. Because why reinvent the wheel if we can learn from others? Smart islands are those that share SDG knowledge, our most renewable resource.
Having done knowledge projects over the last 20+ years for diverse organizations, I have noticed five critical success factors to leverage knowledge well. And I’ve found once again how valid they are – this time in the context of islands in need of knowledge for their sustainable development. They are…
1. Ensure High-level Commitment
Whatever the development initiative, ensure it is linked – or at least contributes – to national efforts with regards to the SDGs. This is especially crucial if capacity and resources are low, like on small islands. And for small organizations like ours, I believe that the smaller you are, the more demand-driven, innovative and synergetic you need to be to add value. With limited resources, the margin for error is small. So, when close to 30 SIDS’ policy-makers attended our inaugural training on Aruba, we asked what topics were top-of-mind regarding their national priorities. And hence, we focused on them, often the more ‘obvious’ SDGs for islands, such as SDG14 on oceans and SDG7 on energy. And when we offered in-country support to SIDS such as Antigua, Seychelles and Vanuatu, we ensured the support aligned with their existing programs.
2. Think Big, Start Small
It is important to create a coherent long-term vision, but it is perhaps just as important to know what the practical first step is. Larger countries or global firms could consider islands as places for a first step to innovate, and then roll out the insights globally. I see two such examples close to home, on Aruba: there is a Smart Community project where many aspects of sustainable living are tested by people living in 20 houses, leading to real-island-life data and insights; and Happy Flow is a collaborative effort on the island, including KLM and Schiphol Airport, to streamline passenger processing and improve their experience in a revolutionary way. These smaller-scale initiatives can then lead to insights for scaling-up worldwide.
3. Show Quick, Tangible Results
Since knowledge can seem intangible and abstract, it is key to show concrete results, preferably quickly. When we organized the “Build Back Better” event on Sint Maarten after the devastating hurricane Irma, we were looking for such tangible results. It included a hackathon competition with participation from across society that produced many ideas for a more resilient future. The winning team (out of a total of 21) “Green Box” proposed an app for tracking and rewarding people for recycling their waste, and went on to launch their recycling company. It was inspiring and especially satisfying because as organizers you want to see concrete impact as a result of your event.
Also, since policymakers working on SDGs consistently ask for ‘how-to’ knowledge, we developed a string of case studies, from Agri-tourism to Renewable energy and more. The intent is that these will help them save money and increase the speed and quality of SDG projects.
4. Use What Exists, Before You Invest
Too often a ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome leads to a disregard for existing successes and a preference to reinvent the wheel. But great examples are often close by and available to learn from. Again, an example close to home – the most sustainable resort in the world – Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort. From straws to solar panels to carton reuse and waste-water recycling, they have thought it through (which is why we wrote a case study on it).
For all of our activities, we’ve first asked: has anyone done this before? If so, let’s talk. If not, let’s find a partner with similar objectives and complimentary skills. This way we were able to deliver an online course on sustainable energy for SIDS policymakers for a small budget. We partnered with Hamburg University, which had an existing course that we tailored to our policy-maker audience. Close to 400 people participated in our course.
5. It’s about People, Not Technology
Lastly, when it comes to knowledge sharing, the focus is too often on tangible platforms as opposed to the people-centered, behavioral aspects. In just about any survey about preferred knowledge sharing mechanisms, the ‘high-touch’ channels like face-to-face events will beat the ‘high-tech’ mechanisms like an online course.
Face-to-face events remain important, even if they unfortunately don’t always lead to tangible results other than new connections made. Two examples where we connected SIDS stakeholders: we partnered with the UN Missions of Belgium and Antigua & Barbuda to convene and connect the UN Ambassadors of SIDS around the challenge of “Financing the Resilience of SIDS”. And with the renewable energy community CAREC, we organized a gathering of the Caribbean energy community with a specific focus on the knowledge needs of renewable energy professionals. Based on discussions and mobile polling, their key needs surfaced: a mechanism for sharing best practices, and more face-to-face meeting opportunities.
Conclusion: Be Smart, and Connect and Collaborate for the SDGs
In short, working on the SDGs is an enormous challenge to which knowledge sharing is a key prerequisite, even more so for small island states. These challenges call for innovative approaches that connect the right people and catalyze collaboration to leverage relevant knowledge. Hopefully this checklist of five knowledge management tips can help in bridging island of knowledge in sustainable development.
Arno Boersma is the Manager of UNDP’s Centre of Excellence for Small Island Developing States, based on Aruba (see www.SustainableSIDS.org). Contact him at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/arnoboersma/