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52 Islands: Building Resilient Island Communities

Inspiring community-level action & resiliency to assist Small Island Developing States combat the effects of climate change.

Photo of Erin Brown (Steffen)
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Our planet’s 52 small island developing states share similar sustainable development challenges, including the strong likelihood that their communities will be displaced due to climate change. Faced with this alarming possibility, several island leaders have united under a common refrain: let us migrate with dignity, rather than wait until the situation becomes so dire that we are forcibly displaced.

Our organization, 52 Islands, is in its early-stages and we are progressing with the mission to assist island states with adapting to climate change impacts, including potential displacement. Individuals, families, or entire communities may choose to migrate in response to extreme weather events, like cyclones, or as an adaptation strategy to longer-term climate change impacts, like sea-level rise.

Our strategy is to work from the community-level up, assisting island communities to develop climate mobility strategies as an addendum to their country’s National Adaptation Plan (“NAP”), which is country-level driven. Similar to the concept of economic mobility, which describes the ability of an individual, family, or group to change their economic status, climate mobility strategies will offer islanders the choice to remain or migrate, depending on their unique needs and personal assessment of risk.

We will also provide assistance to develop in-country support to implement the climate mobility strategies, which will require significant efforts in education, vocational training, government action, and a supportive community infrastructure. These actions will involve both the vulnerable and, if necessary, linked-host communities, which could be in the same or another country.

Our project work began recently in the spring of 2015 with a brief assessment in Tuvalu, an island state in the South Pacific with a total population of 10,000. Due to sea level rise, Tuvalu is listed as one of the nations most vulnerable to climate-induced impacts. After conducting interviews with stakeholders ranging from geology experts to community members and international donor organizations, 52 Islands staff concluded that there is a great need for island-wide assistance with planning for potential climate displacement. The head of a prominent Tuvaluan women’s organization, as well as the Secretary of the Island Council and others asked our staff to come back to Tuvalu and continue our work to assist in creating climate mobility strategies.

Our Executive Director in Tuvalu on a recent research assignment

52 Island’s Executive Director and Lead Development Economist (who will work full-time on this project) will return to Tuvalu in the spring of 2016 and will visit the capital, Funafuti, as well as four outer islands. The purpose of the trip will be to establish relationships within communities, learn about the history, culture, hopes, and concerns of community members, and initiate a community-led process for designing the climate mobility strategies. We will synthesize the information we gather from the capital and outer islands to share with the Island Council and Tuvalu national government. From there, we will set up a plan for incorporating the strategies within the NAP, and will talk with government and other stakeholders about work to develop in-country support to fully implement the strategies. It is our goal to develop a sound and practical program in Tuvalu, and, thereafter, scale-up our operations and implement similar processes in other islands states.

While we have a large goal, we envision many steps and complimentary projects along the way. To this end, one project we will initiate immediately to help support the climate mobility strategies is the 52 Islands Hub Network. It is our goal to have a hub network in each of the subject 52 island countries, starting with Tuvalu. The main purpose of each hub will be to 1) provide a portal where people in that country can ask questions and share information and resources related to climate change; and 2) bring together and connect ‘locals’ with ‘expats’. Moreover, the purpose of the latter is to connect the ‘local’ island people who are facing climate change impacts with people who have already migrated, the ‘expats’. This will not only be a means to learn and share information, but to also build and strengthen relationships. Strong relationships are one of the most important factors in building climate resiliency. At-risk islanders could gain a greater sense of ease about what is happening to them, how they might need to plan, and why they might need to migrate, and expats can feel connected and helpful to their home country.

The 52 Islands Hub Network will work differently across all settings. In one way, it will differ based on the level of engagement and need of the islanders, but it will also fundamentally differ in the way it is implemented. Ideally, we would like to use Facebook groups as the platform, but the Internet will not be available in all of our communities. Thus, we will have to seek creative ways to make this system work. It could be as sophisticated as Facebook groups, with local and expat ambassadors managing the pages, to as traditional as a pen-pal program using hand-written letters.

Where is this innovation/innovator located at? Be as specific as you can (country and city).

The 52 Islands organization and staff is located in San Francisco, California. However, the project work in the first year will be in Funafuti, Tuvalu, and will expand in subsequent years to other small island developing states.

If you are an innovator, how can OpenIDEO support you? What are your current needs? If you are not an innovator, tell us what you do and what your needs are.

We believe IDEO & its network can be of great support to 52 Islands. First, we endorse IDEO’s human-center design approach & would appreciate support & oversight to ensure we are mastering this process in our work. We have a strong, dedicated staff with experience in research & design, but nothing quite like IDEO’s design process. And, we can uniquely appreciate this approach, since our mission includes empowering people at the community-level. Secondly, with our 52 Islands Hub Network, we understand the challenges of implementation based on access to Internet connectivity. We would be interested in collaborating with IDEO and/or other partners on gaining insight on innovative ways to better implement this idea. Lastly, 52 Islands is progressing & making some waves, but still has a long way to go. We believe IDEO could support & lift us, & islanders, into a more promising future by sharing our work and stories. For these reasons, we would be very excited to join this network.

How did you find out about this challenge? (Check all that apply)

  • Email from OpenIDEO

Would you like to be involved in Accelerate in the future? (Check all that apply)

  • Yes! I'd love to be involved in some way.
  • Attend an event
  • Help innovative organizations as a volunteer
  • Help tell stories of climate innovators
  • Help raise awareness about Accelerate
  • Help connect Accelerate to potential partners


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Photo of Erin Brown (Steffen)

Thanks Giok P CHUA for your comments! Do you have a website you could share?

Photo of Giok P CHUA

WIP ;))
Awaiting for my IPAdvisers to give go-ahead as they are aweating over the patentability draft

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