The Virtual Island Summit Will Take You on a Voyage of Discovery

The digital world is a world of nomads. They wander. They explore. They get lost in the sand dunes. They set sail on mysterious waters.  They lose their compass – which direction are they heading in? They set up camp for the night. They light a fire.

These nomads might even bump into a few islands.

Islands? Virtual islands? Well, there’s the Virtual Island Summit, organized by Island Innovation, which describes itself as “a social enterprise and digital media company at the intersection of sustainable development and communications, offering specialised services across various sectors.” Tune in from September 7 to 13, 2020 and listen to, learn from and share with islanders from literally all around the world – islands large and small, cold and windswept, green and fringed with coral reefs…Many islands await. And it’s all free. You can register here

Green for the environment, and with a human footprint: Island Innovation’s logo.

James Ellsmoor, the still-impossibly-young Director of Island Innovation and Founder of the Virtual Island Summit, is certainly a digital nomad. With laptop perched on knees and smartphone in hand, he is nevertheless not a “techie,” but a connector of humans. The technology is a tool, to reach people by: the fellow nomads, and those who feel inclined to wander. Ellsmoor is a bridge-builder, and his Virtual Summit is a classic example of his wide vision and his particular leaning for detail. That is quite a unique combination of skills. For the upcoming Summit, his entire, future-directed philosophy is wrapped up in this piece in Sunday’s Jamaica Gleaner. 

James Ellsmoor also founded Solar Head of State, which resulted in Jamaica House going solar a couple of years back.

This is the second Virtual Island Summit. I unfortunately only participated in snatches in the first one, but what I did see was illuminating. I listened to a community-based organizer in the Comoros Islands (I had to look them up on the map afterwards), which seemed to share several of Jamaica’s issues, including the sustainability of their fisheries. I felt that I was sitting at the feet of Queen Quet of the Gullah Geechee, guardian of her precious cultural heritage on the sea islands of the Carolinas; I could listen to her speak all day, absorbing her wisdom and her Creole language with its surprising Caribbean sounds and structures. It was a remarkable experience, and I intend to dive into much more this time around. I will clear my calendar, as they say, because I know there will be more riches in store.

The Summit last year was well ahead of its time, of course. Online conferences were still not really considered feasible or even desirable – even just last year. But then, I recently attended (and presented at) an exciting online conference that went on for several days: the North American Ornithological Conference – an enormous undertaking that was – well, enormously successful, beyond the NAOC’s imagination!

But, back then, in 2019 (how does it seem much longer ago?) we enjoyed hopping on and off planes, didn’t we? A chance to travel, and coffee breaks with donuts, and a bit of sight-seeing in a different city. We did not know or realize then – and still perhaps not all of us have grasped – that the virtual world is our world now. Island Innovation realized this from the outset. Here’s an example of the incredible opportunities to learn and connect online:


Let me give you a taste of what’s in store for those who join the Virtual Island Summit. There is a screening and live Q&A with the director of Uncivilized, a feature film from Dominica about survival, post-Hurricane Maria. There will be a press briefing that you will need to sign up for, virtual marketplaces and a facility to make person-to-person linkages with participants through Network Plus (which is not free).

The topics and the speakers are extraordinary and wide-ranging – from sustainability issues to resilience and disaster preparedness, marine protection, the future of education, COVID-19, Brexit and the UK Overseas Territories, local government, youth leadership, and more. The speakers include the Prime Minister of Fiji Hon. Frank Bainamarama; Mayor Marisol Andrade Cárdenas in Tierra Del Fuego; the Chief Minister of Guernsey, Channel Islands; and Matthew McMillan, President of BuzzMaker. Then on our side of the world, there are Dr. Preeya Mohan at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine; Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Charlin Bodley, Sustainable Energy expert at CREEE; Senior Legal Advisor at Climate Analytics, Rueanna Haynes; and our own Lisa Hanna. This is just to mention a few!

However, I would also highly recommend that Caribbean participants do not only join the Caribbean discussions. There is so much to learn from experts – academics, government people, NGO people – from around the world. You will find there are things in common, and there are solutions that you may not have heard of, or thought of. For the creative-minded, the philosopher, the practical-minded islander – there is something for everyone.

As Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a-changin’.”  

Whatever people say, things will never be the same after COVID-19. It cannot be back to “business as usual,” whether we are talking about energy, the environment, economics, education, housing…people. We can do better. We must do better!

See you on the first day of the Summit – Monday, September 7, 2020.

Communications practitioner and creator of the Global Yaadie podcast (among many other things) – climate and environmental activist Dainalyn Swaby is one of the Virtual Island Summit’s Jamaican Ambassadors.


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