The  Blue Economy, the SDGs and Innovation: We have to take the Path Less Travelled

The Blue Economy is being heralded as an innovative agenda for setting the pace towards a new Seychelles. As a new development concept, the Blue Economy needs to be unpacked. We need to know what’s under its hood, how it works and how to fuel it. More than that, we need to know what it is not – the Blue Economy cannot be new branding for “business as usual” and definitely, no one wants to see old wine in a new bottle. And, the entire concept and practice of the Blue Economy needs research and development – R&D – to drive innovation that is needed. (Shah, 2013).

A raft of disciplines from natural to social sciences needs to be involved because innovation in terms of the Blue Economy must be multidisciplinary, mutlisectoral and multi-partner and it must respond to societal needs rather than only the needs of the commercial market.

Is innovation only technologically driven?
Many tend to view ‘innovation’ mainly in technological and economic terms, seeking new products based on the latest technological development or private sector entrepreneurship that creates and fills a market niche (Kellman, 2015).

But innovation for the Blue Economy must be more than that. Innovation in the 21st Century HAS to take account of the new global development agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The implementation phase of Goal 14 – the Ocean Goal- should present the most coherent pathway for achieving not only national consensus around the Blue Economy but also to innovate so as to meet the many SDG Targets in a timely manner (Shah,2015)

National innovation systems do not emerge automatically whenever a country industrializes; innovation and technological progress can both be hampered by market failure, in the sense that the market alone may not provide sufficient incentive to stimulate adequate investment. Furthermore, even where such systems do exist, they may not operate efficiently, as they can be undermined by institutional, organizational and network failures (SciDev, 2015)

It is not too difficult to understand that a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) like Seychelles with a population of less than 100,000 people, a microeconomy, and a location which is distant from developed world markets and knowledge centers will have difficulties maintaining conventional governance, social and economic structures let alone be able to innovate novel ones. In fact, market failures abound. However, I believe SIDS can “disrupt” the current national and global thinking about the nature of innovation. Kellman says that whilst innovation mainly in technological and economic terms and seeking new products must continue to be recognized, embraced, and investigated, SIDS have to go beyond by stressing innovation for governance and culture as well.

Innovation for Governance
It is my contention that when we talk about innovation for the Blue Economy we have to understand that Kelman’s “innovation for governance” needs to be propagated quickly because it is the beginning of the process – the breeding ground, so to speak, to spawn innovation. Governance in terms of new policy and laws are essential, but the litmus test will be if they lead to innovative projects and programs on the ground, changing negative situations into positive ones. Governance cannot be for governance’s sake only. A good example is how climate change is being handled. The world should be innovating rather than negotiating its way out of the worst impacts of climate change through global summits. Local innovation for climate adaption seems to be getting little attention and support and, as in many cases, the business angle is always being pushed. “Maybe they (local innovators) don’t need too much attention from the policy makers, because that attention comes with particular views about the need to create businesses or ‘scale up’ such inventions. And sometimes that misses the point” (SciDev2015).

Is innovation possible in Seychelles?
It seems that potential innovators in SIDS like Seychelles could be better suited to addressing the global development agenda. In this case, innovations should be targeted towards implementing the Blue Economy and SDGs. Seychellois innovators must look at addressing fundamental threats, particularly climate change, but also others such as IUU fishing, obesity and so forth rather than trying to leverage profits through the next big thing in the “sharing economy”, “gig economy”, or whatever. This is not to say business models must not be used – actually long term success dictates that the initiatives have to be financially self-sustaining. The point is that projects and initiatives should be targeting issues affecting society with a view to solving them. The Blue Economy, Goal 14 and in fact all the SDGs, can only be tackled through concerted and collaborative action by the private, NGO/charity and government sectors , in other words innovative partnership structures.

Seychelles is producing some interesting innovative outcomes that could strengthen its implementation of the Blue Economy and SDGs if scaled up and cascaded. While most countries are developing Innovation Ecosystems to spearhead technological development in electronics, information and communication technology (ICT) and other areas of the fourth wave innovation, the Seychelles has embarked on innovative ways to mitigate the impact of climate change. One of the areas is using innovation in environment protection and restoration (Estico, 2015).

In this paper, Estico describes one innovative outcome from Seychelles, the Reef Rescuers project implemented by the NGO Nature Seychelles to restore marine ecosystem services lost through climate change impacts. Whilst many innovative elements exist in this project Estico chose to focus on an unusual aspect – a project implemented by a national NGO through a team of world class experts that it recruited. Whist lack of capacities have been identified ad infinitum as one of the key barriers to the development of Seychelles, Nature Seychelles has simply leap-frogged this alleged constraint by outsourcing implementation in the field and building local capacity through this articulation of international talent.

Innovation as an institutional character
As has been said earlier, conventional wisdom dictates that the most innovative leaders would be the market creators within technology or the product innovators within consumer-oriented businesses but the example of Nature Seychelles’ Reef Rescuers shows that the not-for-profit sector/NGOs are also change makers in profound ways. In fact, initial research by the Center for Leadership Insight at Russell Reynolds Associates across more than 50 international NGOs and other environment, education, and health-related not-for-profit organizations shows that there are more innovative leaders in not-for-profit sector than in any other industry/ sector (Stamoulis, 2016)

If Nature Seychelles is taken as an institutional case study to examine the validity of this conclusion for Seychelles, it can be seen immediately that its Strategic Plan demands innovation in all its activities. One of the 4 Core Values outlined in the 2012-2016 Strategic Plan is An eye for innovation. To this end Nature Seychelles’ projects have been transformative and trend setting. For example, it made Cousin Island Special Reserve the first carbon-neutral protected area in the world (through purchase of carbon credits from accredited projects in Africa, thus also supporting projects in other developing countries – an unexpected innovation). It successfully completed Seychelles’ first (and only) crowd-funded project recently for a renewable energy system for Cousin Island. It is the only entity outside the Government that has set up a Blue Economy initiative – the Blue Economy Knowledge Centre.

This not-for-profit organization has won many national, regional and international awards for its change-making projects including Tourism for Tomorrow and Conde Nast tourism award (for ecotourism), Highway Africa digital journalism award (for use of social media), Pan African Award for Entrepreneurship in Education (for environmental education), the International Innovation Prize of the World Leisure Organization (leisure and environment), Birdlife International Partnership award (for saving critically endangered birds), the first Alice Bukholi prize from the Birdlife Council for Africa (for conservation through young people), the recent Blue Solutions for Africa (for its reef restoration project) and so forth.

Innovation in Seychelles is hampered by an archaic enabling environment
But, at the end of the day impactful innovation is limited by funding and other types of support. NGOs and other similar not-for-profit civil society organizations struggle in Seychelles. Nature Seychelles is totally self-funded – it does not receive a budget and its Board and staff have to raise salaries, operating costs, etc. themselves. Banks, insurance firms, accountants/auditors and all other companies it transacts with do not provide special rates for non-profits (even the petrol for the boats that it uses to patrol and protect the Cousin Island Special Reserve is purchased at the regular price at the pump). It pays government taxes, fees and levies, the major exceptions being business tax and goods purchased under approved internationally funded projects (but including a myriad of payments such as a newspaper license and bond for its free color magazine Zwazo).

The present working environment in Seychelles is an either-or-situation: either a business or an association. Associations include everything non-profit from sports clubs to environment NGOs. The large majority of associations remain volunteer based and unable to move to the next level where deep and sustainable solutions can be rolled out. Only very few like Nature Seychelles are true institutions that can survive without the founders who set them up and still roll out long term results. If we accept that innovation in Seychelles is best suited to addressing the Blue Economy and SDGs then we must also accept that we have to look to a new model for not-for-profits/NGOs. The enabling environment in Seychelles has to be transformed if we want to see the continued emergence of innovation. Therefore, as noted earlier, Kelman’s “innovation for governance” needs to be taken up as the first step and new governance structures set in motion –a new Charity Act for example where the various operations of non-profits are legislated for in a modern context, but also different institutional and implementation arrangements such Private Public Partnerships (PPs), co-management, out sourcing, off-loading, etc..

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BlueEconomy

At Nature Seychelles we are convinced that the Seychelles Blue Economy model must offer a new analytical framework as well as a new way of crafting our common future. We have established a Blue Economy centre which will assist in building the content of the Seychelles Blue Economy model.

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