• Peter Rudge

Beyond the Blue Economy

Small Island Developing States face some significant and unique challenges. The book I'm working on for Routledge suggests a new way forward.



In 2014 I was invited to be a judge at the St Lucia Rise Film Festival in the Caribbean. The young filmmakers I met there were a real inspiration, making films with heart and commitment despite the challenges of working with basic resources. Many of these filmmakers had the dream of working professionally in the film and TV industries but the step from hobbyist/part time to making a sustainable living in a hugely competitive industry is a big one. They were faced with a lack of widely accessible tertiary level education in digital media production, networks that were fragmented at best or pretty much non-existent and virtually no investment in the sector. All this led to a lack of essential skills, professional development opportunities and overall, a largely ignored industry.


But the drive and creative spirit of these young St Lucians got me thinking. If this was the situation on this one island then it was probably replicated on many other similar islands all over the world. Perhaps the answer to giving these young people the opportunities they deserved and building a stronger and more sustainable economy lay in the digital creative sectors, ones that were pretty much ignored by local governments and international bodies as the key to a strong sustainable future.

Challenges and Vulnerabilities

When I came back from that first trip to St Lucia in 2014 I started doing some research. I wanted to learn more about these Small Island Developing States - or SIDS - to understanding the challenges they face and whether the ideas I had really could have some impact.

With the pace of economic and environmental change continuing to accelerate it is more important than ever that these small island governments develop broader, more resilient and crucially, more innovative, digital-creative economies.

Many of these small island states, in regions such as the Eastern Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Islands struggle with narrow economies and limited opportunities for young people. The Blue Economy is the dominant economic model that drives SIDS. Based around the Oceans and the sustainability of tourism and fishing, the majority of research, strategic development and international focus has been on this sector.


That’s because the oceans are its key natural resource. However, a reliance on a vertical model like this has some significant drawbacks. The young people I met in St Lucia were excited about the possibilities of making films and showing them to the world but like so many other small island states, their career opportunities are severely limited. This leads to entrenched problems with petty crime, a youth that is disengaged from education - particularly among young men - and a migration of the most talented and entrepreneurial to to the cities of the mainland - whether that's the United States, or India or Australia and New Zealand. That is a real economic and social problem that islands have struggled to deal with for decades.


These small island states are also vulnerable to shocks - whether that’s economic, political or environmental. We've seen the huge impact that the COVID 19 pandemic has had on the movement of people around the world, the impending collapse of many established airlines and the catastrophic effect that this has had on tourism. If your national economy is largely built around tourism then the impact on jobs and livelihoods is devastating.


With the pace of economic and environmental change continuing to accelerate it is more important than ever that these island governments develop broader, more resilient and crucially, more innovative, digital-creative economies.

Looking Beyond the Blue Economy

The issue here is that whilst the Blue Economy is seen as an ‘alternative’ model of growth that allows regions and communities to access all the benefits of economic growth, the whole global economic model, the methods by which countries, communities and individual entrepreneurs create wealth, is shifting. When we look at the realities of the Blue Economy, rather than it being an alternative to traditional growth models, it sits very much within the recognised structures of economic development – ie, it is growth based on the exploitation of natural resources, tourism, physical goods exports etc.


For SIDS, the Blue Economy is central and essential but it cannot be seen as the only driver of socio-economic development. To do so would not only exclude the rise of the most dynamic global trade sector, but also risks exacerbating the environmental impacts that blue economy strategies seek to ameliorate.


If the goal is to deliver equitable and sustainable economic growth to coastal regions and SIDS then the blue economy can only be a part of the solution. We have to take a multi-sector approach that recognises the paradigm shifts that have occurred in trade, wealth creation and economic growth and the huge opportunities that this shift opens up. Unless governments and key global bodies recognise this then outcome of economic growth based solely on the oceans will be the very loss of the resource it sought to sustainably develop and exploit.

A Creative Future

All this led me to the point of writing my book. It's called Beyond the Blue Economy; Creative Industries and Sustainable Development in Small Island Developing States. It's due to be published by Routledge in early 2021 and I hope that it help get these ideas out to a wider audience and to have a real impact on the strategies and policies that island governments put in place.


The impact of digital technology on the creative industries has meant that SIDS now have an opportunity to develop something that seemed impossible just a few years ago.

We know that the creative economy has substantial positive impacts on social cohesion, on educational aspiration and achievement, but it is also critical to building a vibrant and sustainable culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.


The impact of digital technology on the creative industries has meant that SIDS now have an opportunity to develop something that seemed impossible just a few years ago.


This is not to underplay the importance of the oceans to the island communities. As our single most valuable resource, the oceans play a huge part in the global economy. However, people, knowledge and creativity are replacing physical resources as the dominant driver of economic growth and trade in many developed regions so there is no reason why these opportunities can’t be made available to SIDS as well. This is where SIDS can really benefit because if physical resources are no longer a prerequisite for building a globally successful company then these island states can look to their human resource just as much as to their oceans.


The development of digital creative industries in SIDS regions is largely untapped and small scale but the capabilities of the small nations to grow broader economic bases can really be enhanced by these creative technologies. It is vitally important that when we look at research, funding, policy and strategic development in SIDS, the creative economy must be central to that process and we have to recognise that the blue economy can only be a part of achieving the SDG’s for these regions.


There is much work to be done around increasing inward investment, educational aspiration and achievement, physical and digital infrastructure and suitable regulatory frameworks in place around IPR, and it's not going to be an easy road. Recent events and the economic shocks that we are all facing only make this all the more pressing.


Developing a stronger creative economy however can help attract and retain talent in the region, in partnership with education and business support networks. It can be a driver for innovation in its widest sense and it can deliver a global message that St Lucia, the wider Caribbean and all the other regions where SIDS exist, can be destinations for innovation, entrepreneurship, investment and creative talent.

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