A question of scale; rising up for Small Island Digital Transformation

Mauritius and Seychelles are well positioned to leverage their enviable digital assets

April 22, 2024
Two boats on beach

Marine protected areas and blue bonds have been adopted to safeguard sustainable blue economies in Small Island Developing States.

Photo: UNDP Seychelles

UNDP’s Rising Up for SIDS  offer aims to respond to support climate actionblue economy and digital transformation. Much has been written and said about the critical importance of climate action to help Small Island Developing States (SIDS) build resilience to the inevitable shocks, adapt how they live and work, and develop disaster resilient infrastructure. Marine protected areas and blue bonds have also been adopted to safeguard sustainable blue economies. In comparison, perhaps less has been said about the critical importance of digital transformation. 

The 2022 UN E-Government Index ranks Mauritius (0.72) and Seychelles (0.68), first and second, respectively amongst SIDS in Africa, and above the world average of 0.61. The United Nations E-Government Survey is an assessment of the digital government landscape across all 193 Member States. The survey “presents a systematic assessment of the use and potential of information and communication technologies to transform the public sector by enhancing efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, accountability, access to public services and citizen participation in the 193 Member States of the United Nations, and at all levels of development.” 

Why does this matter? 

The UN 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States  27 – 20 May 2024 in Antigua and Barbuda offers a clear opportunity to advocate for financing for strengthened SIDS inclusion in the digitalization ecosystem. Mauritius and Seychelles are well positioned to lobby for the necessary resources to leverage their enviable digital assets to drive resilient prosperity.

The problem of scale

Seychelles and Mauritius are in the south-west Indian Ocean, with 98,000 Seychellois living in an area that covers 115 granitic and coralline islands known for their pristine environment, diverse fauna and flora, and biodiverse marine ecosystems and hosting two UNESCO World Heritage sites. Nearly 50 percent of the Seychelles landmass and 30 percent of its 1.35 million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), is designated as protected areas. A little further to the south lies Mauritius, 2,000 kilometres off the southeastern coast of mainland Africa, with a population of 1.2 million and spanning 2,040 square kilometres with an EEZ covering 2,300,000 square kilometres. Like Seychelles, Mauritius is known for its biodiverse flora and fauna and is home to protected wetlands and has more than 50 islands and inlets several of which have been declared natural reserves for endangered species.

With these vast spaces, remote locations and relatively small populations both Seychelles and Mauritius face the uphill task of governing spaces efficiently and equitably including the provision of public goods and services where both countries offer universal education and healthcare, which require high per capita costs to ensure inclusion and equity. Access to goods and services beyond their borders, maritime security, disaster resilient public infrastructure and protecting their terrestrial and ocean-based assets come at a high cost.  

UNDP’s Digital Transformation Framework  can help to transcend the challenges of geographic and economic scale to deliver on public goods and services, inclusive governance, private sector engagement and economic transformation. In Mauritius the UNDP country office  has partnered with government, the private sector and civil society to deploy digital solutions to increase the efficiency of public services, reduce costs, assist small scale entrepreneurs, support open-government, and deliver training. 

In Mauritius, a key imperative of the UNDP digitalization partnership journey started with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With support from the Government of Japan the UNDP Mauritius the Prevention, Response, and Early Recovery Project supported a form to help track and trace the prevalence of the pandemic amongst arriving passengers. The programme served as a leveraging point for the eventual development of a full scale e-Health programme that now encompasses a laboratory information management system and a “one-patient- one record” public health transformation project designed to reduce the costs of service delivery. 


Graphic of data
Graphic: UNDP

The pandemic also illustrated the challenge of business continuity in paper-based systems in the face of lockdowns. UNDP collaborated with key ministries to develop a public service and a parliamentary ‘e-Document Management System’ (eDMS) and crucially has supported Statistics Mauritius to develop an e-Business Plan to better harness the power of data, with a “MauStats” platform to support evidence-based planning and development, enhance data ecosystems and facilitate data sharing and dissemination. 

For the private sector, with the growth of online commerce spurred by the pandemic, the UNDP partnered with the Mauritius National Productivity and Competitiveness Council (NPCC) to develop the Enterprise Go Digital  platform which supports  sales automation, inventory, production and enterprise management.  At grassroots level, small farmers have been supported to grow online sales for fruits and vegetables through the Bazar Moris platform. While, for the protection of survivors of Gender Based Violence, UNDP also developed the, Lespwar mobile App available on Google Play, which is equipped with a panic button that provides the geolocation of victims and enables the Police Family Protection Unit to provide quick assistance.

The opportunity to do more

At a regulatory level, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Tax Inspectors Without Borders programme has funded a UNDP partnership with the Government of Seychelles domestic resource mobilization through strengthened revenue collection, tracing and audit. End-to-end digitalization of the revenue collection systems of countries like Mauritius and Seychelles faced with increasing fiscal pressures and limited access to Official Development Assistance and other international finance opportunities to finance socioeconomic inclusion and climate protection is key. 

In terms of transcending geographic distance, digitalization can also assist Mauritius and Seychelles to develop their capabilities to support connectivity based economic activities such as global call centres, remote working and digital nomads.