Challenges faced by SIDS cannot be tackled without focused investment in digital and innovation

April 2, 2024
UNDP Samoa
Photo: UNDP Samoa

New York - The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today released a report – Small Island Digital States: How Digital Can Catalyse SIDS Development, highlighting the transformative potential of digital for Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The report calls on UN member states, the international community, development partners and innovators, that efforts in the digital direction must continue and accelerate, without which some of the greatest challenges faced by the global island community cannot be tackled. The report reaffirms that digital transformation does not happen overnight— longer term planning, strategic thinking, and dedicated funding and investments are needed.

The new report comes a month ahead of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Antigua and Barbuda, where the international community will gather to review the sustainable development progress of SIDS and propose a new decade of action and partnerships to supercharge their path to resilient prosperity.

"Their geographic isolation and acute vulnerability to climate change mean that many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are highly dependent on innovation including in the digital sphere -- everything from cutting-edge cybersecurity to e-commerce," said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner. "This analysis underlines how a whole-of-society approach in SIDS is pivotal to fully leverage digital tools, technologies, and thinking."

The report insights serve decision-makers, policymakers, industry leaders and innovators, and citizens alike – recognizing that digital transformation is not the domain of a single actor or sector. This must be a truly collaborative effort and a whole-of-society endeavour, for SIDS to be leading the exploration and implementation of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G, and the Internet-of-Things.

The report highlights five key insights for digital transformation in SIDS: 

  1. Recognizing the value and extent of digital: digital is a tool in the development toolkit, but needs to be applied in the most useful, thoughtful, and inclusive way.
  2. Prioritising people over technology. People need to be at the centre of any use or exploration of digital. From co-design of solutions and innovations, to shaping regulation to tackle or mitigate digital harms.
  3. Identify the roles, responsibilities, and comparative advantages of each sector. The public and private sectors, and civil society, each bring different digital perspectives and talents and we need to leverage each effectively.
  4. Recognising that digital transformation is often based on ‘analogue’ and non-digital foundations. This includes the importance of building trust in communities to demonstrate how digital can play a valuable role in their lives.
  5. We need to plan for the longer term. Digital transformation can lead to important improvements in inclusion, efficiency, and effectiveness – ensuring that everyone can participate in digital societies and economies. But this return-on-investment will not happen overnight. 

Recognising the potential of digital, H.E. Fatumanava III Dr. Pa’olelei Luteru Permanent Representative of Samoa to the United Nations and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States noted that: “SIDS are already digital explorers and digital leaders. And as the global SIDS community comes together in Antigua and Barbuda later this year, SIDS are strongly positioned to explore the power and potential of digital further – including through sharing their digital challenges and successes. SIDS support a just digitisation transition that unlocks the value and utilisation of data and protects against digital harms through the establishment of a data impact hub to respond more successfully to global crises. SIDS are shaping global digital thinking and efforts and leading the way in ensuring that no individual or island is left behind in the journey towards an inclusive digital future. It is exciting to see them emerging as Small Island Digital States”.

Excitingly and importantly, SIDS are not standing still or falling behind. They are becoming Small Island Digital States – with a number developing National Digital Strategies, building broad digital programmes to strengthen and build upon the digital support provided by UNDP, and engaging with new digital ideas and innovations. From Tuvalu's venture into the metaverse, to the Cook Islands funding local emerging technology innovators, and the open-source digital health leadership of Mauritius. “We must recognize this progress, promise, and potential” states the report.

For media queries: 

Sangita Khadka, Communications Specialist, UNDP Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, email: