The term “Blue Economy” has reached many coastal nations. Seychelles is often called a pioneer of the Blue Economy. To some it might seem that Seychelles has all this money to do all those blue things…but what are these blue things, where is this money coming from, and how do we ensure that the people of Seychelles can use it?
One of the major challenges in establishing an inclusive, sustainable and research-based blue economy is making sure that the local community plays an active role in the process from very early stages. This, in turn, requires that people know about opportunities to participate and can access available financial and knowledge resources in a fair and equitable way. SeyCCAT’s solution for the Blue Grants Fund was to set up a consultative, multi-stakeholder governing body – Blue Grants Committee (BGC). My involvement in the Committee has made me reflect on the role such inclusive governing mechanisms can play on a local and international scale.
Even the best of intentions are subjective
SeyCCAT was set up as an independent guardian of the long-term funding to advance sustainable use and protection of Seychelles’ ocean. In SeyCCAT’s structure, there is a special pot of money allocated to advancing local projects that are linked to the country’s sustainable development priorities – the Blue Grants Fund (BGF). The Blue Grants Committee is part of the BGF’s governing structure that reviews and evaluates project proposals and makes the final decision on distributing money.
However, decisions made by a committee like BGC, are intrinsically linked to its composition and the commitment of its members. Who the members of the committee are will influence not only the kinds of projects that benefit from the funding but also how locally relevant and technically sound their impacts will be. Even the best of intentions are subjective.
To mitigate this vulnerability, the BGC members represent nearly all local stakeholder groups – academia, government, non-profits, businesses, fishermen, and the broader Seychellois community. This structure ensures that the interests of each group are represented and there is neither discriminatory nor preferential treatment of any particular type of projects. This is just one illustration of how the principles of diversity and inclusion can be applied in practice to create fairer and more equitable access to opportunities.
Added value of inclusive committees
The limited human and technical capacity in a Small Island Developing State like Seychelles means that there is a constant turnover of people and ideas, which can shift the principles and strategic priorities of an organization. In the case of SeyCCAT and the BGF, the goal is to offer opportunities that are accessible, sustainable, and innovative. Committees like the BGC can play a role of a watchdog that ensures that the organisation maintains its strategic vision and does not compromise its core principles in favour of short-term circumstances.
Seychelles has no formal research agenda linked to its coastal and marine environment. Along with the complex nature of the blue economy, it can leave the country unprepared to sustain its blue capital in the long run. But to carry out research, you need funding and a firm strategic direction. Here, a well-governed funding facility with a cross-sectoral committee can play an important role. It can ensure that money is used to empower local researchers and advance the national agenda while providing necessary transparency. This transparency can be an asset that builds trust of international partners and ensures that more funds are made available to Seychelles in the future. Transparency and cooperation will also encourage knowledge exchange, which is crucial for the evolution of a dynamic blue society.
The path worth taking
Many questions remain and there are still many lessons to learn as blue economies evolve around the world. My time on the BGC has taught me that the journey is better when done in good (and even bad) company. Collaboration, transparency, accountability and a friendly challenge ensure a better outcome that benefits more people. They also build strong relationships, shared learning and lasting partnerships, both locally and internationally. It’s true that sometimes inputs from multiple stakeholders can result in limbos but when all parties are committed to finding a solution, then consensus is possible, and all efforts pay off.
Pioneering the blue economy means that we are citizens of the world, and the journey starts at home.
by Kelly Hoareau, Former Director James Michel Blue Economy Research Institute (BERI) and former member of the Blue Grants Committee