Digital increasingly is not constrained by borders - from cross-border data, to the emerging Metaverse. Whilst Singapore's Digital Economy Partnership Agreements are a new step into framing international digital interoperability. But, is there scope to shape a digital comparative advantage for SIDS - leveraging a combined and collaborative effort – and what could this look like? What could be the new 'domain name' digital opportunity for SIDS, and what other opportunities exist to build an international digital offer?
The foundations needed for digital transformation are largely similar across countries. From underlying connectivity, to open data and other protocols. This infrastructure can have important benefits for all SIDS. As an example, the new Digital Earth Pacific analytics platform is tapping into freely-available environmental data to support countries in preparing for natural disasters, and to better address other longer-term challenges. Built on Microsoft’s Planetary Computer it uses AI to access, analyse and model data from multiple sources to assist Pacific Island governments in making better choices and decisions.
Recognising this potential, there could be scope to combine funding of open or foundational digital hardware or infrastructure - a model that works in other sectors. This could even extend to regional or SIDS-wide financing vehicles, Including learning from national digital Venture Capital funds. Identifying key SIDS industries or sectors that have regional and global relevance could also prove important. For example, the network effects across Africa’s Orange Economy are demonstrating the potential of country collaboration and partnership. A digital comparative advantage may not need to be tangible, though. There may be scope to use digital ethics as a comparative and competitive advantage - as some non-SIDS countries are exploring in the context of emerging technologies.
Similarly, there could be scope to scale learning or successes across SIDS. Could local-led innovations like community currencies be scaled as a regional offer - or even digital currencies more broadly? Bequia, a Caribbean island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is looking to embed cryptocurrency payments across the island. The Caribbean is one of the biggest global proponents of digital currencies, particularly recognising their potential role to overcome challenges faced by island communities excluded from mainstream banking facilities, SIDS could be leaders in shaping the policies, frameworks, and technical architecture to drive digital currencies around the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic could also offer valuable learning here. Fixing the issues of vaccine inequity ahead of the next pandemic could result in shared procurement infrastructure. This could be an enormously important investment for SIDS, providing economies of scale and reducing the asymmetry between Big Tech firms and SIDS - the latter featuring small(er) customer-bases that can increase procurement costs. Continued remote-working is also seeing digitally-driven and ‘smaller-scale’ innovation ecosystems beginning to rival their larger counterparts. SIDS are well-placed to leverage this opportunity - including in combination with e-Residency or other initiatives.
However, two aspects will need to be front-and-centre. First, what does ‘sovereignty’ mean in the context of digital and digital collaboration? Second, how can we protect, support, and enable our scarcest and most valuable resource: human capital - for the benefit of all SIDS.
Read more in the SIDS Bulletin Special Edition - Digital in SIDS