Ground-zero for innovation – Southeast Asian islands.

As the world enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there will be higher demand in products and services throughout the planet. This also means more by-products or waste being produced. A growing concern was recently highlighted in the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand was the growing number of trash imports from developed countries into developing countries. Marine waste threatens communities which depend on the sea for sustenance, namely island nations. Southeast Asia is home to more than 20,000 islands of which the ocean is their livelihood. Hence, an issue (and solutions) faced by an island nation a country, would also be evident in other island nations. 

Waste is but one issue in today’s complex world

Marine waste is but one of the many issues faced by an island nation. Issues such as agricultural limitations, limited energy resources, and access to healthcare. Limited agricultural capabilities may lead to food shortages or increased prices due to the importing of food from the mainland. Energy consumption can be expensive due to the recurring cost of transporting fossil fuels to power the island and not all islands have facilities that are fully equipped to provide adequate healthcare services. If we aren’t willing to break from conventional methods that have worked in the past, communities that do not experience the ‘environmental norms’ will inevitably suffer. This is where the Island Innovation project was born. The project was first launched in Hawaii and was created to address several issues of an island state and aims to bring together different forms of technology and innovation to tackle different sets of problems. To be innovative, thinking out of the box and working with the resources at hand is key, especially when it comes to resource limited situations such as island nations. Islands are constantly exposed to the elements such as sea breeze and tidal waves. Instead of viewing natural occurrences as a freak of nature, the power of innovation allows us to think of alternative uses and harness potential energy from these natural phenomena.

Addressing global problems, one local step at a time

In the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, the rise of AI and Drone technology is becoming increasingly popular and advanced. Though it seemed only yesterday that drones were flown by remote controllers and GPS, we now have companies inventing and developing drones which are autonomous. Companies such as Autonomous Controlled Systems Laboratory Ltd. (ACSL) have devised a solution that allows drones to fly in areas that are GPS-deprived. Such solutions provide a number of applications such as transportation of goods to remote or inaccessible areas, quick scans of the surrounding islands for environmental assessments and much more. Another visionary company that simply aimed to bring energy to all via wind energy was Challenergy Inc. What better way to implement this in an area exposed to the natural elements such as typhoons? Conventional wind turbines would be susceptible to damage in the event of a typhoon. Hence, due to their ingenuity and strong passion to provide energy for all, it drove the founder, Mr Atsushi Shimizu, to innovate and invent a new type of fan to harness the wind energy in such a situation. The variety of innovations that different people bring to the platform can produce countless number of ideas which may turn into solutions. Also, there seems to be a need for such initiatives. The response received by the locals was that they are very interested and excited for its local applications. The most probable explanation for their excitement is the absence of such programs. In 2000, the Philippine government passed a waste management act to tackle the rising amount of plastic waste in the country. Hence, another solution is needed. The Island Innovation project isn’t just a platform that addresses the issues of an island, the accumulation of knowledge from the different startups to address an issue is the key takeaway. From this, we can learn to adopt the same mindset and ecosystem to solve other local issues. 

The future of innovation for the world 

Cebu is but one island. But, it could be the lead to kickstart island innovation as it is a major tourist spot and is facing an issue on pollution due to the high traffic. The concept of the Island Innovation project isn’t one company or organization tackling a big problem, it is a culmination of many like-minded individuals with different expertise in their specialised areas. With such diversity, why stop there? If you’re a researcher, scientist, an undergraduate or graduate student, you would realise that an experiment that can be reproduced with some variables changed proves to be a robust theory or method. The applications within Hawaii isn’t just for them, as Hawaii is also an island just like Cebu and most other islands around the world. If we can excite and invite more like-minded individuals to a common platform to address a common goal, innovations can advance from island applications to other areas such as harsh areas exposed to the natural elements, advancements in energy efficiency and even a change in behavior towards marine waste.

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