University of Aruba hosts International Island Conference: “Island issues differ completely from mainland issues”

ORANJESTAD – Today the first “International Conference on Small Island States and Sub-National Island Jurisdictions” started at the University of Aruba till 29th of March. The conference is organized in collaboration with the Centre of Excellence for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (COE) and the UNESCO Chair in Island Studies and Sustainability, which is shared between the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) in Canada and the University of Malta. The conference’s international planning committee is chaired by UNESCO co-chair, Dr. Jim Randall (UPEI). “It is important that people understand the importance of islands and the fact that islands are very different from the mainland.”

He explains that if people try to use mainland solutions to solve island problems ‘you will run into walls’. “We are facilitators, we bring people together around the world to allow them to tell their own story and use their own voices. This conference is here, because we believe that islands are important, not just for their own development but, they have lessons to tell to other islands and the mainland.”

Invisible Islands
How islands are governed can be learned from and applied to other places. Dr. Randall says that too often, the thought of islands being dependent states exists. “Aruba and Prince Edward Island are semi-autonomous, having a vague kind of relationship with other states and other governments.” Sometimes they seem to be invisible and one of our tasks is to make islands like Aruba count more, he states. The purpose of the conference is to bring people from this area together. About 90 people signed up to participate. “It is important for Aruba to be involved in this conference as well for us to hear the challenges Aruba faces and the solutions the island found to solve those problems.”

Local co-hosts include Arno Boersma and Francielle Laclé from the COE, Deborah Alexander from the Centre for Lifelong Learning at University of Aruba, and Glenn Thodé, Rector of the U of A, and Patrick Arens, Business Director. The planning committee comprises scholars from several academic institutions including the University of the West Indies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, University of Malta, Leiden University, and University of the West of England.

Unique Aspects
Rector Thode explains that this event initiated in 2017 when Dr. Randall approached him to help and organize a conference in Sint Maarten.

Unfortunately the hurricane Irma hit the island and caused enormous damage to the infrastructure. ““Good governance is needed for a just society, for ensuring human rights and for empowering citizens. This applies to all sectors of society, from public to private, NGOs, and academia. What are the aspects unique to island territories? How do the institutional structures on Small Island States assist or limit the ability to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals? We hope to engage with many on this unique event that will create a platform bringing to light these inquiries.”

Dr. Randall: “How islands govern themselves and the relations they negotiate with other jurisdictions has a major impact on their sustainable development. This conference brings together international, regional and local experts on island life to share their ideas and research results. I am especially excited to compare development perspectives from independent island states with those from island territories.”

On Thursday there will be a free public forum, people can register at the University of Aruba website. Be on time, seats are limited. q