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Governance in a Small Island Developing State: Unique Challenges and Dynamics

Governance in a Small Island Developing State: Unique Challenges and Dynamics


July 8, 2024


Governance in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) presents unique challenges distinguishing it from governance in larger, more resource-rich nations. Understanding these challenges is crucial for anyone involved in policymaking, development, or governance in these contexts. But first, what exactly is a SIDS?

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are a distinct group of developing countries facing specific social, economic, and environmental vulnerabilities. Located primarily in the Caribbean, Pacific, and Indian Ocean regions, these islands are characterized by their small size, remoteness, and susceptibility to natural disasters and climate change. While each SIDS has unique attributes, they all share common governance challenges stemming from their size and isolation.


Due to several factors, governance in SIDS is markedly different from that in larger nations. Two of the most significant challenges are the lack of resources, especially know-how, and the impact of close-knit societies on decision-making processes.

One of the most pressing issues for SIDS is the scarcity of resources. These islands often have limited financial resources, infrastructure, and technology access. More critically, there is a significant shortage of skilled professionals and experts. This lack of know-how hampers the implementation of effective governance policies and the ability to respond to complex issues.

In larger nations, there is usually a deeper pool of human capital to draw from, with experts in various fields readily available to advise on and implement policy. In contrast, SIDS often rely heavily on a small number of individuals who may be stretched thin across multiple roles. This can lead to inefficiencies and a slower pace of development, as there are not enough hands or minds to tackle the myriad of issues that arise.


The social fabric of SIDS is typically very tight-knit, with communities where everyone knows everyone else. While this can foster a strong sense of community and solidarity, it also presents significant challenges for governance. Decision-making processes in such environments can be heavily influenced by personal relationships and social ties, leading to a lack of objectivity.

In close-knit societies, it is difficult to separate personal interests from public duty. This often results in decisions that favor specific individuals or groups rather than the broader population. Such dynamics make SIDS particularly vulnerable to corruption. The overlapping of social and professional spheres can lead to conflicts of interest and nepotism, undermining the principles of transparency and fairness.


The combination of limited resources and the influence of personal relationships makes SIDS fertile ground for corruption. When governance decisions are made based on who you know rather than what you know, favoritism and unethical practices are encouraged. Corruption can further drain already scarce resources, making achieving sustainable development even more difficult for these nations.

Governance in Small Island Developing States requires a tailored approach considering their unique challenges. Addressing the lack of resources and know-how and mitigating the influence of close-knit social structures on decision-making is essential for improving governance outcomes. By fostering greater objectivity and transparency, SIDS can better navigate their vulnerabilities and work towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

Understanding these unique governance challenges is the first step for those interested in these dynamics and looking for ways to contribute to the development of SIDS. Join our discussions and masterclasses to delve deeper into these issues and explore potential solutions. Register at

Miguel Goede


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