Exploring the Vineyard’s future

With other Islands across the world, ambassadors take a look at what might work here.

The Island Innovation Vineyard Ambassadors team is a group of seven participants initially brought together by Bob Johnston, the president and co-founder of Vineyard Futureworks.

In mid-April, Island Innovation hosted the first Island Finance Forum, a virtual event where members of island communities across the world could exchange solutions for sustainable economic recovery in the post-pandemic world. The event was attended by members of the Island Innovation Vineyard Ambassadors team. 

Island Innovation is a digital, global network of island community members and stakeholders. As a social enterprise, they help drive sustainable changes across island and rural communities. They hosted the Island Finance Forum to provide a platform for senior financiers, development partners, and regulators to share expertise on sustainable and inclusive financial structures in island communities. 

The Island Innovation Vineyard Ambassadors team is a group of seven participants initially brought together by Bob Johnston, the president and co-founder of Vineyard Futureworks. Vineyard Futureworks is an organization of Martha’s Vineyard citizens across the six towns that, through collaborative innovation, aim to address various Island issues. According to Johnston, Vineyard Futureworks became aware of the Island Innovation Summit, held in September 2020, a few months prior to the event. With the extra time, he decided to organize a group to strategize their involvement in the summit, and enhance the insights they would take from it. Johnston created the Vineyard discovery team, key members of which would go on to become the Island Innovation Vineyard Ambassadors. 

Through Vineyard Futureworks, Johnston created a five-phase discovery process to engage with Island Innovation events. After speaking with James Ellsmoor, the founder and managing director of Island Innovation, this process became available to anyone participating in the Island Innovation Summit through the Global Island Ambassadors program. Over 100 global ambassadors representing 60-plus islands have signed up to use the discovery process in 2021, said Johnston. 

Members of the Island Innovation Vineyard Ambassadors team attended the Island Finance Forum as part of the “exploring” phase of the discovery process. 

“The ability to get access to a panel of experts that are leading the charge around these emerging infrastructures was really wonderful,” said Joe Gammal, a special invitee from Hopkinton who attended a session on cryptocurrency. “There are potentially some creative ways for us to collaborate with other nations, islanders, stakeholders, and organizations that are just emerging.” 

After attending a session on e-mobility, Johnston says he was interested in brainstorming ways to accelerate the Vineyard’s transition to electric vehicles. For example, the Steamship Authority could hypothetically provide an economic incentive to owners of electric vehicles by creating a new ferry ticket pricing system. Such a system could generate additional revenue that could be channeled to the Climate Action Task Force for climate mitigation efforts, said Johnston. 

The session also advocated that the public sector should play a leading role in the transition to e-mobility. A modest example, said Johnston, could be that the town of Oak Bluffs could own electric vehicles for its staff, or that public vehicles, such as school buses or police cruisers, could become electric. Such a transition would trickle down across the Island, said Johnston.

Dan Seidman is a member of Island Innovation Vineyard Ambassadors team, but is also involved in the Global Ambassadors Program with his organization, the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Sustainability. The Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Sustainability aims to connect resources to eliminate waste and extraneous effort, as well as create more on-island jobs. 

Seidman attended a session on aquaculture, an industry he said the Vineyard does not take full advantage of. “We don’t do enough with aquaculture,” said Seidman. “We’re an island — it just makes enormous sense to me for us to be involved in this industry in all ways, shapes, and forms.”

Both Seidman and Johnston worry that the Island’s fragmented organization across the six towns could hinder Martha’s Vineyard’s ability to tackle overarching issues. “We do not currently have Island-wide leadership that has the authority to address Island-wide disruptions, like a pandemic or other things,” said Johnston. “We are vulnerable in that way.” 

Johnston’s primary concern, however, is the Vineyard’s post-pandemic economic resiliency. While listening to the speakers present at the Island Finance Forum, Johnston noted each had a deep and clear understanding of where their community was with respect to COVID-19, and what they needed to overcome in the following years. Martha’s Vineyard, he said, does not have that same knowledge of how the Island was disrupted and damaged by the pandemic, and what the next steps need to be. 

“What do we want our new Vineyard normal to be? Do we run the risk of simply accepting what the old normal evolves into?” said Johnston. 

Following the Island Innovation Summit this fall, the Island Innovation Vineyard Ambassadors team will complete their five-phase process. By the end of 2021, they will produce a roadmap and portfolio of ways to create new value on Martha’s Vineyard in many sectors, including sustainability.