It’s been just over 4 months since I tweeted about a web directory, and it’s been pretty much non-stop ever since.
It’s been incredibly humbling to watch isle20.com grow and develop. I’ve learnt so much in the process that my brain hurts.
If you’re on twitter at all, you might have come across my ramblings. Lots of them relate to to islands, to culture, to the importance of seeing islands as communities first and destinations second, and to the need to build resilience that takes us beyond reliance on tourism. (tl;dr Tourism is good when well managed to the benefit of residents, but it should not be the raison d’etre of a place. Our islands are more than the sum of our campervans.)
We are islands full of incredible talent and skills not to mention a propensity for hard graft in multiple roles, and a capacity to cope with crises. The traditional island way is to problem solve, to make do and mend, to reuse and recycle and to find new and more efficient ways to complete tasks. Historically, when you were a small community in the middle of the sea, at the mercy of the weather and nature, you were forced to innovate – and to work together. Crops failed, animals died, boats sank – and you had to carry on. All of these things remain true despite having internet and it being 2020.
For me, Covid19 has simply crystalised my thinking. It has brought into sharp relief the risks of increasing reliance on tourism. In fact, tourism is only one of the pillars that hold our communities up. We need to remember that. There are many successful businesses in our islands which trade beyond island shores. Our islands have long bred explorers and seafarers who have traveled the world, bringing back new ideas and notions. There are two ostrich eggs in this house that remind me of that every time I open the cupboard and wonder what on earth to do with the wretched things that my Great Uncle brought back proudly from a jaunt to Africa.
Isle20 is not a new idea. Web directories were the original world wide web. Marketplaces are as old as civilisation. Isle20 applied an existing concept to a new problem – products for tourists, but no tourists.
It has shown a need for marketing support for our makers, artists and producers. It has shown an appetite for island products. I am confident it has a future beyond Covid19 and I’m looking forward to growing it further.
I am currently piloting a new idea in Tiree. isleEats.com is an online food ordering service for the islands. It’s a similar concept to isle20, but lets food businesses get online fast, take payments, and offer pick up and delivery on their terms. As we open up, and restaurants have reduced capacity, tourists and visitors are staying in rather than going out and we’re all feeling our way into the new normal, isleEats is designed to help food suppliers sell easily, and locally.
Again not a new idea. But the application of an existing solution and concept to a new location, and type of problem – with the potential to grow beyond the current crisis.
Some would suggest that I am bonkers – setting up a second experimental idea so fast. Maybe.
Recently, I’ve been trying to figure out how my last 4 months fits together – 2 projects, islands, digital solutions, ideas, communities, small businesses, jobs, experimentation… and I’ve realised that I really enjoy coming up with ideas to solve problems, and trying them out. I love growing something and watching it develop. I don’t know where isle20.com or isleEats.com will end up – but I am excited to find out. More than that, whether they crash and burn, or indeed grow, I know I want to keep experimenting with ways to grow economic resilience in the islands – and I want to help others do it too. Moreover, I don’t want to profit from island communities – I want to help the communities profit.
So… I am really excited to announce that I have incorporated as Isle Develop CIC – a Community Interest Company.
Isle Develop CIC is now the parent company for isle20 and isleEats.
I know I’m not alone in having ideas about how we can grow our island economies – and so I don’t just want to develop my own ideas, I want to figure out how I can help other people to grow and test their ideas too.
After the dust settles on 2020, I hope that isle20 and isleEats will be just two of a number of projects taking shape with the support of Isle Develop CIC.
I have no idea how I’ll make all that happen yet – I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it!! What I do know is that I am much more comfortable taking isle20.com, and now isleEats.com, forward as projects under a social enterprise banner. It means that after salaries, all profits will go back into supporting small businesses and innovation in the Scottish islands.
We’re just getting started!