An invitation to slow down and connect
In the last four months I have moved from California back to Prince Edward Island; lived in four different houses; driven four different cars; housesat; dogsat; babysat, and started my own business doing social media work for island-based businesses. It has been a whirlwind, and yet moving from California (read: land of sun, warmth, and endless opportunity) back to Prince Edward Island (read: remote, zub-zero temperatures island in the north Atlantic) is the best decision I have made since I moved to Prince Edward Island the first time in 2004 to do my Master’s degree in Island Studies.
Many people have questioned my decision to move back to PEI this winter and start a business doing social media for island businesses — islanders and mainlanders alike. I have always believed that you have to follow your heart and passion, and my passion has always been deeply rooted on island soil. People ask me all the time what leads a person to pursue a Master’s degree in Island Studies. I have no idea what inspired my colleagues, but my interest in islands began with my Sicilian ancestors–my great-grandparents, to be specific. When they were in their early twenties they boarded a boat for the United States and never looked back. That might have been the end of my family’s island connections had my parents not become Baha’is in 1977 and then moved to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus when I was six to serve the Baha’i community there. My family was in Cyprus for 16 years, during which time my love for islands, island people, cultures, languages, agriculture, music, poetry, literature, and everything else that makes islands such incredible places grew and grew. By the time I completed high school islands were not only inspiration for my visual art and poetry–they were also the focus of my concern. Over the years islands have attracted a great deal of tourism which has led to a massive amount of unplanned, not terribly well thought out development. The burden on islands’ limited water and land resources has been tremendous. It did not escape my attention that while most of us island residents only had access to water three days a week, the hotels had running water 24/7. It also did not escape my attention that the wild landscapes of my childhood that so inspired me were quickly disappearing — being replaced by high rise apartment blocks and parking lots, massive coastal hotels and wider roads.
Over the years I have heard many different perspectives on what is happening to our islands around the world. I agree that change is inevitable, and indeed some of it is necessary and even beneficial. But I hold that much of the change happening on islands is not based on the values and interest of islanders but rather on short-term financial gain of investors — many of whom do not live on islands or have island-roots at all.
Islands are very special places. Islanders know this, and visitors know this, which is why they flock in the thousands to islands for their holidays every year. What I think is often forgotten however by Islanders is that what makes islands so attractive to those from away is their distinctive characteristics–details that cannot be found elsewhere. Details like closely knit communities; fresh, locally grown food and distinctive culinary dishes; uniquely wild and beautiful landscapes; rural farming and fishing villages; stunning coastlines; a slower pace of life; local music and culture; clean air and water….I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. When it comes down to it, many of the values that islanders are proud of are the very same values that attract visitors and much-needed income through the tourism industry.
When it comes to business, islands are often considered at a disadvantage because of their small size and remoteness and the high cost of transportation to get products to and from the island. In reality however, just as islands’ distinctive characteristics are a magnet for tourism, their geography can be a market advantage: the sea/ocean is actually often more of a bridge than a barrier; small size means a greater degree of flexibility and the ability to more quickly adapt to change, and the tightly knit communities that enable island societies to thrive are ideal for supporting new businesses and marketing through natural channels.
Island businesses have a tremendous opportunity to compete in the world market not by replicating the business models that their mainland counterparts are pursuing, but by creatively and confidently using their unique geography, cultures and natural resources to distinguish themselves and attract clients and customers that value their uniqueness. There are many resources available to island businesses to promote themselves and market their products in the international marketplace. Social media is only one of these, but it is a tool that seems to have been designed with islands in mind. It is based on a grapevine model. It highlights eye-catching images and stories–both of which islands have a wealth of. It depends on sharing and support. And it thrives on word of mouth.
I firmly believe that island businesses need to recognize and use their island location as a marketing advantage to promote their products and services. I have a strong background in island studies, and the social media expertise to help make this happen. I am already working with three island-based clients, and am very excited to have the opportunity help many more island businesses achieve their business goals! Islands can and should be leaders in the business world. Leaders of financial success that is built on rather than undermining island values. Because success should support and highlight what makes islands special.
Hello Ariana , I am very surprised that you did move back to P.E.I.from California , unfortunateli I disagree with some if your points , PEI is only for people who love Fisheries , Tourism, and Government people , it is not for people who want to make their own business we do not have the population like Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver , it is so hard to have your own business and the government does not help you here unless you have government ties or you know some special ties in business and banks , I am not talking from my own experience but based on what has been said and proved and done in the past before I have tried and asked myself many people and 90% of the people say if you have a idea get off the Island and make it work some place that is populated , I lived in California for 3 years and lived in 50 different cities and 8 and different countries and 4 continents and have seen the worst to the best and seen a lot more oppourtunity for people then here , unless you are married or have kids and want to settle down to simple basic life then yes PEI is ok but if you want to explore and venture and make something of yourself do not stay here , sorry but I have been on my own since I was 17 and know what I am talking about and I am now 44 , anyways just my opinion , you may disgree no worries but you are doing what you love great but from what I have seen and gone through and unless you are in those businesses i mentioned earler then there is no use for younger people to stay here with great ideas . There is a bad karma here and bad enviroment here because unless you have a government job , spending the winter on unemployemnt and working for only 6 months is not my idea of a career which 96% of the people here do and that are not in government .
good luck with your studies , hope you find your dreams and your dream man ,
cheers , p;)
Thank you for sharing your thoughts Peter. It is precisely the things that you mention that I believe contain so much potential Peter. Islanders have a deep connection to their environment precisely because they farm and fish. I see agriculture and fishing as assets as long as they are managed in such a way as to be advantageous to the development and the prosperity of the island (which, in the case of many younger farmers and fishers, they are, and in the case of some, they are not). Islands have distinctive cultures that attract visitors because they are remote and small and have tightly knit communities. I believe there is great potential here on PEI, and I am back to invest in this. I too have lived in many places around the world, and believe that PEI, and many islands around the world have distinctive characteristics that place them in a prime situation to succeed. Values are changing and people are more and more interested in strong communities, safe places, fresh food, stories and beautiful landscapes. Quality of life is becoming just as important to many as material wealth. Having time for family. Having time for friends. Financial success is also important to enable the quality of life that people are looking for, but I believe this is built on values, a sense of place, community and a connection to the land and sea. I completed my Master’s in Island studies in 2008 and have been working with islands and islanders that are developing and succeeding with innovative business ideas since then. People love buying products that have a story behind them. They love the idea that when they buy a bottle of strawberry jam, they are supporting the family that grew the berries and the rural landscape of the island. Things are changing. New ideas are developing, and people are realizing the potential that coming from an island has in having a competitive edge in today’s market where so much is mass produced and nobody knows where their food or their belongings come from. Since returning to PEI in December I have found many islanders doing very well for themselves year-round without relying on government — those who do not recognize the potential in change and adaptation will, it is true, go out of business, however there are many who are adapting, continuing to farm, fish, serve delicious food to islanders and tourists alike, and develop many other businesses as well that benefit rather than being undermined by their location. I am very happy to be back in a community that values my skills and presence and that is full of so many incredible people with so many talents. I am very excited for all the work I am already doing, and the work I envision doing with islanders in the future. All the best to you with your work, and thank you again for sharing your perspective.
Great Post! I hope you keep us up to date, it sounds very interesting. Having grown up on an island I found your observations perceptive and wish more people recognised the value of preserving and developing the unique features islands stand to lose otherwise.
Great post Ariana. I agree with Peter in the sense that island life is hard to infiltrate and be successful in. And I also see your point Ariana, that island’s can be competitive in a global market. Like you said, Ariana I think it has a lot to do with the fact that “mainlanders” are opening up and broadening themselves to include what island life, and island businesses have to offer: small, community-oriented, niche, home-grown, quality of life.
I lived on Salt Spring Island BC a few years ago, and came away with these “lessons learned” – they can apply to business and personal life I think. Anyway, thought to share:
1. Don’t “escape” to an island to start a “new” life. Your problems will follow you there, and everything is intensified in smaller spaces. / 2. Develop a friendly relationship with failure* on the mainland, and don’t leave for an island until you have. / 3. If you didn’t grow up on an island, spend your first year working for others and being of service to your island community. / 4. Accept everything about the island. And only then get creative. / 5. “Deeds speak louder than words” is never more true than on an island. / 6. Always look to add value through your business. The wheel doesn’t always need to be reinvented. / 7. Specific questions about your next step will yield specific answers. Always be asking those questions. It’s required for progress, and it will help you filter guidance and input from others. / 8. Be open to a little discomfort. It will soon become comfortable. / 9. Have fun! / 10. “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall never get bent out of shape.”
I very much enjoy these conversations and insights about how geography (topic at hand- Islands) shapes communities are really interesting! While I can not call myself an ‘islander’ (rather would have to call myself an ‘inlander’), it is great to see how people in different parts of the world make advantage of and adapt to their geographical setting. At the same time, it is neat to see what the particular advantages that can be found in common to living on an island. Ariana, out of curiosity, have you also looked at some other islands in the world that might also have similar size, but also climates, ecosystems, land use potential, and even geology to P.E.I. Some that come to mind are the various islands around Denmark, islands in the Baltic Sea, as well as islands in northeast Asia, such as Sakhalin, east of Vladivostok in Siberia, and even the Japanese island of Hokkaido?
In any event, wherever people live, we must learn to pursue excellence with those opportunities we have around us. We must also choose to live based on where we feel we have opportunities to pursue excellence, and where we feel needed. Further to Peter’s comments, there are also unfortunately situations where things are not perfect, and people may decide to try and ‘scam the system’, and this can happen anywhere, in my city, in your city, in anyone’s city. This is a problem, it is also a challenge to try and engage ourselves and help engage others in the task of pursuing excellence. It then becomes an opportunity. And if you think you can help P.E.I., than I am sure P.E.I. can help you!
It is great to see you helping to ‘globalize’ how things are on P.E.I. and inviting the global community into P.E.I as well. It is inspirational! Some day I hope to taste the P.E.I. burdock roots (lobster.. or whatever else there is)!