As a human rights advocate by night, I have seen the disparate impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities driving the forced displacement of people, loss of livelihoods, and socio-political instability. I have joined countless dialogues on a myriad of socio-environmental issues and one question always remains.

Marine litter, plastics pollution, climate change, hunger, inequality, poverty — How can we more effectively solve global issues?

Last week, I joined over a hundred advocates and scientific experts who gathered at the UNEP GPML Virtual Connect for a panel discussion on the global threat of marine litter, environmental justice and challenges surrounding digital transformation and accessibility.

Many of these challenges and linkages were as apparent in the marine litter dialogue as they are in migration issues — such as lack of harmonisation, data, evidence-based research, resources, governance, coordinated action and shaping public discourse.

When asked “In your experience, how can digital transformation enable multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaboration to form and grow?“, I think about how digital transformation addresses these key gaps that can’t otherwise be done by pure human intervention, ultimately leading to better coordinated advocacy and action, globally.

Digital transformation helps to

1. Connect and Understand Multi-Dimensional Issues

Global Issues are all interconnected, but often tackled independently.

Elisa Morgera, Professor of Global Environmental Law and Director of One Ocean Hub, shares a distressing video highlighting the plight of vulnerable communities in Ghana, who have been impacted by severe plastics pollution in the ocean and shores caused by poor dumping practices, lack of waste infrastructure and consumer behaviour, leading to detrimental health issues, food scarcity and income loss. Related stories can also be linked to political conflict, climate change and acute levels of hunger and poverty.

The fundamental linkages between marine litter, climate, development and human rights must be seen and treated as a totality. Ocean conservation is not just about marine life, it’s also about people, the environment, economy, safety, health and cultures, and depends upon a clear understanding of the complex relationships between all of that and the ocean.

Infographics Data

TSC UNEP Marine Litter Issue Taxonomy

Digital tools can help to organise and systematically manage complex and multidimensional issues which disrupt systems across sectors, value chains and geographies, to better position organisations in anticipating emerging issues, enabling teams to shift from reactive to proactive issue management strategies.

It’s imperative to put a framework of governance in place that allows organisations to dynamically monitor emerging issues, will help to move from reactive to proactive managing of issues, strategise and adapt to changing patterns.

2. Knowledge can be dynamically shared — faster, wider, and hopefully safer

Much of understanding global issues has also to do with understanding where problems are locally, and in turn making data accessible.

Lisbet Rhiannon Hansen, Programme Advisor at UNEP-DHI Center calls attention to the importance of data harmonisation and compatibility in their work on creating national source inventories that countries can access readily available, relevant and validated global data to supplement local findings. Chris Corbin, Programme Officer at Cartagena Convention Secretariat reiterates that data is a challenge despite progress in partnerships to advance regional marine litter action plans.

In the work that I do, I relate to the lack of dynamic sharing, which is oftentimes very local, and/or within known networks and communities. This makes decision making and action plans slower, less impactful, and leads to the duplication of efforts on ground. Human sharing alone is impossible to accumulate this wealth on a local — regional — global level.

Communities of practice

UNEP Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) Digital Platform Phase 3 Data Community Model

Open, peer-supported data coupled with institutional governance helps to safely crowdsource and aggregate national and cross-border stats, papers, activities, stakeholder information and related sources at scale, and to leverage AI/NLP to process this in a collective, meaningful manner. To address the conflict between data privacy and openness when dealing with human subjects, panellists and the audience raised the need for consent when involving human subjects or local/ indigenous terms of agreement on data sharing. These would have to be driven by both a top down and bottom up approach, to ensure heightened participation of countries across non-profits, IGOs, governments and private sector.

Finally, the interoperability of data and knowledge management platforms is critical to the success of global, data-driven innovation. Knowledge can then be aggregated to measure collective impact and progress, so that regional/ global institutions can track international coordination, so as to guide these journeys towards sustainability.

3. Platforms may not immediately align people, but people can align with like minded peers on platforms

It’s hard to align people. Issues are inherently topics, problems or points of debate, in which groups of stakeholders have a vested interest with different points of view, values and priorities.

Dr. Max Liboiron, Associate Professor, Geography and Director at Clear Memorial University shares that indigenous community research priorities very rarely align with the scientific community, in the example that she gave on animals that are most important to the scientific community for environmental indicators on ingesting plastic, aren’t the animals that communities eat which results to data irrelevancy.

This typically stems from organisations having a lack of understanding of stakeholder ecosystems required to strengthen the overall value chain and initiative, typically limited to their own networks, which makes it even harder for them to increase the reach of their sustainability impact.

Sustainability risks, including social and health risks, affect a broad set of stakeholders across the value chain, from suppliers to employees, customers, and governments. There is a need for the reorientation of dialogues and types of partnerships which would drive broader, diverse participation and non-traditional collaborations. However, you don’t know who you don’t know, and who you should know.

Platforms allow advocates from any corner of the world to access a growing community, and to proactively identify and discover like-minded peers or initiatives which plug gaps in needed expertise or capabilities, contribute or collaborate to existing work-streams and ultimately connect with them.

Atium: AI enabled mapping of stakeholder networks to uncover engagement pathways

Visualisation tools allow you to map your overall stakeholder ecosystem, which helps you understand the big picture of the issue, prioritise stakeholders and analyse their strengths or influence towards your sustainability goal. This way, you can find synergies between your organisation initiatives and identify the right channels of collaboration, which you would otherwise do in a manual or linear path.

4. Mobilisation and Coordinated Advocacy across sectors and geographies

No single organisation is able to solve this crisis alone.

Global leaders have been advocating moving towards stakeholder-focused structures, open multi-sectoral coalitions, and internal shifting of business cultures to commit to sustainable development. But managing multi-stakeholder partnerships becomes exponentially challenging — especially when trying to align on a shared agenda, operationally and strategically on complex campaigns which require coordination across multiple issues, geographies and functions.

The global crises had prompted coordination and collaboration not seen since war-time, and in order to pull off this speed without physical movement of people, the only way to do it is digital.

Data representation

Atium: Visualise and identify synergies across diverse participation of stakeholders to deliver meaningful impact

Digital platforms help to break down borders, and enable people from all over the world to participate and collaborate on a central, online workspace to plan, manage and track engagement activities — to engage together as a unit. An open workspace with dynamic flows of knowledge helps to translate the meaningful mechanisms of stakeholder engagement by dynamically linking engagements and advocacy back to a shared issue taxonomy and outcomes.

TSC alone is not able to create a large positive impact on solving global issues. So we do this together with our ecosystem - our clients and our partners.

TSC, UNEP and 40+ other organisations had embarked on a year-long partnership to bring key stakeholders together on one platform — Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) Stakeholder Connect — to connect on the universe of Marine Litter and plastic pollution issues.

key components

UNEP Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) Digital Platform Components

The goal of the GPML Digital Platform is to enable governments, industry, academia, civil society and other stakeholders to

  • Explore and grow knowledge on marine litter, relevant stakeholders and initiatives
  • Find matches with other community stakeholders who share the same interests and agenda
  • Connect, share and facilitate coordinated action through the platform
  • Monitor and measure success against a range of policy targets

I joined TSC to solve global problems. Through our roles in product and advocacy, we remain committed to building platforms that drive global change and collaborations towards a sustainable future. Am blessed that we get to play our part in fighting global marine litter. ❤