Building digital infrastructure for SDG14

Building digital infrastructure for SDG14

The Challenge

Scaling the impacts of one marine conservation organisation to reach 300x more fishers in the next five years than they have reached in the first 20 years of the organisation’s existence.

The Outcome

A mobile-first strategy for building a distributed digital ecosystem that mobilises marine conservation innovations and capital while centering the fishers’ needs.

The state of the ocean will ‘ultimately determine the survival of our species’ says the United Nations’ Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson. The funding needed to achieve SDG14 is estimated at $1.74 trillion, and is inextricably intertwined with progress towards many other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So how can one organisation produce lasting impact when their success is so closely bound to issues they have neither the budget nor the mandate to address?

“Oceans and fisheries continued to support the global population’s economic, social and environmental needs while suffering unsustainable depletion, environmental deterioration and carbon dioxide saturation and acidification. Current efforts to protect key marine environments and small-scale fishers and invest in ocean science are not yet meeting the urgent need to protect this vast, fragile resource.”

Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals

Over the last twenty years, Comunidad y Biodiversidad, A.C (COBI) has worked in deep partnership with thirty Mexican coastal communities to produce significant improvements in ocean and community health. Founded in Mexico in 1999 by a small group of marine biologists, COBI works with small-scale fishers in a fiercely bottom-up approach to advance scalable solutions that balance the communities’ economic needs with the imperative to protect marine ecosystems. In a podcast interview, COBI co-founder and former Executive Director Dr Jorge Torre Ph.D. proudly declared that they “go into the community for six months, drink coffee and just listen.”

As front line participants in ocean conservation, small-scale fishers bear an unreasonable burden: they are relied upon as both stewards of the ocean and contributors to local and domestic economies, yet they are the first to feel the impacts of market disruptions. The COVID-19 pandemic brought these issues into sharp relief; fishers first lost international customers as supply chains were disrupted by lockdown mandates, and then lost domestic customers as businesses were shuttered and tourism collapsed.

With thousands of coastal communities in Mexico representing over 300,000 small-scale fishers, COBI knew that they needed an approach to better leverage technology to rapidly scale their impact within Mexico, and across Latin America and the Caribbean. It was with this in mind that COBI invited a partnership with Armillaria.

We began our work together with a focus on expanding the reach and impact of their existing technology investments, rapidly zeroing in on PescaData, a logbook app for fishers to document the details of their daily activities and catch.

Through stakeholder interviews, participatory design sessions with fishers, and deep dives with the COBI team, we identified the opportunity to accelerate the success of marine conservation initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean by enhancing coherence, capacity, and cooperation between invested communities, cooperatives, civil society organisations, governments, corporations and consumers.

This would require a radically new approach for COBI, one that shifted the focus of their technology investments from program-related funding to digital infrastructure. This went hand in hand with a major organisational restructure, aligning COBI’s internal processes to align with its ambitious goal - to build a platform that strengthened the coordination capabilities of marine conservation organisations in their region by inviting participation and co-ownership by all those impacted, and reach all fishers in Mexico within five years. 

Innovacion Azul (Blue Innovations) as this initiative is now known, is using the PescaData app as the thin end of the wedge—a way to bridge the digital divide impacting small-scale fishing communities, streamlining fishers’ reporting obligations, strengthening the operational capacity of fishing cooperatives, increasing the shareability of solutions to common problems, and encouraging communication and trade between fishers in neighbouring communities. 

Our work to date has covered three major areas:

  1. Business modelling - incorporating our design principles into an equitable business model that focuses on the benefits of digital logbooks to fishing cooperatives as an initial go-to-market strategy.

  2. Usability and utility - re-architecting PescaData, upgrading the security and scalability of the platform, building community through asks and offers, and integrating compliance and management tools for cooperative administrators. fishing permits, compliance reporting, and management of fishers and boats.

  3. Impact indicators - connecting fishing logs to SDG and FAO indicators, educating fishers and cooperatives on how their actions are supporting a larger purpose, and making visible how fishers’ actions and innovations positively impact the coastal oceans.

Our work with COBI and Innovacion Azul is ongoing, with 2022 focused on marine conservation ecosystem development (in Mexico and broader LAC) and, interoperability between aligned partner platforms.

Thank you to all the wonderful photographers who created the images on this page. In order of appearance from top to bottom:

  • Naja Bertolt Jensen (images 1 and 2)

  • Elba Lopez (images 4 and 5)

  • Bebastian Pena Lambarri (image 6)