I traveled to Samsø Island in Denmark to witness the Fund for Maine’s Islands partnership between the Island Institute and College of the Atlantic take flight.

But so much more happened, as I became part of a U.S. delegation discussing issues facing island communities around the world.

The delegation included COA students and faculty, Island Institute staff and Maine island residents.

Upon departing for Samsø, I anticipated difficulties working together overseas, trying to merge the enthusiasm of COA students with the practical needs of Maine islands residents. But it worked. We ended up being able to celebrate success, as Maine island energy challenges were embraced and considered by COA students, and all were inspired by the Samsø Energy Academy and its charismatic founders Søren Hermansen and his wife Malene Lundén.

Had I boarded a plane and left at this point I would have been pleased. But Søren had another idea.

During what I can only describe as meeting-in-the-round meets post-modern facilitation, we found ourselves learning about and sharing challenges with island community residents from Estonia, Greece, Portugal, Malta and Japan. The truism holds—all island communities are unique, but they share some commonalities. Communities are aging and a phenomenon is emerging that you might call a missing generation, those between the ages of 20-50. The economic base is becoming increasingly narrow, with most growth being driven by tourism, creating service sector jobs, rather than the natural resources-based jobs of the past. Urban national policies are leaving rural areas at a disadvantage at the same time that these rural areas are expected to provide the energy and food for the cities. Volunteerism, or “civil society” as its know in the EU, is on the wane.

The list goes on.

A day later in Copenhagen, the newly minted U.S. island community delegates became further ensconced in international relations as Søren casually asked that we show up at the House of Green. We soon learned that the House of Green is a public-private partnership set up by the Danish government to welcome international visitors focused on furthering the international discussion on sustainability.

In the U.S., the House of Green would be imagined by a futurist, but Denmark already has one. While trying to avoid appearing too dazzled, the U.S. delegation shook hands with representatives from Holland and Denmark as well as Japanese leaders from Ogata Island. As luck and Søren would have it, we found ourselves in an impromptu meeting with the Danish minister of the environment, Kirsten Brosbol. Best be on your toes when traveling in Denmark!

Minister Brosbol hails from the district that includes Samsø Island and is a long time friend of Søren, who by this point I now clearly understood to be a Danish superstar.  We had a slow-paced discussion with the minister as translators helped this diverse group understand each other’s interests.

I found her message striking. On education, she has invested in piloting over 60 classrooms without walls so students could be taught through engaging with the environmental challenges faced by their communities. On the arts, large investments were to be made in public art projects with the recognition that the arts drive cultural acceptance of sustainability as a practice at home. She argued for greater investments in publically accessible conserved lands. And of course, even greater investments in renewable energy.

I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to see a national leader speaking confidently on these topics, with a track record to back it up.

We have a long way to go here in the U.S., but it became exceedingly clear through this trip that island residents from the U.S. are at home in discussions with islanders anywhere in the world, and that we stand to benefit from opportunities to meet and share what works, and what doesn’t.

I suspect this trip will stand as a turning point in how we as the Island Institute understand our role in the U.S. and beyond. There is a clear need for a U.S. node in a network of island community networks that are emerging around the world. A piece of our work can be to facilitate island community leader access to the discussions that can most help them sustain their communities and highlight their own local successes and lessons learned.

I believe something will come of this. Why? Because it has been initiated by the decendants of Vikings, people who have kept promises to each other over decades as they traveled and conquered the known world. This trust is at the base of Danish society.

I see Søren and Malene as modern day Vikings, identifying and working with trusted partners to change the energy future of islands communities around the world today.

Rob Snyder is president of the Island Institute.Follow Rob on Twitter: @ProOutsider.