The Equator Initiative, an organization dedicated to encouraging communities to envision creative, local, sustainable solutions to problems, recently announced the winners of the 2017 Equator Prize.
The 15 winners include grassroots projects located across Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. They range from a campaign to secure management of a community Mangrove forest in Thailand to the Mali Elephant Project, which protects endangered elephants while working to reduce violence in a war-torn area of Mali.
However, these 15 winners are only the beginning. Across the globe, communities have created local, sustainable solutions to preserve their homelands. These solutions also help feed and educate children and promote peace and justice in their society.
In celebration of its 15th anniversary, the Equator Initiative launched a database that includes 500 of the local, sustainable solutions nominated to receive the 2017 Equator Prize. Here are seven of the most creative and impactful initiatives that local people developed in answer to the challenges they face:
- Whales of Guerrero Research Project: The Whales of Guerrero Research Project (WGRP) started in a small fishing village in Mexico in 2013 to increase local interest in protecting the endangered humpback whales. The project teaches children ages 9-13 about marine life and lets them adopt and name whales. It also created an extensive whale-spotting network and runs a program that pairs high school students in Mexico and the U.S. for scientific projects. The WGRP hopes that these workshops will strengthen the community’s pride in the natural environment and inspire them to make choices that will protect the local marine life. The project also advocates that tourist whale watching may become an important source of revenue in a place where the fishing industry has suffered.
- Barefoot Solar Initiative: The Barefoot Solar Initiative works to provide lighting systems that run on solar energy to people in rural villages in India. Since its founding in 1972, the Initiative has illuminated more than 15,000 homes. The new lighting improves air quality, saves money and enables children to study longer in the evenings. The initiative also teaches women how to construct and manage the solar equipment for the homes in their village, giving them a valuable skill set. The organization recently announced a new program that is providing solar lighting to many of the Pacific Island nations.
- The Nubian Vault Association (AVN): The AVN builds environmentally friendly homes in Burkina Faso that are inspired by the techniques of the ancient Nubians. The houses are built from sun-dried mud bricks, which are sturdy and emit less carbon than the iron roofing sheets traditionally used. The houses have thermal insulation, so they stay cool during the day and warm in the evenings. By teaching farmers how to build these homes, the AVN also created a new economic activity that helps them earn income during the dry season.
- Elevated Honey Co.: This initiative aims to bring economic growth and care for the environment to the mountainous areas of Southwest China through beekeeping. The villagers work with Apis cerana, the honey bee native to their region, using traditional beekeeping methods as a way of sustaining both their environment and their culture. The honey made from this bee is lucrative, worth up to 8 times as much as that of European honeybees.
- Comuna Ancestral Las Tunas: This project, established in 1998, helps a community in Ecuador receive the numerous benefits of recycling. Children become empowered to make a difference in their communities as they earn money collecting plastic water bottles. The number of tourists in the area increased by 15 percent, a result of the now clean beaches, and the community is watching over two species of sea turtles. Women are able to turn the plastic bottles into crafts and earn money.
- Abolhassani Indigenous Nomadic Tribal Confederacy: In an area of Iran that is rich with diverse animals and plants, the Confederacy developed local, sustainable solutions for coping with drought and sustaining both livestock and crops. Two of these are the revival of the hanar system, which conserves water by giving the animals water only once every two days, and feeding the animals with crops rather than natural vegetation, allowing the land to recover. The Confederacy shares its innovations with other tribes in the area.
- Nakau programme: Loru Community Conservation Project: Founded in 2011, this program established a legally protected patch of rain forest on the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu. The indigenous landowners are able to sell conservation credits, or tax credits for donors, as well as market agricultural products of the rain forest (i.e., certain types of nuts). The project meets several of the Sustainable Development Goals that were a key criteria for the 2017 Equator Prize.
The winners of 2017 Equator Prize have received more than a reward. They have created local, sustainable solutions that have transformed their community. Consequently, their successes can serve as examples and inspiration for future projects.
– Emilia Otte