Promoting & Protecting Indigenous Land Rights with EcoLogic

Since 2010, hundreds of environmental activists in Latin America have been killed by hitmen who are hired by large corporations, powerful elites, and the state’s police and military forces. In the first two months of 2017 alone, 14 environmental defenders were killed in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua. These brutal murders have left those individuals brave enough to fight for their region’s remaining natural resources strangled, left in ditches, and even shot in their homes during the middle of the night. Honduras is the hardest hit. Since 2010, more than 120 environmental leaders have been murdered and today, the country helplessly boasts the largest number of killings of environmental defenders per capita of any other country in the world.

Many Latin American countries are rich with promising natural resources, rendering them pots of gold for international corporations, companies, and individuals. However, this inevitably leads to exploitation of the already impoverished native and rural communities who depend on the land in order to sustain their families and their livelihoods. Rather than being empowered and encouraged to utilize their ecological knowledge and wisdom to safeguard their lands, these native communities experience systemic oppression, abuse, and human rights violations on a daily basis. When all is said and done, these perpetrators, such as the hitmen and the corporations and individuals who hire them, walk free, left unaccountable for their unethical decisions.

As natural resources diminish and capitalist pressures increase, these conflicts regarding land rights, specifically where “oil exploration, hydroelectric, mining agribusiness, and logging” thrive, will undoubtedly escalate as well. Indigenous communities have since realized that they are not simply fighting to save trees in their rainforests and the prospering biodiversity in their homes, but also their humanity and way of life for future generations to come. Bianca Jagger of the Huffington Post aptly states, “We cannot protect the forests which produce 20% of the world’s oxygen unless we ensure safety for those who defend it.”

How can we help, make tangible change and empower these native communities and families? One way to do so is to support organizations like Ecologic Development Fund. Their mission is to “empower rural and indigenous people to restore and protect tropical ecosystems in Central America and Mexico.” Ecologic places a large emphasis on their community-powered conservation projects, showcasing their commitment to working with locals in order to make environmental change long-lasting and meaningful. Their ultimate goal is to provide the resources for these indigenous municipalities to cultivate and direct their own organizations that will ultimately allow them to protect their land within recognized legal frameworks. Some of the organizations that Ecologic has helped create today include water committees that manage watersheds in Guatemala and anti-deforestation groups in Honduras. Organizations like EcoLogic not only spread awareness of the ongoing environmental crises occurring in Latin America that affect millions of individuals, but also exhibit the positive and hopeful spirit that allows us all to continue doing good in our daily lives. Consider getting involved and taking action with Ecologic today.

Business as a Force for Good

By Ted Yavuzkurt

Pause for a moment and reflect. Now think: who really changes the world?

If you’re anything like me, you probably thought of governments, or activists, or maybe nonprofits. And you’d be right—they do have tremendous power to shape society.

But that mindset leaves out another major player: business.

Now, I’ve always seen business as a force for change—but not always for the better! The news is full of stories about Big Pharma, Big Oil, or Big Banks using capitalism as a justification for ruthlessness. Proverbial “Evil Corporations” can sometimes seem to be the dominant forces in the business world.

I’ve realized that this viewpoint is unnecessarily narrow. Businesses, like people, come in many different forms. Some deserve the ire of society and some don’t.

Untitled.png

And some are really trying to do their part. Today, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is rapidly becoming a standard business practice. Companies of all sizes are managing employee giving campaigns, running philanthropic foundations, and transforming their business models to benefit society.

In other words: Milton Friedman is out. Giving back is in.

PricewaterhouseCooper conducted a massive survey of CEOs this year. What did they find? A whopping 84% of those surveyed say they are now expected to address wider stakeholder needs. To translate that from business-ese: they can’t just make money for people that own stocks. They’ve recognized that they also need to do well by customers, communities, and countries.

This is why Walmart is raising wages and oil corporations are investing in clean energy. Even libertarian capitalists like WholeFoods CEO John Mackey have wholeheartedly embraced CSR. Mackey wrote a book about it: Conscious Capitalism. In his mind, corporations are very well suited to producing value for society – in fact, they have an ethical responsibility to do so.

I second Mackey. Corporations can and should do well for the world. They’re potentially more nimble than NGOs, more responsive to societal demands than governments, and more influential than activists. Companies that choose to leverage their strengths to do good can have an incredibly positive impact.

Look at Unilever: years ago, Unilever realized its warehouse distribution model wouldn’t work well in rural India. Company executives could have sat down and decided that they’d push forward anyway, because the company would still make some money. This would benefit the company and shareholders, but leave Indian society largely unchanged.

This isn’t what Unilever did, however. Instead, it upended its traditional business model and trained local women to resell its products. This was the beginning of Project Shakti—a shift from top-down to bottom-up distribution.
Untitled2.pngProject Shakti

Unilever started the program in 2001. By 2012, more than 65,000 women were participating. These women, on average, had almost doubled their household incomes. Meanwhile, Unilever made $100 million in sales.

Whatever your perspective is on corporations, the scale and power of Project Shakti is indisputable. Unilever didn’t do well by exploitation – it did well by cooperation.

As we look to the future, this type of double bottom line work is going to be ever more important. Governments, NGOs, and activists have done their utmost to create positive change. Now, it’s time to get business involved in giving back.

This is what I like about UniversalGiving (UG). UG has joined the growing ranks of nonprofits who see businesses as partners, not as enemies. Through these partnerships, UG is able to create impact on a scale that is simply impossible acting alone.

All boats rise with the water. It’s time to start looking at business as part of the solution—not part of the problem.