Documenting the Conservation Story

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This is a wall from the Spice Harbor property. A lot of the conservation story can be told in the design. The way they built this property is an example of historical/cultural conservation. The restaurant building was a “go down”, or waterfront warehouse, that used to store spices. They didn’t knock down the old building, they actually just built around it and framed pieces of the old wall to display it as art. This design concept has been passed on by word of mouth-taught to the workers here, but it hasn’t been documented yet.

I felt that this blog could better serve its purpose if the conservation story was told in one place. The stated purpose of the RAXA Collective site is to provide a space for people to learn about entrepreneurial conversation. It seems to me that highlighting the details of the property is less meaningful without context of the concept and history behind them.

The summarized version as stated in the RAXA Collective “About section” is to have a business whose profits are invested in conservation of natural and cultural patrimony. However, as I’ve been learning, the way this model manifests itself depends on the situation. Each story is pretty radically different than the next. So, we have a very general description (About section) and very specific descriptions (every day posts), but we don’t have the overall narrative of each property to show how “it depends” shows up differently in the field of entrepreneurial conservation.

I resonate with the initially stated goal in the About section about having this site provide a space for university students to learn about alternatives to mainstream occupations and career paths. As a university student myself, that is really what I am here as an intern to learn. I have been able to offer my skills and passions for organic agriculture and gain more practice in that field as an intern here. However, that is a skill I have picked up along my studies, which are driven by the bigger goals of conservation and environmental business models.

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TED talk Majora Carter : Greening the Ghetto, how entrepreneurial conservation and urban regeneration lead to more social justice

This seminal talk from 2006 by Majora Carter, founder of the Majora Carter Group, introduced me to entrepreneurial conservation. So you can say it kind of led me here.

It is unfortunate how the reputation of a neighbourhood may reflect on its inhabitants. In french the silly expression “C’est le Bronx” refers to a messy room. People from the Bronx, Majora Carter included, decided to change this image. In fact, they decided to reclaim their rivers, their air, their land while creating jobs, leisure activities for local families, a safer gentler environment for children to grow up in.

It’s a story I’d like to hear about in many neighbourhoods around the world.

Optimism and Opportunity

Many of my posts reflect my outlook to err on the upside of life’s circumstances.  I try to drown out my inner (and often powerful) pessimism by surrounding myself with positivity and optimism.  I find that this is a careful balance of being hopeful while remaining realistic.  Today, when I was taking a break from my coursework, or the slightly negative part of my day, I watched an encouraging Ted Talk that I think demonstrates hopeful realism.

Johan Rockstrom suggests that the earth is at a point where major transformation must occur.  He optimistically recommends that we use and continue to use crises as opportunities and local initiatives to transform and sustain life.  Also, he makes a realistic statement that climate change is not our biggest problem only a symptom of our land use.

I found this talk engaging and thought-provoking.  I agree that I transformation is soon to happen and I look forward to being a part of it.

Advice For Peace Corps Hopefuls And The Creation Of A Hotel

Guest Author: Robert Frisch

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My Peace Corps Location: Matagalpa, Nicaragua

As a former Peace Corps volunteer, it is not a rare occasion that I come across an eager undergraduate looking for some guidance on the decision of whether or not to join the organization.  I also receive many requests for tips on how to make the most out of the two-year volunteer program.  Over the years, I’ve narrowed down my responses to three main categories: Continue reading

A Model for Success: The Story of Amani Ya Juu

A friend of mine told me about a shop outside the center city of Nairobi that I had to check out. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a shop-a-holic, so I took a taxi over to Amani Ya Juu. To my delight, Amani Ya Juu is so much more than a store; it is a reconciliation project, a gathering center for marginalized woman, a place of hard work, and an entrepreneurial dream realized. Amani started in a garage with three eager refugee women, two from South Sudan and one from Mozambique. They used their stitching skills to develop a training program and a “fair trade” business. At Amani, fair trade means the women are paid not only a living wage, but enough to send their children to school, and provide for adequate housing and basic healthcare needs.  They also value local culture, traditions, and procure materials locally. Now fifteen years later, Amani Ya Juu exports to the US, staffs over seventy marginalized women, and  proves to be a self-sustaining and profitable project.

From the exterior, the shop looks like an adorable guest house with a quaint outdoor garden café to its right.  Upon stepping into the shop, I’m greeted by a woman in the back sewing a mushroom pattern on a canvas pillow. She welcomed me and asked if I’d like a tour of the production center. Continue reading

Building Blocks of Opportunity

The wooden block is probably one of the simplest and most played with toys.  However, this iconic block did something unexpected: it has been promoted amongst the complex toys of this generation and sure to last for many generations.  With a little entrepreneurial conservation, Tegu has created a block that surpasses most expectations of a toy.  It is educational and stimulates children’s creativity and unscripted play (as I mentioned in one of my previous posts), is heirloom quality, helps the planet and its citizens, and is so much fun that adults sneak off and play with them.

Tegu’s magnetic blocks are built to leave a legacy.  They are complex, yet they don’t require any batteries or instruction manuals, just an imagination.  The uniqueness of this toy is not just the functional (and inaccessible to children) magnet, but the series of events that follow each block purchase, called the Tegu Effect.  Tegu gives every buyer the choice to either donate dozens of trees or donate schooldays for Honduran children.  But it is not only the environment and children that benefit; as Tegu grows, the company creates living wage jobs for the Honduran factory workers, and with 65% of the population living currently below the poverty line Tegu offers the people a great opportunity. Continue reading

The Transparency Paradox

When I lived in Singapore to do an internship aimed at rolling out the sustainability road-map of a major service solutions and facilities management company, my building neighbored “Singapore’s first eco-mall,” a beacon of consumerism just like any other mall, but with one main difference: an exclamation point punctuating its statement of eco-friendliness.

A true comrade of the Earth according to its interior walls and eco-kiosks, this mall was built with technologies that will likely soon become architectural norms. Its urinals are water-free, its windows let in natural light but with minimal heat, its roof harnesses solar power and rainwater, its lighting uses minimal wattage, it is constructed of environmentally safe materials, the list goes on and on… and is painted all over the walls. You get priority check-out if you bring your own bag and priority parking if your car is a hybrid. But for some it’s not clear whether the priority really lies in being an eco-mall, or in making sure you know it’s an eco-mall.

One of the challenges that experts and champions in the field of sustainability and corporate citizenship face Continue reading

Newspaper Bags

As I suggested in my last post, I’ve recently spent less time in the Periyar Reserve, i.e. observing and chronicling my encounters with the myriad species of plants and animals there, and more time in and with the local community. Working with resort management and Forestry Dept. officials, I’ve been trying to get off the ground a microbusiness enterprise, operated by residents of Kumily and members of the tribal communities in Periyar East, with the initial goal of producing bags from recycled newspaper. This is related to the bigger goal of eliminating the use of plastic bags.

One such bag, made from recycled newspaper

There are several aspects to this project, and as I delve deeper into them the more complex and intriguing it seems to me. I think the easiest and best way to present the full picture, to identify the difficulties and possibilities inherent to it, is to tell the whole story of my involvement in the project, and in the process to clarify the context of my previous posts.

To set the scene, I offer, in shorthand, a cultural backdrop:

What was only recently a subsistence and agricultural culture and economy, the Cardamom Hills (like all of Kerala) has undergone something of an economic and cultural revolution over the past fifteen to twenty years. Though I’m not an expert in this field, I can say, based on firsthand accounts and observations, that as education levels have risen even among the poorest people in this area (Kerala’s literacy rate is, famously, over 90%), and as the opportunity to pursue non-agricultural employment and consume newfangled products has become commonplace in this area, the demand for disposable income and new ways of attaining it has also increased. Generally, this is true of India as a whole, and as a global phenomenon it really deserves a more nuanced treatment than I’m able to give it (for more information, I suggest you go to your local library or see your neighborhood economist). But, on a microcosmic level, it is perhaps most pronounced, complicated, and—in some ways—easily tackled in the tribal communities of India’s forests. Continue reading

The Kitchen Table Connection: Following the Paper Trail

She wasn’t the creator of the newspaper bag concept, but Diwia Thomas has done her part to merge their production with the world of community development. Based on a deeply rooted desire to help women create a degree of financial independence, this lifelong resident of Cochin has used her business acumen, social network and marketing skills to advantage.

With the limited supply of paper pulp in India, newspaper printers have implemented the innovative practice of a de-inking process for recycled newsprint. Currently about a quarter of the paper the printers use is recycled material, which has both saved on paper pulp imports and driven up the price paid per kilo for old newspapers. India has a well-established history of recycling and these new developments have given more financial incentive to do so.

Diwia knows the system, her clients and her resources well. It only takes a gentle nudge to friends and family to leverage the equivalent of their daily coffee expenditures in the form of a weekly donation of their newspapers—they give them to her instead of selling them to a recycler (who would pay an amount worth a coffee at a local café). Only full, flat sheets of newspaper can be used in bag production, but with the ubiquitous use of newspaper in this culture as wrapping for everything from eggs, to vegetable market goods to crockery, there is plenty to go around for other recycling purposes. Continue reading