Welcome to everyone and thank you for your time and interest, thanks also to Momentum Novum for organizing this event and to Karo Chamorro for the invitation.
So, I´ve been asked to talk about my experience in helping create and co-found a non-profit conservation organization in Ecuador, Mindo Cloudforest Foundation back in 2001 with some of our activities starting in 2000, two decades ago.
“Hustling to Conserve Bird Habitat in the Tropical Andes.” (Recommended that you find Van McCoy´s song The Hustle from the 70s and listen to it while you read this to get the whole experience)
In 2000 the construction of Ecuador´s Heavy Crude Pipeline (OCP) across the top of the pristine Mindo watershed and through wonderful cloud forests that several of our members had bought for conservation and ecotourism projects brought together a group of birders, bird guides and eco-tourism business-people: we were at the time 6 people from 5 countries the US, Ecuador, Australia, Holland and Belgium. Now we´re a group of 16 people from 6 countries, biologists, ornithologists, forestry specialists, conservationists, artists and green entrepreneurs.
We started with a handful of ideas, an area we wanted to work in and a website we built ourselves in Netscape Navigator. Maybe we had $50 in the bank, and everyone in the foundation had jobs or business to attend to, such that there was no one working full time. Now we pay monthly salaries that give stability to 10 families (including mine) working at our network of private conservation areas at three altitudinal levels on the Western slope of the Andes in NW Ecuador.
You can map the meaning of the word “hustle” across our 2 decades almost in tandem with the greater and direr realization of the urgency of the climate and biodiversity crises. At the beginning those threats were on our collective radar but somehow off in the future while we were constantly hustling to meet the monthly bills and keep our bird sanctuaries open to the public. This version of the hustle continued through what was branded as a “Citizen´s Revolution” in Ecuador that brought a much more challenging regulatory and tax environment.
Constant revolutionary changes during a period of 10 years certainly kept us on our toes and gave me a whole bunch of new gray hair. They also raised wages considerably and made tangible improvements in the living standards of our staff, it was sort of the $15 minimum wage before that became a slogan in the USA. – Sure, that was a massive challenge for us to be able to finance, but we got past it.
Now that we´ve moved out of that period of the revolution, in the last few years we have somehow come to, snapped to attention and awakened to the brutal speed of the changing climate and need to hustle to try to make a bigger conservation contribution faster. This change has come over us just as the enormous arrival of international consumer goods making the Ecuadorian middle-class part of the abundance experienced in many places and cultures around the world.
This period of “modernization” perhaps, has also seen our organization grow from a very simple friends club to a complex structure, and we like to think that our conservation impacts have grown from notional or perhaps aspirational to ever more relevant, and since it´s the logic of the battle we´ve joined, we´re looking to turn up the volume, increase those impacts, speed up our hustle as it were.
It´s been an interesting journey on the personal side. When I first arrived in Ecuador I hadn´t planned to stay for 25 years and raise a family, become a citizen, nor had I planned to help start a conservation organization that´s become my life´s work. It happens fast when your always hustling around.