Three Lessons from Equator Prize 2017 Winners

Today, the Equator Initiative announces the winners of the Equator Prize 2017, recognizing 15 innovative community initiatives that promote nature-based solutions for local sustainable development. Over the past three months, I have had the privilege of leading the inspiring and sometimes nail-biting selection process. Along the way, we learned a few key lessons:

1. Investments in nature as a pathway to sustainable development are effective and efficient

Because their mangroves were intact, the village of Bang La in Thailand was largely spared the devastating force of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. To ensure the mangroves can protect them and future generations, the community formed an association to legally protect their mangroves, for only a fraction of what the cost of rebuilding a devastated community would be!

The Alianza Internacional de Reforestación in Guatemala has reforested eroded hillsides, initially to prevent mudslides. But as watersheds were protected, harvests began to improve, and women’s farming incomes increased, providing a win-win-win situation for 130 communities – all for the investment of a few hundred trees at a time.

2. Successful initiatives design projects that combine multiple sustainable development benefits

Each Equator Prize 2017 winner addresses at least five Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, the Organización para la Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag in Ecuador created community water-forest reserves, improved access to water, enabled communities to engage in small-scale sustainable farming activities, established micro-hydro power units, and provided eco-tourism opportunities, tackling SDGs 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, and 15 simultaneously.

Mikoko Pamoja is the first community-based initiative of its kind in Kenya to sell carbon credits generated through the protection of the village’s mangrove forest. The community reinvests income from these credits into clean water and education, providing a virtuous cycle of development dividends.

3. Private finance and partnerships are increasingly essential to leveraging success

If we are to achieve the SDGs, we must fill the estimated $2.5 trillion finance gap. This year’s winners illustrate how new financial partnerships and private investments can catalyze success and help to fill this gap.

With the support of Seventythree, a private investment firm, Asosiasi Usaha Homestay Lokal Kabupaten Raja Ampat has built a website offering eco-homestays in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat province, proving that it is possible to obtain an economic return on socially and environmentally sound community-scale projects. In Honduras, the Federación Tribus Pech de Honduras is trading liquidambar, an essential ingredient in the fragrance industry, with MANE Americas, and other members of the non-profit Natural Resources Stewardship Circle organization, which took into account the Pech people’s ancestral knowledge to implement specifications for the sustainability of the supply chain.

There are many more lessons from the Equator Prize 2017 selection process. In fact, there were so many inspiring stories among the nominations that we decided to publish more than 500 of them – with the communities’ permissions – in a new solutions database that provides inspiration for the development challenges ahead.

Please join me in congratulating the Equator Prize 2017 winners, and consider donating to our crowdfunding campaign to help them tell their stories to a global audience.


About the author

Martin Sommerschuh is Programme Analyst of the Global Programme on Nature for

Development in UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support in New York.


Follow him on LinkedIn

To find more posts, visit the Equator Blog.

Feeling like sharing this?