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3 lessons from Equator Prize 2017 winners

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Children planting mangroveThe village of Bang La has been sustainably managing a 192-hectare forest that has shielded the community from devastating disasters and improved livelihoods through increased fish catch. Photo: Community Mangrove Forest Conservation of Baan Bang La

The Equator Prize recognizes innovative community initiatives that promote nature-based solutions for local sustainable development. In the past 15 years, the Equator Initiative has highlighted the successful contributions of indigenous and local communities to the environment, poverty and climate challenges. The initiatives we work with have taught us that action at the local level is essential to achieve sustainable development.

Today, the Equator Initiative announces the winners of the Equator Prize 2017, recognizing 15 new Equator Prize winners. They will be honoured at an award ceremony in New York in September.

Over the past three months, I have had the privilege of leading the inspiring and sometimes nail-biting selection process – a three-stage exercise in which an independent Technical Advisory Committee chooses the winners. I am sharing here a few key lessons we learned along the way:

1.   Investing in nature is an effective and efficient pathway to sustainable development

Because its 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.

Boy working the land in KenyaMikoko Pamoja is a community-based initiative that has pioneered carbon credit payments for mangrove restoration. Photo: Mikoko Pamoja

2.   Successful initiatives 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 US$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 social enterprise, 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. The NRSC took into account the Pech people's ancestral knowledge to implement specifications to ensure 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.

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