The communities living in the shadows of the world’s highest mountains, on the shores of the ocean’s largest coral reefs and on the fringes of the planet’s most diverse rainforests, would seemingly be among the wealthiest in the world.
In reality, however, many of these communities are plagued by poverty, and desperation often forces people to exploit rather than conserve these resources for much-needed income. Local reliance on the world’s most unique sites ensures that their preservation will be impossible without local support.
To address this, the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Foundation and Conservation International have announced a new partnership to promote the development of community-based companies that reduce poverty while conserving some of the planet’s most beautiful and important natural wonders. Each will be a showcase project, proving how conservation and development truly must go hand in hand.
CI’s Verde Ventures, an investment fund that supports small businesses which benefit ecosystems and human well-being, is collaborating with the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and the UN Development Programme/Global Environmental Fund Small Grants Programme to form the World Heritage Local Ecological Entrepreneurship Program (WH-LEEP).
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This $2 million program will use small grants and loans to support community-based enterprises at seven United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites across Africa, Latin America and Asia. These businesses will be chosen based on their abilities to enhance food, water, climate, and/or biodiversity security. The involvement of Verde Ventures has been made possible in part through funding by the Japanese company Daiwa Securities.
The World Heritage site categorization was created to protect the planet’s most unique and important places—sites with cultural and scientific significance for both the history and future of humanity. WH-LEEP will support businesses in the following locations:
- Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Belize), containing the longest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere;
- Mount Kenya National Park (Kenya), an extinct volcano supporting glaciers, a bamboo forest and iconic African wildlife;
- Sian Ka’an (Mexico), where hundreds of bird species nest among the crumbling remains of ancient Mayan sites;
- Kilimanjaro National Park (Tanzania), home to Africa’s highest peak which towers over the savanna;
- Morne Trois Pitons National Park (Dominica), containing lush tropical forests and unusual volcanic features like hot springs and a “boiling lake”;
- Puerto Princesa National Park (Philippines), site of the world’s longest underground river; and
- Dry Forests of the South-West (Madagascar), deciduous forests that cover vital subterranean water sources and are home to lemurs and other species found nowhere else. (On Madagascar’s Tentative List for consideration as a future World Heritage site.)
A Helping Hand
To distribute its funds, the WH-LEEP takes an unusual “blended capital” approach, providing loans and grants at the same time to help businesses grow large enough to be eligible for commercial bank loans. Program staff will assess the needs of local enterprises for long-term viability, such as management support, guide training or professional certification. This assessment ensures that each support system is tailored to the needs of the individual organization, making its success more probable.
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Once a business develops and implements a support plan, it will be eligible to receive a loan of up to $50,000. Loans can be used for a variety of purposes, such as infrastructure development or the purchase of raw materials.
Sample businesses might include agroforestry and sustainable agriculture, ecotourism or the sustainable harvest of wild products like nuts, oils and fibers. Projects that perform well can become eligible for additional funding and lower interest rates.
Ecosystems and Development
Conservation of these sites is not only important for cultural and aesthetic reasons; these sites and many others represent the range of ecosystems and biodiversity that we all rely on for survival.
Projects like the WH-LEEP partnership provide incentives for sustainable development, inspiring and empowering communities to improve their livelihoods without sacrificing the unique environments they call home.
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