Blue Ventures, a conservation organization that simultaneously protects marine environments while improving the standard of living in some of the world's poorest coastal communities, has been named the winner of the 2011 Buckminster Fuller Challenge. The London based non-profit, which validates the bio-economic viability of conservation, was awarded $100,000 to further develop and scale up its work at a ceremony last Saturday night at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City.
The Buckminster Fuller Challenge, named "Socially-Responsible Design's Highest Award" by Metropolis Magazine, is the annual global competition recognizing bold, visionary, tangible initiatives that take a comprehensive, anticipatory, design science approach to radically advance human well being and the health of our planet's ecosystems.
"There is no other competition like the Buckminster Fuller Challenge," said Jonathan Katz, Chairman of Blue Ventures' board of trustees. "With the help of this award, we are now expanding our work and replicating our projects around the world to demonstrate how nature and human well-being are inextricably linked."
"Participatory Mapping as a Means of Protecting Forests in the Congo Basin," a project of the Rainforest Foundation UK, was named Runner-Up, and Honorable Mentions were awarded to FrontlineSMS and Tara Akshar +.
Blue Ventures' comprehensive systems approach assumes that survival of a natural habitat and the people whose lives depend on it are inseparable. The organization's high-leverage scalable model has enabled impoverished fishing communities in Madagascar to increase and diversify their incomes by protecting the biodiversity of their coastal waters. Amongst other conservation successes, they have created the largest community-run Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Indian Ocean bringing direct economic benefits to more than 10,000 people in 25 traditional fishing villages, and given rise to new conservation legislation.
The approach encompasses a full range of diverse programming, synergistic activities and economic development initiatives. Blue Ventures' partner communities are trained in conservation science and empowered to develop, implement, and oversee community-owned marine conservation solutions that include marine and fisheries research, family planning and public health, environmental education, fisheries management, and protected area development. The organization also is pioneering the development of commercial-scale sustainable aquaculture initiatives that provide alternative sources of income, including the world's first community-managed sea-cucumber farms.
"Blue Ventures integrates the regeneration of the environment, on which people depend, with the stabilization of population and resources," said Allan Savory, whose project Operation Hope won the Challenge in 2010 and who served as a 2011 Challenge juror. "With continued success this could carry through multiple generations as the 'norm' which is key to lasting sustainability, and I see no reason to confine their overall strategy to marine environments."
A study on Blue Ventures' business-based solutions approach soon will be published providing empirical data that makes the economic case for community-based fisheries management as a tool for improving communities' incomes as well as for restocking depleted fisheries and safeguarding ecosystem resilience.
"For the first time in marine conservation, we're able to demonstrate enduring economic benefits to traditional fishing communities from short-term closures of fisheries," said Dr Alasdair Harris, Founder and Research Director of Blue Ventures and an Ashoka Fellow. "We're confident that this holistic, whole systems approach brings important lessons that are relevant to many other communities that are struggling with poverty and environmental degradation."
Participatory Mapping as a Means of Protecting Forests in the Congo Basin, a project of the Rainforest Foundation UK, was named Runner-Up of the Challenge. In the Congo Basin, the State effectively owns all forest land, and the lands have long been at the mercy of large scale industrial logging, mining and other economic initiatives. The project works with forest-dependent communities to produce accurate, geo-referenced maps of their territories in order to advocate for the recognition of their rights to manage and protect their forest lands. They have produced over 100 maps and trained over 500 people in 5 countries, directly benefiting more than 18,000 people in forest areas.
The Honorable Mentions were:
FrontlineSMS, which has developed software that turns basic laptops and cell phones into mass messaging hubs, allowing remote, rural areas of the developing world with no Internet connectivity to share important information. It has allowed millions of people in low-infrastructure environments in more than 50 countries to connect and share information.
TARA Akshar+, which has empowered approximately 60,000 illiterate women in India by teaching them complete literacy and numeracy in just 98 hours over 49 days for just over $100 each, providing them with crucial skills to be self sufficient and improve the quality of life within their communities.
The Challenge is sponsored by the Buckminster Fuller Institute, which is accelerating the development and deployment of whole-systems solutions that demonstrate the potential to solve some of the world's most significant challenges. Buckminster Fuller, regarded by many as the father of sustainability and the green movement, believed man could "make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone."