From Colombia to Columbia
The process of selecting and arranging a global internship is not easy. We have excellent support from the College, but the possibilities are endless, the world is big, and there are many worthy sustainability projects! Because I have two little boys, the practicality and potential impact of going back home to Colombia, where I have a support system and good connections, tempted me. But what if I could go anywhere? Back in my undergraduate days I read the book A River Lost and since then the U.S. Pacific Northwest region has always fascinated me. Magically, I was able to align (and afford!) related internships at both destinations- and that’s how I went from Colombia (South America) to the Columbia (as in the epic river that divides Washington and Oregon).
Colombia and the Pacific Northwest share some surprising common characteristics, like a high concentration of indigenous nations, low ecological footprints, dramatic topography, an abundance of rivers and coastline, place-based pride, and lush rainforests (tropical or temperate). However, the two cities where I was/am based out of within these regions are very different. Though both Cartagena and Portland thrive with vitality, scream independence, and enjoy robust (yet unique) alternative transportation systems, there are many lessons the American city can offer its third-world sister -and the rest of the globe. Portland is progressive, smart, sustainable and authentic. I think all sustainability students would benefit from and find inspiration in this place.
More parallels (and perpendiculars)
One of my advisors was wondering how the two internships overlap. Here it is (Dr. Dorsey, this one’s for you): the concept I am interested in is the economic development of indigenous nations as a conservation strategy. In my work through FundaHerencia with the Itti Take people in Colombia, the idea is straightforward and proposes compensating this rural community for the ecosystem services its forest provides. In contrast, in Oregon I am assisting Ecotrust and its partner, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, with the Native American Economic Sovereignty Initiative (NAESI) which shares this element of investing in Tribal capacity but through a very different channel, and only with the hope -not the requirement- of restoring nature as an outcome. The idea here is to create a fellowship program which trains and equips a cohort of emerging Native leaders with the tools, expertise and relationships needed to respond to the social demands of their Tribes and communities. Whereas the Ecotrust project focuses on Community-based Economic Development (CED) as a precursor to potential conservation, FundaHerencia’s approach bets on investing in Community-based- Conservation (CBC) first, with the hopes that under this framework a local self-sustaining economy can flourish. Alleviating poverty and protecting nature’s life-sustaining capabilities are both means and ends for the two projects I am involved in.
About my new bold organization
Ecotrust was started by Spencer Beebe in the 90’s after he launched The Nature Conservancy’s International program and founded Conservation International. Individuals like him are few and far between, and I strongly recommend reading his book Cache to grasp the significance of this man’s work and find inspiration and courage to change the world. The organization currently has a staff of about 50 professionals working on multiple initiatives like farm-to-school programs, forest banks and the built environment.