Introducing the First Rainforest Partnership Dialogue in the Amazon

by

Raina Chinitz

September 15, 2022

First Rainforest Partnership Dialogue in the Amazon Group

In August, nine people from different parts of the world came together in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, each bringing their individual worldviews, backgrounds, and experiences, while sharing a common purpose: to transform the current conditions that are limiting the success of global rainforest conservation efforts, and to initiate a new chapter of our global tropical rainforest protection movement.‍

We met in Quito, at the office of our close partner Conservación y Desarrollo, an Ecuadorian NGO with its own business Aroma Ecuador, where they sell sustainable chocolate and coffee products sourced from small producers and communities that they work with across the country. Among the mountains and volcanoes surrounding Quito, cups of coffee in hand, we began the conversations that would take us from the foothills of the Andes to the Kichwa community Sani Isla, several hours by canoe into the Amazon. ‍

The first “Rainforest Partnership Dialogue in the Amazon”, convened by Rainforest Partnership CEO Niyanta Spelman, included Sumit Jamuar, co-founder and former chairman and CEO of Global Gene Corp; Brenda Asnicar, well-known Argentinian actress and singer; Jose Valdivieso and Jose Javier Valdivieso of Conservacion y Desarrollo; Peter Houlihan, scientist, photographer, and executive vice president of biodiversity and conservation at XPRIZE Foundation, and the Rainforest Partnership Ecuador team: Zenaida Cerda, Geovanny Siquiha, and Raina Chinitz. ‍

First Rainforest Partnership Dialogue in the Amazon group
First Rainforest Partnership Dialogue in the Amazon group, from left: Sumit Jamuar, Peter Houilhan, Jose Valdivieso, Raina Chinitz, Jose Javier Valdivieso, Geovanny Siquiha, Niyanta Spelman, Brenda Asnicar, Danny Gualinga, Zenaida Cerda

Rainforest Partnership Ecuador Team
Rainforest Partnership Ecuador Team, from left: Zenaida Cerda, Raina Chinitz, Niyanta Spelman, Geovanny Siquiha

This diverse, self-selected group represented many different backgrounds and perspectives as well as unique areas of expertise, from business to art, science, and finance.

We stayed several nights at Sani Lodge, the community’s eco lodge, holding meetings and guided conversations from the top of Mama Yura (or the “Mother Tree”, a towering Ceibo tree with vast views above the canopy), in a building in the forest where researchers stay while they study the immense biodiversity in this part of the Amazon, and over our 5am coffees before heading out in the canoe.

Defining our vision

Our first dialogue took place on top of Mama Yura, and we climbed more than ten stories to a platform overlooking miles and miles of primary forest, with toucans and scarlet macaws circling around us and the sounds of howler monkeys and the constant buzz of the living forest in the background.

First meeting on Mama Yura tree in Ecuador
First meeting on Mama Yura tree in Ecuador

View from the top of Mama Yura in Ecuador
View from the top of Mama Yura in Ecuador

The first step was building consensus around our shared vision for the future. What world do we want to make possible? What are we working toward? We spent time sharing these visions and fitting them together.

We returned to the top of Mama Yura that night as the sun set over the canopy and the Milky Way brilliantly lit the sky above us. 

Sunset in Ecuador from the top of the rainforest canopy

We spent many hours in the canoe, sharing our connections, discussing ideas and tackling obstacles, and making plans—as well as laughing and sitting in silence, listening to the hum of the forest around us.

In the canoe in Ecuadorian river

Deepening the dialogue: our path from vision to action

Over the following few days, the dialogue became increasingly specific and targeted, focusing on important questions including:

  • How should we in the conservation field be measuring and communicating our impact with the most honesty and transparency? 
  • How can NGOs make the highest impact at the highest efficiency? 
  • How can we target and focus our work on activities with the highest impact? 
  • What activities do we need to set aside in the urgency of the current moment, for forests and climate? 
  • How do we invite young people into the conversations and ensure that indigenous and local people are at the center of decision making? 
  • What has been going wrong in the rainforest conservation space? Why? 
  • How do we build new paths forward when the current ones laid before us do not lead us to the common vision we built on top of Mama Yura, during our first day of dialogue?

The most important day we spent together was our visit to the community center of Sani Isla, where we met with Wilson Santi, the current community president, the women of Sani Warmi, a local women’s organization and project with which we have worked with for over ten years, and other community members. 

We were greeted by Sani Warmi, which is always very meaningful and exciting for the Rainforest Partnership team. The women welcomed us with traditional foods, like maito and chontacuro, and they showed us their impressive sustainably-sourced handicrafts.

At the Sani Warmi building, Centro de Interpretacion Sani Warmi

Especially for those who had never visited Sani Isla before, or who had not had the chance to visit a community in the Amazon or interact closely with the people there, it was a critical moment. Experiencing even just a glimpse of life in Sani Isla shaped the conversations and commitments to come. Talking directly with people in the community—getting their opinions and perspectives, seeing firsthand the way they live within and with the forest, and understanding their need to access basic resources—is absolutely essential to crafting action plans that reflect the needs and visions of communities on the ground who do not have the representation in the spaces that many in our group did.

Our group with Rainforest Partnership Dialogue in the Amazon groupSani Warmi

So… what happens next?

Dialogue across differences, cultures, backgrounds, and sectors is incredibly important, and there is nowhere more focused and powerful to have these conversations than in the forest itself. The sounds, colors, and motion of the forest around us provided a vibrant context, but talking directly with our guides and the local people who participated in our meetings gave us clarity—so much more than we could have achieved in our offices or home offices, through digital conversations or through our computer screens.

This dialogue was only the first step toward realizing the plans we envisioned together. The hardest work comes after; continuing these crucial conversations and, most important, translating them into serious and concrete actions, plans, and results. That is what matters now: to tangibly support and center the leadership of indigenous and local rainforest communities on the frontlines of forest protection, and to make real progress toward our goal of ending deforestation by 2030.

These dialogues are necessary because the current systems:

  • the way funding moves
  • the ways NGOs function
  • the lack of indigenous and local representation in decision making
  • the lack of capital and resources and support for rainforest communities
  • the global economic systems that incentivize deforestation and exploitation

These systematic, foundational conditions are the root causes we must target to be able to truly alter and reverse the course our forests are currently on.

Global deforestation and deforestation of the Amazon are still happening at extremely high rates, despite the huge commitments and pledges by governments and companies. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With dialogue, collaboration, focus, persistence, and the partnership of government, funder, and private sector forces who truly want to change the course of history for forests and climate, the world we envision together is possible and reachable. We took the first step, and now we must take the next, and the next, and together.

At Rainforest Partnership, we’re already taking that next step from dialogue to action by convening Rainforest Collective – a new global coalition of rainforest organizations and partners coming together to protect forests on unprecedented scales.

Ways You Can Help

If you are interested in participating or sponsoring the next Rainforest Partnership Dialogue in the Amazon, reach out to Raina(at)RainforestPartnership.org.

To support the community of Sani Isla:

Get involved with Rainforest Partnership by volunteering, becoming a Rainforest Partner, or by directly supporting our work here!