Kinship Conservation Fellows: Cases in Conservation Finance

Case 4: Marta Echavarria of EcoDesign talking watershed conservation across Latin America

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Tuesday, September 8 - 12:00pm-1:30pm CDT

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It has become increasingly clear that because of  the pandemic and the climate crisis, because of over-population, because of its scarcity, and because of its misuse, water will likely be the dominant element in our future. It is an opinion shared by many, even the World Economic Forum has put water scarcity as a one of the top global risks since 2014!  It will be the source of conflict, it will be a major problem, and it could even lead to large economic dislocations. So how do we address or solve this problem? Yes, changing use patterns will be a part of the answer. Yes, we will need new technological innovation. But if the past is any indication, we will also have to get better at managing the ecosystems that make up our watersheds.

In this case study we will talk to one of the pioneers in designing financing mechanisms to support watershed conservation: Marta Echavarria. More than two decades ago Marta designed and negotiated one of the world’s first official water trust funds in Quito, Ecuador. The idea for this fund was that it would collect money from water users, people and businesses in Quito to pay for upstream watershed conservation of the watershed. While it wasn’t easy, over time the fund managed to raise millions of dollars for the conservation of Quito’s water sources. Since then water funds have been replicated around the world, from Colombia, Africa and Asia, to Australia and every place in between. But the lessons of that water fund, and of the institutional and financial arrangements that followed it, still stand.

Since creating the fund, Marta as one of the founders of a conservation finance consulting company called EcoDecision, has gone one to work with a broad range of partners from conservation NGOs, to businesses, to governments, and she has helped launch an Amazon foods company, even a for-profit butterfly farm, all in the name of conservation. We will hear what made Quito’s water fund so special, and how it helped spark innovation around the world. We will talk to Marta about her experiences not only with the water, but with conservation finance more generally, with creating a business, and even savoring amazing amazonian foods. In short, we will try to learn some lessons on what it takes to innovate on conservation finance in Latin America.

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Marta Echavarria is an environmentalist and entrepreneur who founded EcoDecisión with her husband Jacob Olander, as a social enterprise that develops financial alternatives for the conservation of nature. The company is a pioneer in the emerging field of innovative financing to protect and restore natural landscapes, including to mitigate climate change, protect water sources and conserve biodiversity. The company, established in 1995, based in Quito, Ecuador, works with a broad spectrum of clients and partners, including non-governmental organizations, companies, and local, national and international governments.  A spin-off business, Heliconius Butterfly Works, has been growing and exporting butterflies since 1997.  Canopy Bridge,another of EcoDecision’s family of initiatives, launched in 2013 aims to promote markets for amazing food products from the Amazon forests, working with indigenous producers, predominantly women, to fund forest conservation and sustainable livelihoods. Over two decades, EcoDecisión has pioneered the protection of water sources in the Andean region, designing and negotiating the world’s first water trust fund, a model being developed throughout Latin America and now globally. Marta’s vision is to work to connect the multiplicity of source water protection arrangements in the Andes, which are the headwaters of the world’s most important river, the Amazon.

Shelby Riggle

Senior Program Associate, Kinship Foundation

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