That’s for darn sure. The good news is – we made it to the jungle! It’s been about a week since we’ve arrived, and let me tell you…. This place is freakin’ amazing. I can say with certainty that never again will I have the opportunity to spend 5 months at place like Yachana, no less in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Yachana Technical High School (where I live, research, work, and teach) is about 2 hours south along the Napo River from the city of Coca. Everything is greener than green, there are flowers and birds with colors Crayola can’t even compete with, and the people here are super tranquilo. The bad news is – I’ve already been bitten by a Parrot named Yolanda, I’ve counted over 100 bug bites, a few of my electronics have fallen victim to the humidity (see ya’ in dryer times, I Pod), and did I mention the insects here are ENORMOUS? For now at least, the good continues to outweigh the bad and I think that as I get more involved in my projects the bugs will eventually disappear into the background (right?).
So… on the subject of getting settled, it’s been interesting trying to figure out how I can best be of use here. On the academic front, I’m compiling a list of social enterprises that I’d like to visit and hopefully write a few case studies about. With respect to giving back to Yachana for so graciously putting me up in the finest of jungle high schools (pics to come soon), I am developing a series of workshops on business modeling, professional planning, and social media for the high schoolers here. If you read my first post, you’re probably wondering how I’m going about my main reason for coming to Ecuador, which was to connect impact investors with social entrepreneurs in the Amazon. Well, that’s still a little TBD.
And for good reason….that being, it’s hard to connect to anything out here. To even leave Yachana, I would have to take a canoe to the nearest town (about $20 for 20 minutes… no, thank you) or wait until a group of tourists come in or out of the Yachana lodge from Coca. Thank goodness for satellite internet, otherwise you’d only see a blog post once a month! The reality is, the Amazon region of Ecuador is still extremely difficult to access (you have to go up and down and around the Andes just get to its opening), very few roads have been built here (most are stone roads if they are built), and electricity and modern plumbing are sparse. For instance, we get electricity from a generator only from 6 – 9 pm, and our water is pumped up from a small estuary. (Let’s just say I hope the rainforest never runs out of rain.) But again, this is the Amazon. With so few inhabitants, why would it need the comforts of the quote un-quote “civilized” world? With the technology that is currently available in Ecuador, not only would it be extremely costly but also extremely detrimental to the environment and habitat of so many precious plants and animals if we paved a ton of roads and ran electrical wires and PVC plumbing everywhere. Building is also difficult since the rivers are constantly expanding and receding, and the ground is loose and uneven.
That doesn’t mean that we can ignore the communities that live in this area, which are more often than not impoverished and without basic goods and services. Nor can we ignore the use of diesel in generators and boat motors. And worst of all, thousands of acres of rainforest continue to be cut down as the demand for lumber and petroleum exploration increase. That being said, despite the difficulties in physically getting to and connecting with the Amazon – I see hundreds of opportunities for social enterprises that can mitigate such issues. I’ll go ahead and name the first three ideas that came to me. (I can’t share all my secrets!) They may sound crazy and far-fetched, but isn’t that how all inventions start? If you decide to use one of the ideas below, just please make sure I get 10% of the profits and a nice seat on your board
- Renewable energy. Obvi. A good majority of the time, it’s pretty sunny here. And solar technology gets better by the second. There are some companies that are already experimenting with roof panels, but the possibilities are endless! (on top of canoe covers, floating solar lilly pads in the river banks, I’m sure you can think of more). Also, most of the tributaries that flow to Amazon have a strong current. Micro-hydro generators have been proven to generate consistent electric current and do not damage natural habitats like large hydro-electirc plants can. Finally – biomass. Everyone and everything in the jungle (and the world) poops. Let’s start capturing that methane and cook with it! The problem with renewable energy technology is that it’s still new in Ecuador, costly, and difficult to maintain. But I have faith that the bright, young, engineers of the world will heed my calling and develop something that’s light, inexpensive, and durable.
- Durable, bug-proof, humidity-resistant electronics. I say this mainly from personal experience, but also in seriousness. If you were told that a laptop, camera, I pod, phone, or other electronic device would only last a year in the jungle because of the extreme humidity and the bugs that fly into its crevices, would you buy it? I sure as hell wouldn’t. (Don’t worry Mom and Dad, I’m taking precautionary measures with my computer and camera 🙂 ). So how can we expect those who live in the Amazon rainforest to adopt new technology if it’s not economically worth it?
- A micro franchise of (sustainable) river taxis / buses. Outside of the Amazon, most of Ecuador is connected by large network of city, municipal, and national buses. It’s not a stretch to say that you can pretty much get anywhere west of the Amazon by bus. But inside the Amazon, roads are sparse. Most communities are settled along the major rivers, and thus most transport is done by boat. There are several private canoe operators, but none that offer organized public transit, much less in a sustainable fashion (all of the boat motors are diesel). Also, gasoline is extremely pricey. In case you missed it earlier, it can cost one person as much as $20 to go just 20 minutes. That’s where the beauty of public transportation comes in! Wouldn’t it be great to have a few, slightly larger, hybrid canoes taking community members to various markets so they can sell their goods, participate in commercial activities, and access services like healthcare, banking, and higher education? I sure think so.