Reforestamos México developed a solution that allows Natural Protected Areas (NPAs) located near big cities to become a center point that brings alliances, hands and financial resources together in order to plant trees in degraded forests, improve the livelihood of local communities and increase forest awareness among urban people, which derives in better private and public political will to develop initiatives for the benefit of protected and unprotected forests. Our solution is based on the involvement of the civil society, the public and the private sectors. This program, called “Better Alliances, Better Forests”, improves the relation between cities and natural protected areas. Urban young leaders are the hands and spirit of the program. They support companies to engage in well-organized reforestation events. Satisfied companies are willing to pay more for the reforestation events. The surplus is used by Reforestamos México to solve simple and complex problems that put forests at risk. This program is easy to replicate by NGOs interested in supporting NPA close to big cities with strong presence from the private sector.
Mexico is urbanizing rapidly. There is a big young urban population, which is lacking job opportunities. The lack of environmental and sustainability awareness in big Mexican cities derives in poor relations with NPAs, jeopardizing the environmental services required by cities for their long term social and economic viability. Illegal logging in NPAs occurs due to bad public and private policies, which causes deforestation and degradation. Many NPAs have small budgets and their authorities are disconnected from the decision makers responsible for allocating resources to solve their problems. Sometimes, the private sector collaborates by planting trees in NPAs but they are just willing to pay very little to plant them. The NPA authority has no resources to look after the planted trees, so only few survive. The NPA authorities have no means or mechanisms to engage the private sector for further commitment. Some companies do plant trees, but most them lack policies to avoid buying illegal forest products so they obliviously give illegal loggers incentives to cut trees in the NPA.
The program “Better Alliances, Better Forests” requires: a) a committed NGO that wants to improve the performance of a NPA near a big city where the private sector is strong; b) a formal alliance between the Natural Protected Area Authority and the NGO; c) analyze local challenges, define a common vision and define a strategy –for example: the authority help the NGO in defining reforestation sites as a starting point- c) the NGO bring young urban leaders together and trains them to organize prime reforestation events for the private sector. The NGO rewards them economically for each reforestation event in which they collaborate in, evaluates their performance and provides feedback for their improvement; d) the NGO disseminates the program to the private sector as a means to improve its corporate social responsibility goals. Private companies involve their volunteers and families; e) part of the financial surplus is administrated by the NGO in order for the communities to be involved by looking after the planted trees and to develop conservation compatible productive projects to improve their livelihoods; f) the NGO utilizes the rest of the financial surplus for advocacy activities in order to improve private and public political will to, for example, ensure that the private sector and the government do not buy illegal wood that puts at risk protected and unprotected forests; g) the NGO provides spaces and tools for the private companies to tell their story and increase their commitment as a marketing strategy. This derives in better and stable relations among all stakeholders and funds.
After several years of reforestation projects, in 2011 Reforestamos México developed this win-win solution. Trust among all stakeholders is very important. Transparency is needed at all times. Good relations with the NPA authority derive in good relations with other public institutions from the state and federal governments. Long-term commitment from private companies is required for the sustainability of the program. Therefore, customer satisfaction needs to be fulfilled. Reporting results professionally is expected. NGOs mistakes can be sold as private sector challenges, so never hide them. Reforestation events are great opportunities to engage employees to integrate forests into the company’s sustainability goals. It also provides opportunities to integrate people from key departments (example: procurement or public affairs) as part of the strategy. The core of our success does not lie in the mere quantity of reforested areas or planted trees, but in the establishment of long-lasting alliances and in the creation of a framework that allows future sustainable initiatives to be developed. We have seen that providing advocacy and assistance to local community enterprises in order to identify room for business opportunities organize training activities and promote the adoption of a business model, guarantee a more solid development, which encounters human and environmental development.
The good results that “Better Alliance, Better Forests” has achieved rely on multiple efforts from all the actors involved, from the groups of young volunteers to the stakeholders of the sector, private entities and public institutions. From 2011, the “Better Alliances, Better Forests” program has generated: a) better relationships among actors; b) an increase in private sector investment in forest activities and volunteer participation -151 companies-. The reforestation events tripled in 4 years. We have organized 214 reforestation events gathering 36,737 employees; c) a more sensitive participation of trained young leaders in urban areas; 120 leaders in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Queretaro and Monterrey. Some of them have developed entrepreneurial activities associated with the cause; d) local community employment and sustainable productive projects with entrepreneurial approach to contribute to eradicate poverty in forest communities; e) 814 hectares reforested; f) an increase by 20% to 80% in the percentage of survived trees due to community involvement; g) a stronger ability to influence public policy; h) alliances with local governments in Jalisco, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, Guanajuato and Yucatan, to promote positive and sustainable forest management; i) a legal timber program is being developed with the state of Jalisco in order to avoid purchasing illegal timber in the public and private sectors as a pilot to replicate nationally.