Capitalizing Conservation: Land Conservation Crowdfunding Platform Gives 100%

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - The first-ever, crowdfunding campaign to take... not 10% of the project funding, not 5% of the project funding, not even a dollar to compensate for Paypal's fees...ZERO percent of the project funding--- has finally hit the market.  In case you didn't get that: Yes, they are giving 100% of their crowd-sourced funding to the projects. Their niche focus? Land conservation projects. The platform is called Natural Capital Network and its first project, Sawah Bali, is raising funds for 135 farmers in Bali in order to preserve their agricultural land from being turned into hotels and mansions.

“I want to disrupt the crowdfunding industry” Galen Guerrero-Murphy, Founder of Natural Capital Network told me. “I can’t stomach taking 10% of your capital, or 5% like so many other crowdfunding platforms do.  I’m not doing this for capital. I want this to be a sustainable model, of course, but Natural Capital Network is here to turn capital into natural capital.”

Guerrero-Murphy also wants to disrupt the way popular culture views land conservation. Guerrero-Murphy founded Natural Capital Network with the purpose of increasing awareness and engaging donors into land conservation projects in an effort to sustain not just natural resources, but also natural capital. Natural capital encompasses entire ecosystems which leads to the flow of goods and services.

“When I started this project I wanted to bring an understanding of land conservation to the masses.  I appreciate that getting money into land conservation is challenging. I’m trying to make land conservation exciting and appealing to popular culture. It is and it should be. It’s all that sustains us. It’s all based on the land. I’m sitting at my computer inside, but If there’s no land outside, I have nothing,” Guerrero-Murphy said.

“So, what exactly is natural capital?” I asked Guerrero-Murphy. “Why should it matter to me?”

“Let’s use preserved, coastal wetland on the Gulf States as an example,” he said. “It [the wetland] is providing for every coastal community the service of erosion control. If you sacrifice the wetland to build a house or dredge it for a new shipping channel what you’ve lost is that system for erosion control. You now have oceans churning at coastlines. Eventually, you lose the coastline and houses are falling into water. You see this along every coast when you get rid of coastal wetlands. The wetlands are the natural capital. They provide an ecosystem service of natural erosion control. You now have protection for homes and business, for everything along the coasts.

“We often think of water and lumber as natural capital. You can put a dollar sign on timber and on water- the goods. But, we haven’t figured out the dollar value of water purification or services or erosion and flood control. It's very difficult to calculate those values! There is always a valuable investment to be had in ecological conservation and there are financial returns somewhere in the long term and maybe in the short term too. Land conservation is absolutely a savvy investment,” Guerrero-Murphy explained.

Natural Capital Network seeks to understand and convey the value of ecosystem services and natural capital in a larger way.  They do this by partnering with their projects as they try to raise capital. They stand behind the organizations they support, building trust for the donors and bringing integrity to the crowdfunding industry.

“I’m going to work intimately with organizations in their project and provide consulting and advising for them. [For example, we will ask questions like:]  How do we frame the mission and vision?  What’s the budget and strategy? And, how do you want to design this campaign page? Do you want it to be 30 days or six months? These are options I offer to any project,” Guerrero-Murphy told me.

“My value proposition is more than offering a crowdfunding platform. We focus on groundbreaking projects. How are we going to support large, ambitions, high impact projects which are turning capital into a lot of natural capital?”

Natural Capital Network’s first project in Bali is very ambitious, indeed. In 2012, UNESCO designated five, World Heritage Sites in Bali, recognizing the 1,000 year-old subak or canals system and the sawah or rice paddies. However, neither the nation of Bali nor the UNESCO has developed a solution to protect these tourist-packed areas from being turned into another hotel or mansion. These areas face severe water shortages and a loss of farming land.

A local, Balinese organization, Sawah Bali is stepping up to the challenge. Natural Capital Network is working to raise $30,000 on their behalf with 100% of the donations going directly to the protection of these historical and agricultural sites. The money will be used to pay the 135 farmers an annuity to not develop their land. The farmers have agreed to continue using the land for agriculture and resist the temptation to sell out to the tourism industry. The farmers will retain full ownership of the land and if they sell their land, it must continued to be used for agriculture. Sawah Bali's pilot project will conserve 135 rice farms (sawah) within a single, interconnected subak (water district).

“How did you convince these farmers to not sell out to corporations who could probably offer them more money to develop their land?” I asked Guerrero-Murphy.

“The idea was introduced in one subak or irrigation district. They have a community and governance structure to manage the water of that region. There is a democratic structure for everyone to engage and come together to talk about what we are going to do.  They came to a consensus to not sell out to another ‘McMansion.’

“You can't blame anyone for wanting to do that even though it will damage their water supply and destroy their heritage. But, if one farmer sells out you get a house or hotel right in middle of the subak and they start pumping excessive water. This threatens the entire agricultural system.

Land conservation in the US is basically someone paying for an easement so the land can never be developed. We are trying to prototype this model in Bali. It has never been introduced before in Bali. We are introducing land conservation to a nation! We can make a big change in their destiny,” Guerrero-Murphy told me.

Introducing land conservation to the island of Bali. I’d say you’re disrupting more than the crowdfunding  industry, Galen.  Somehow, I've always known you would find a powerful way to channel your natural inclination to disrupt things.  Way to go, Guerrero-Murphy.

To help support the efforts of Sawah Bali, give here. Read here for more information on Natural Capital Network and here for more on Sawah Bali's land conservation efforts.