In February of 2021 I wrote a blog post called “The Great Reset” in which I make reference to concepts such as regenerative travelthe promad as the new traveler archetype and other ideas which have been brought forth to the mainstream by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the past year we, at The Chilam Group, have been reimagining the models and frameworks we use to conceptualize what we do and how we do it in light of a radically changed world.

As we systematically analyzed what sort of outcomes we were deriving from our activities in a much broader context and a longer outlook we realized that principles behind sustainability in general are insufficient given the degree to which many ecosystems have been degraded along with the communities that live in them.

As we conducted research and brainstormed to incorporate the best practices we could find into our products, services and organization there was a recurring theme: regenerative development.

“Regenerative approaches use whole-systems thinking to build equitable resilience that responds to the needs of society while respecting the integrity of nature”

https://www.kosmosjournal.org/article/regenerative-development-going-beyond-sustainability/

“Development is the use of resources to improve the wellbeing of a society. What is called sustainable development is the use of resources to improve society’s wellbeing in a way that does not destroy or undermine the support systems needed for future growth. Regenerative development is the use of resources to improve society’s wellbeing in a way that builds the capacity of the support systems needed for future growth. What sustainable development is to traditional economic development, regenerative development is to sustainable development.”

As we set out to implement regenerative models across the board, we came up short in terms of the capabilities, competencies, reach and scope of our organization which had thus far been strictly for-profit; albeit one with deep and strong sustainability principles and practices as well as long-standing relationships and partnerships with academia, conservation groups, non-profits and government.

We realized that it would be materially impossible to fully engage in regenerative practices in our current and future projects without a fully developed third-sector organization in-house that could conceive, implement and run initiatives that fall outside the field of action of a for-profit company from a legal, ethical and organizational standpoint.

Despite the very complicated business and economic environment we decided to embark upon the not insignificant task of founding a wide-ranging third-sector organization which we named “The Regenerative Development Alliance”; or TDRA. (website: rda.earth)
In line with our business model playbook, we were doggedly determined to only do so if we were able to identify a powerful insight that would provide TDRA with strong enough differentiators to successfully not just enter but thrive and grow quickly in the relatively crowded space of conservation-focused non-profits.

We spent the last several months engaging new and existing partners (NGOs, academics, government officials) with a systematic approach. As we held more in-depth conversations with key partners, we began to identify a pattern that we know all too well. Small organizations led by key experts and activists failing regularly or languishing due to a lack of structure, strategy, experience and financing.

The Failure Institute (yes, there is such a thing) published a study in which they lay out the rate at which social organizations (non and for profit) in Mexico fail and for which reasons.

https://thefailureinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Causes-of-failure-in-social-enterprises-low-res.pdf

38.3% of them lasted less than one year, 45.2% less than 3 years, 8.7% less than 6 years and only 2.6% more than 9 years.

15 years ago, when www.thechilamgroup.com began operating small-scale eco-tourism businesses in remote, pristine, protected areas we arrived at a similar conclusion; that the inordinately high rate of failure amongst these types of businesses was due to multiple recurring factors such as the resources needed to attend to non-essential functions such as accounting, administration, procurement, HR; etc that are comparatively much higher due to increased distances and complexity which can severely limit key-people´s ability to focus on mission-critical tasks.

This became the key insight around which TCG´s model was built on. Vertically integrating and adding complementary business units run by subject-matter experts supported by a central organization that allows them to focus exclusively on core, high-value-added projects, tasks and initiatives while all non-core and some core but un-related functions (digital marketing, SEO, etc) are carried out by an off-site team; imbuing them with an “antifragility” that is found in strength in numbers resulting from resource sharing, economies of scale, network effects and other benefits.

Our outreach efforts into the regional third-sector space continued to reveal a common thread. A diaspora of very small or even single-person projects run by passionate, competent, committed and credible people that spent an inordinate amount of time and mental space in aspects other than carrying out the mission they set out to do; and that generally lacked long-term planning, strategy, oversight and governance which sadly further hindered their ability to seek and secure funding; which leads to a precarious existence.

At a “macro” level we identified a hard shift in the Mexican federal government´s policies towards non-profits. Until very recently a non-insignificant amount of funding with no or very few strings attached had created a set of incentives that weren´t conducive to having well-run, transparent and efficient organizations. All this money has since dried up and many organizations were left scrambling for funding and many have become inviable which makes this an ideal moment in time to enter the space.

Thus “The Regenerative Development Alliance” was conceived as an “umbrella” organization; along the lines of a “venture studio” for third sector initiatives including non-profit and “regenerative” models that fall outside traditional classifications.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2020/12/15/five-common-questions-about-venture-studios/?sh=1040dc124320

TRDA will “host” and “incubate” projects and organizations, both existing and homegrown and will strive to develop nimble, well-run, focused, efficient, impactful organizations that enjoy long-term viability and that thrive in the current fund-raising environment that is quickly shifting more and more towards one of “impact-philanthropy” or regenerative finance where traditional funding for non-profits is being replaced with more efficient models.

TRDA will initially focus on four main axes:

1-    Conservation of priority species: TRDA is deveolping programs to engage in the conservation of priority species and their habitats, with an initial focus on crocodiles and manatees.

2-    Coral reef conservation and marine protected areas: TRDA is engaging in the formation, training and operation of post-storm rescue brigades

https://www.tncmx.org/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/documents/mexico/Train_of_trainers_Brigades_course_in_Mexico.pdf

as well as in the installation, maintenance and expansion of coral nurseries

https://marfund.org//wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Reef-Restoration-Methodologies.pdf

as well as in working towards supporting conservation efforts within marine protected areas, especially now that the budget allocated to them is the lowest it has ever been.

3-    Cenote and aquifer conservation: the Caribbean coast of Mexico is home to the longest underground rivers in the world which make up an aquifer that is key to the overall ecosystem and that is critically threatened by contamination from sewage discharge and over-development.

TRDA is engaging with grassroots activists and municipal, state and federal government agencies to contribute towards Cenote/aquifer conservation initiatives on several fronts.

4-    Regenerative Tourism: the idea of building travel products that are structurally generative and that can organically enter into a virtuous cycle of social and ecosystem restoration that feeds onto itself is the holy grail of regenerative development in this space and will become the axis upon which a lot of initiatives that will contribute towards meeting TDRA´s goal across the board hinge upon.

Redefining what luxury products and experiences mean and are around regeneration can in turn be the origin of non-traditional, self-financing models that can scale much faster and run more efficiently.

In order to be in a position to become a catalyzer for a diverse collection of key initiatives, organizations and projects with deep knowledge and competency across multiple areas TRDA must position itself as the leading non-profit in conservation in Mexico and in order to so we have assembled a first-rate team as well as layed out a roadmap for TRDA to fulfil its mission.

We have self-financed TRDA from its inception 4 months ago and in that time, we have assembled a stellar team, made significant progress, achieved important milestones and most importantly came up with a clear fundraising strategy.

After bootstrapping an MVP we are reaching out to a select few friends and family to ask for their financial contributions to give TRDA 4-5 months of runway to work on hand-picked projects that will allow the organization to become self-sustaining.

1-    “Cocodrylus Q.Roo” project. TRDA has taken over management of “Onca Maya, A.C.”, the leading Crocodyle conservation non-profit organization in the Yucatan Peninsula. Javier Carballar, its director, is also the coordinator of the Crocodyle working group of the “Biodiversity and Natural Protected Areas Institute” of the State of Quintana Roo.

Javier and TRDA have been working towards putting together a state-wide project for the conservation of all crocodile species and populations on the Mexican Caribbean Coast, especially in the Cancún hotel zone, including monitoring, environmental education and an SOS group for potential conflicts with crocs.

There are multiple sources of recurring financing for this project once it is set up and running such as contributions from local stakeholders as well as public and private grants, both domestic and international.

2-    Voluntourism programs with a focus on Marine Conservation. The Chilam Group was a pioneer in the voluntourism sector, specifically in Marine Conservation.

TCG had a decade-long relationship with GVI (Global Vision International) during which multiple massively successful programs were developed, launched and operated, such as https://www.gvi.co.uk/programs/dive-academy-marine-conservation-internship/

TRDA is developing home-grown programs that are much better aligned with local needs and are more and better coordinated with local academia and marine park managers.

If you are reading this blog it is very likely that you know me or one of our co-founders well and are also keenly aware of the dire need to undertake meaningful steps towards social and eco-systemic restoration.

Our aim is to raise 45k USD collectively in this “friends and family” round that will be invested as follows:

1-    To continue funding projects already underway, consisting of salaries for Javier Carballar and Gisela Maldonado who are currently working full-time in TRDA, as well as in the field.

2-    To work with a specialized consulting firm in the formation of a legal entity for TRDA in Mexico. Regulations and oversight over non-profits in Mexico is nuanced and complicated and setting up an organization that is able to receive tax-deductible contributions and is able to receive domestic and foreign grants is frustratingly not straightforward.

3-    To hire certain professional services to build a “brand” or image for the Cocodrylus Q.Roo project (logo, website, social media accounts, etc) as well as finance some content creation.

4-    To hire a full-time employee in charge of developing the science/conservation portion of TRDA´s voluntourism projects.

5-    To contract with a service such as https://kindful.com/ to manage donor relationships, reporting, etc.

I, and the other founding members of TRDA (Melodie Treviño, Rodrigo Friscione, Luis Leal, Javier Carballar and Gisela Maldonado) are very excited to be embarking upon this mission at this crucial moment in time and are thankful to all those that can support us in doing so