Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Mapeo

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One-line solution summary:

Mapeo is an open-source tool for earth defenders to easily document environmental information in order to protect their land.

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Pitch your solution.

Frontline communities around the world are looking for the missing link to defend their ecosystems. Existing technology does not work well in remote regions without good internet and has a steep learning curve, creating a dependency on external technical expertise, which often excludes marginalized groups from meaningful participation. For technology to truly be useful in the most urgent environmental challenges, it must be accessible to the local groups who experience environmental threats first-hand and who are working as the frontline defenders of critical ecosystems. Mapeo was built in collaboration with Indigenous communities in the Amazon to address their unique and specific needs. Mapeo allows users to map land, monitor threats, document environmental and human rights abuses, and share data with local authorities, policy makers, and law enforcers. By creating Mapeo for the most extreme conditions, it can now be used by frontline defenders worldwide to defend their threatened ecosystems.

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Film your elevator pitch.

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What specific problem are you solving?

Environmental threats are accelerating against marginalized communities worldwide, especially Indigenous Peoples who protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Grassroots defenders around the globe want to collect evidence - such as photos, testimonies, and geolocations - about environmental threats, but they lack the technology needed to effectively do so. They want to see the data on a map, share it internally, and create a printed report or publish edited data online in order to hold governments and corporations accountable, halt deforestation, and fight against environmental degradation. Unfortunately, existing tools don’t meet these needs because they rely on internet access (which is unreliable, restricted by governments, or non-existent in many locations); they require high technical skills or training; it’s hard for a group to collaborate on the same dataset; or they require setup and maintenance of a server or database. As well, they store data on a central, external server, which perpetuates the colonial legacy of technology. Local communities need accessible ways to document, manage, and publish environmental and human rights violations and create digital maps and reports, while keeping data ownership and management local.

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What is your solution?

In collaboration with Indigenous groups in the Amazon, we co-created Mapeo, a mobile and desktop application that enables communities to map and monitor critical ecosystems. Users are able to gather, share and manage data within a trusted network, and export it to other applications and audiences. Current partners use Mapeo to monitor environmental threats such as illegal logging and mining, map biodiverse habitats; manage their resources through crop rotation and protecting endangered species; and create reports and maps that are used in advocacy and legal campaigns to halt environmental degradation and create legally protected areas.

Mapeo prioritizes ease-of-use to make it more accessible to users with low technical literacy. Mapeo was designed to address the following needs:

  • Simple to use and learn

  • Icon-based and designed for users with limited digital literacy

  • Works completely in offline environments 

  • Enables local communities to manage their data without outside dependencies

  • Easily translatable into local languages

  • Completely customizable configurations, so groups can determine what data to gather 

The backend, decentralized database is embedded in the apps, so there is no technical infrastructure to maintain beyond the phone or laptop. Mapeo works with limited or no connectivity, as data can be shared offline between devices.

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Mapeo was designed with and for environmental defenders who live in critical ecosystems and are on the frontlines of defending these areas from environmental threats, and responsibly managing existing resources. These groups are impacted by threats including poorly regulated oil drilling, mining, palm oil plantations, and logging. Mapeo enables them to document threats as well as key indicators of the environmental health of their area, including flora and fauna, water quality, and where carbon is being stored. Mapeo also enables groups to manage their territory more effectively, by using maps that communities can use to make agreements about when and where to protect areas, to apply regenerative agriculture techniques, and more. 

Digital technology has the potential to amplify efforts  to protect critical ecosystems, but lack of reliable internet and cell phone coverage and limited technical expertise has further marginalized Indigenous and other frontline communities while private sector actors have been able to leverage technology to their benefit, disseminating disinformation about project impacts.

We’ve already seen the ways that local partners are using Mapeo to halt mining and oil operations, document and report illegal logging to authorities, create maps that enable Indigenous communities to gain more control over their ancestral territories, and more effectively manage their ecosystems. We’re receiving increased requests from communities around the world who want to use Mapeo to protect their territories

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Provide scalable and verifiable monitoring and data collection to track ecosystem conditions, such as biodiversity, carbon stocks, or productivity.
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

Our problem, solution, and target population are all aligned with the goals of the Challenge. Not only is our solution a concrete tool to provide scalable and verifiable monitoring and data collection to track ecosystem conditions, but is it designed in partnership with Indigenous and other ethnic minority frontline defenders, utilizing their knowledge and traditional practices, while addressing unique challenges they face. As well, our solution is designed for true ease of use and complete local ownership of both the process and the data, removing any potential dependency or vulnerability to outside forces.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Madison, WI, USA
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

Mapeo is currently deployed in at least 18 project areas across Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, Panama, Peru, Thailand, Vanuatu and Vietnam, allowing over 380 land defenders to monitor nearly 4 million hectares of land. Mapeo is fully internationalized and available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai and Vietnamese.

Mapeo enabled the Waorani people to create a map that played a key role in their 2019 legal victory to prevent oil drilling on their land; three different Indigenous nations in Northern Peru to monitor and report impacts of oil drilling on their lands, including spills, and toxic waste; and Kofan community guards in Northern Ecuador to collect evidence of illegal gold mining to successfully evict illegal miners, force the Government to cancel illegal mining concessions, and map 65,000 hectares of their ancestral lands. As groups in Kenya & Southeast Asia are also beginning to use Mapeo, we’re poised for future growth.

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Emily Jacobi

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new technology
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What makes your solution innovative?

Existing tools for mapping and monitoring have some key challenges:

  • Some only work online, requiring consistent internet access, making them impossible to use in the remote locations where ecosystems are most under threat

  • Others are prohibitively expensive, requiring licenses that local environmental groups can’t afford

  • Most are difficult to use, requiring specialized expertise, extensive training, or advanced GIS degrees

  • Some data collection tools are easy to use offline in the field, but still require aggregating the data online in a way that puts power in the hands of a centralized authority, and they rarely enable frontline groups to manage their own data

Mapeo is unique because it is a free, open-source tool that addresses all of these challenges, and combines data collection with data management that allows Indigenous and other frontline groups to work offline, gathering AND managing data entirely in the field where communities are either most at risk of environmental threats, or closest to being able to protect key biodiversity. Mapeo’s innovation comes from building the mobile and desktop applications on Mapeo Core, a decentralized peer-to-peer database that takes a local-first approach. (Read more about this approach on our blog, and the differences between this and blockchain.) By taking advantage of the most cutting-edge decentralized technology, we were able to build Mapeo to meet a crucial need for frontline communities. Also key to the approach was extensive user research and design, to ensure that the toolset is actually useful to local communities.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • GIS and Geospatial Technology
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Rural
  • Poor
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Brazil
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • Kenya
  • Panama
  • Peru
  • Thailand
  • Vanuatu
  • Vietnam
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 14. Life Below Water
  • 15. Life on Land
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Brazil
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • Colombia
  • Congo, Democratic Republic
  • Ecuador
  • Guyana
  • Indonesia
  • Kenya
  • Laos
  • Nepal
  • Panama
  • Peru
  • Suriname
  • Tanzania
  • Thailand
  • United States
  • Vanuatu
  • Vietnam
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Currently, Mapeo is being used by over 18 projects across 10 countries, with at least 382 active users, who represent more than 30,000 people living on more than 4 million hectares of land.*

In the next 6 months alone we have concrete plans to begin work in 8 new project areas in the current countries and an additional 3 countries, and we estimate that, with adequate resources, we will be able to more than double the number of users, so that a year from now there are more than 800 active users of Mapeo, covering close to 8 million hectares of critical ecosystems.

Five years from now, with the right partnerships and support, our goal is to be serving Indigenous federations and other frontline environmental defender groups all over the world, representing millions of people and large swaths of critical ecosystems around the planet. 

Note: These are conservative estimates, based on direct reports from known Mapeo users. Due to the offline nature of Mapeo, there may be many more projects and communities using Mapeo whom we don’t know about. The latest version of Mapeo Desktop has been downloaded from our website 1,425 times, and our bug reporter has captured more than 24,000 individual “sessions” of Mapeo Mobile use, although many of these have been from repeat users.

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

We are monitoring:

  • Number of Mapeo users, both through reports from known users, and Google Play Store & website downloads

  • Number of known Mapeo projects

  • Countries and regions where Mapeo is being used

  • Number of communities served by Mapeo users (often, 1 or 2 monitors are representing many villages)

  • Number of hectares that Mapeo is being used to map, monitor and defend

We are also tracking:

  • number of legal and enforcement actions occurring as a result of Mapeo use

  • amount of land being protected as a result of these actions

  • the kinds of legal victories being won (ie mining injunctions, oil spill cleanup, etc)

Because we are also committed to reducing outside tech dependency, we are also measuring the number of Mapeo users who are getting trained as trainers themselves, and the number of partner organizations who are able to use Mapeo without direct support from Digital Democracy.

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

Currently, our team includes:

  • 4 full-time staff

  • 12 part-time staff

  • Occasional contractors & tech contributors

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How long have you been working on your solution?

8 years as an organization

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

We are an interdisciplinary team of designers, technologists, anthropologists, environmental scientists and human geographers. We care passionately about designing technology with and for marginalized communities, who we believe to be the experts in solving their problems. After years of working directly with marginalized communities to train them to use technology to defend their rights, we pivoted to focus on toolbuilding. The members of our team come from diverse ethnic and professional backgrounds: some have worked in other NGOs in the past, some for tech startups, others live in the forest near our partners, while others come from grassroots organizations or have been conducting participatory action research together with marginalized communities. The diverse backgrounds of our team makes us very prepared to design solutions for complex situations. At the same time, the multiple experiences that each of us has had conducting collaborative work with marginalized communities and Indigenous Peoples have strongly shaped us and reinforced our commitment to decolonizing practices and ethical aspects and values. Core to our values is being accountable to our Indigenous partners, respecting their self-determination and supporting their autonomy. Despite coming from different contexts and different professional experiences, we share the belief in the power of technology to empower marginalized communities and to address environmental and social injustices.

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What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

Given our organizational mission to work in solidarity with marginalized communities to support them to use technology to defend their rights, building a diverse, equitable and inclusive team and leadership has been critical to our approach from day one.

Our team is currently located on 4 continents: Africa, Europe, North and South America. We have intentionally recruited team members from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and a governing board of directors that includes Indigenous leaders from communities we serve. As we grow our budget and network, we are planning to hire more team members located in the countries (in Latin America, Africa and Asia) where we are targeting the greatest growth for Mapeo.

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Organizations (B2B)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

Like any nonprofit/social enterprise, we need to raise funds to be successful. But to raise funds, we also need to increase our network, and share more of our success stories. Our greatest strength as an organization has been in our close partnerships and trusted relationships with frontline communities. We’re applying to Solve because we’re looking for an opportunity to build similar kinds of connections with a global community, and we appreciate Solve’s commitment to working holistically to support Solvers to accomplish their goals.

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Product / Service Distribution (e.g. expanding client base)
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Please explain in more detail here.

So many of the areas listed above are ones where we know our work can be strengthened with external support. Particularly when it comes to Public Relations/Marketing and Monitoring & Evaluation, we'd be grateful for the expertise of Solve's network to help us better communicate our successes, and evaluate the impact of our work.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion to advance your solution?

Although we are not currently working specifically with refugee populations, we have in the past worked on many projects with refugees, and the conditions that Mapeo was built for (lack of internet connection & remote) often apply to refugee populations.


We believe Mapeo could be an extremely useful tool for refugee populations to be able to track information, gather and manage their own data. See this example of how partners are using Mapeo in Thailand to protect vulnerable populations in at-risk coastal areas.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GM Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The GM Prize to advance your solution?

Given the GM Prize's emphasis on sustainable communities, we would leverage this support to deepen our work with communities using Mapeo to monitor their resources and promote sustainable agroforestry, food sovereignty and land management practices.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use the Innovation for Women Prize to advance your solution?

Many users of Mapeo are women, and we designed Mapeo in partnership with many Indigenous women leaders who often have to fight to have a voice in the conversation around territorial land management.


If we received this prize, we would use the funds to realize a dream many of our partners have had for a while - to organize an in-person gathering of Indigenous women from across the Amazon (including Brazil, Suriname, Peru & Ecuador) who are active as community monitors working to document and prevent environmental threats in their territory. Women face unique threats in this work, and we have long dreamed of bringing these leaders together to learn from each other, and amplify their successes.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Minderoo Prize to End Global Overfishing? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use the Minderoo Prize to End Global Overfishing to advance your solution?

We have been approached by a few local groups and foundations who are interested in applying Mapeo to monitor fisheries. Conditions are similar between the remote rainforest and coastal areas - just as internet/cell phone signal disappears as people go further into the jungle, there is rarely cell phone service on the water, off of coastal communities. Mapeo is therefore an ideal tool for coastal communities to monitor fisheries, document illegal activities, and even record data for supply chain transparency. If we received this prize, we would be delighted to work with Minderoo as well as existing partners to adapt Mapeo to the specific needs of these communities.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ServiceNow Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The ServiceNow Prize to advance your solution?

We know that many of the best practices for carbon absorption & decarbonization lie in the traditional land management practices of Indigenous and other earth-based communities. If selected for this prize, we would be grateful for the chance to support these communities to use Mapeo to connect and share solutions with each other, particularly in how they use Mapeo to manage their lands.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI for Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The AI for Humanity Prize to advance your solution?

Mapeo is already a key tool for frontline environmental defenders to apply data science to protecting their territories. With additional support from the AI for Humanity Prize, we would prioritize leveraging satellite data and AI alerts (from sources including Global Forest Watch, Planet Labs & more) to integrate with Mapeo, so that these frontline defenders can get accurate, up-to-date alerts on where threats including forest fires and deforestation are happening. This is one of the most frequently requested features for Mapeo, and it would be a huge step in combining the best of AI data solutions with the traditional knowledge and wisdom of frontline environmental defenders.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GSR Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The GSR Prize Prize to advance your solution?

Mapeo is an innovative technology approach that, like blockchain, is a peer-to-peer distributed system that enables frontline communities to take action themselves while reducing dependencies on outsiders. We would apply the GSR prize towards supporting our most vulnerable partners - in Brazil, Peru and Southeast Asia - to using this innovative technology to halting land invasions and illegal mining activity.

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Solution Team

  • Emily Jacobi Founder and Executive Director, Digital Democracy
 
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