Osa & Golfito Regenerative Economy Lab

WHY THE OSA?

The Osa Peninsula was named by National Geographic as one of the 5 most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth.  It houses 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and half of Costa Rica’s biodiversity. It contains the most significant wetland ecosystem and mangrove forests of Central America and the largest remaining tract of lowland rainforest in Pacific Mesoamerica.  It is home to the largest population of Scarlet Macaws in Central America, over 700 species of trees (more than all the temperate regions combined), species found no where else in the world, and turtle nesting sites for 4 species of endangered sea turtles. Separating the Osa Peninsula from the mainland is the Golfo Dulce Bay – one of only 4 tropical fjords on the planet and a vital nursery for both northern and southern humpback whales and hammerhead sharks.

The Osa Peninsula is at an important juncture. Historically, it has been very difficult to access making it less desirable to developers and tourists.  However, with increasing infrastructure and desire to visit by tourists, it is facing a critical choice between rapid unsustainable growth or steady sustainable development. There are many threats:  unsustainable palm oil expansion polluting the ecosystem; poverty driven wildlife poaching and illegal logging and mining; historical lack of effective governance and public services due to corruption; lack of jobs and land insecurity due to inadequate conservation policy and regulations and poor education; ill advised, mass tourism development projects including a recently-built large marina, a Hilton resort underway, and a proposed international airport that threaten sustainable development; and siloed actions and funding of most stakeholders. These are all symptoms of systemic challenges. What are the root causes? What are the leverage points for collective action that can ensure a shared future vision of a thriving ecosystem, thriving blue/green economy, and thriving communities?  What capacity support infrastructure is necessary to increase the success of project implementation?  How can systems financing of projects reduce risk in the market and create enabling conditions for systems-wide savings and reliable, if not higher-performing, triple bottom line returns?  

Systemic challenges need systems solutions. The Osa & Golfito Regenerative Economy Lab (REL) aims to address these questions together with local stakeholders, pre-existing donors, and investors.

THE PROJECT

Regenerative Economy Lab (REL) has been developing, alongside local leaders, a regenerative blue/green economy model and systems financing approach to conservation and sustainable development in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, since 2015. We seek to learn, together with local leaders, how to create a thriving economy and community that is dependent on and enhances the health of the rainforest and marine ecosystems.

Our earlier systems mapping analysis work in the region indicates that the local communities of the Osa Peninsula collectively desire a regenerative future, one that enables thriving communities, ecosystems, and a blue/green economy.  Our premise is that if the stakeholders understand the systems dynamics of the region and the future vision they collectively desire, and projects are identified and implemented with the potential highest impact towards this shared vision, then systems change can be actualized. At this point in time the local stakeholders have successfully identified projects that would potentially have the greatest likelihood of impact.  

However, with a lack of capacity support in the region these projects are high risk and underdeveloped, and thus are struggling to receive the funding needed to implement them.  In order for these projects and future projects to be implemented successfully and receive funding, the project leaders need ongoing capacity building support to effectively plan, present, develop, and implement projects.  Regenerative Economy Lab aims to address these capacity gaps that currently limit the opportunity to invest (whether from philanthropies or for-profits) in sustainable futures.  The learning and structures we develop are intended to be scalable such that, with future work, this critical constriction point is overcome with investment being matched by projects that move the region toward the achievable health the stakeholder systems maps outline.

RATIONALE

The challenges society faces are recognized to be more systemic in nature, requiring holistic thinking and collaboration of multiple parties to create truly effective solutions.  Systems innovation addresses such complexity through an evidence-based and participatory process. Historically, there have been many efforts in the Osa Peninsula to support individual projects and initiatives. However, these efforts have been disjointed and have led to very little change at the expense of significant time and resources. The need for local leaders, donors, and investors to come together around a sustainable development plan with strategic project implementation and an optimized financing strategy is becoming increasingly critical to coordinate efforts so that they are more efficient, comprehensive, and socially- ecologically- and financially-effective.  And the evidence is glaring that the key constriction point to this potential is the capacity of local people to plan, structure, propose and oversee effective projects that could respond to systemic investments.

OSA & GOLFITO SYSTEMS MAPS

Thus far, we have facilitated a shared understanding of the complex Osa & Golfito social, political, and economic systems with multi stakeholder groups, documented in the Complex Osa & Golfito Systems Map (below).

 

Simplified Osa & Golfito Systems Map with Initial Systems Financing Overlay (Below)

Figure 3 - Simplified Osa & Golfito Systems Map with Initial Systems Financing Overlay

In this next phase we will identify, with local stakeholders, key impact projects that meet systems leverage criteria and create a structure to support these projects and project leaders as well as design a collective systems financing strategy to fund projects with pre-existing and new donors and investors in the region.  The systems financing strategy will have a particular focus on integrating diverse financing tools, together with systems awareness, for optimized outcomes and returns. This will ensure that collective and cohesive action is being taken to adequately support and finance critical impact projects in the effort to actualize a vision of thriving communities, ecosystem, and economy.

 

TEAM

Jennifer Menke | Project Coordinator, Strategy, Facilitator, Partnership Development

Joe Hsueh, PhD. | Lead Systems Mapper, Strategy, Facilitator, Trainer

James Honey | Strategy, Stakeholder Engagement, Interviewer, Researcher, Facilitator

Ian MacRae | Assistant Mapper

Brian Blankinship | Assistant Mapper, Researcher