The Environmental Learning, Leadership, Adventure, and Stewardship Initiative (ELLAS)

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The Environmental Learning, Leadership, Adventure, and Stewardship Initiative (ELLAS)

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Environmental Learning, Leadership, Adventure, and Stewardship Initiative (ELLAS) will transform Nicaragua's La Flor coastal and marine protected area into a geotourism destination. By strengthening female enviropreneurs, empowering coastal communities as environmental stewards, using technology to enable participation and learning, and harnessing market forces through ecosystem service payments, the ELLAS initiative will avert large-scale environmental destruction.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Nicaragua's Pacific slope – home to mangroves, turtle nesting beaches, and coral reefs – is slated for rapid development on a massive scale. In 2006, The New York Times dubbed Nicaragua “the next Costa Rica.” Recently US News & World Report named Rivas one of the top places “to realize the adventure-filled retirement of your dreams.” Recent approval of a coastal highway connecting Costa Rica's Guanacaste province to Rivas and the La Flor protected area, and 81 commercial development projects planned or underway, means skyrocketing demand for coastal properties and extreme pressure on locals to sell their land, abandoning traditional farms and fisheries. While we embrace the potential for economic development in the region, we seek to avoid the traditional pitfalls of commercial expansion in the developing world: erosion, watershed degradation, the cyclical poverty of low-paying tourism jobs, and increased pressure on young women to enter the sex trade.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The ELLAS initiative is uniquely committed to meet the needs of La Flor's public and private sector actors as well as its biological corridors. We apply principles of ecology to ensure that our innovative programs integrate advances in scientific and economic understanding to ensure the viability of coastal forests and the livelihoods of the people who live in them. SOCIAL INTEGRATION Working directly with women addresses short and long-term needs, educating children builds a knowledge base for the future, collaborating with communities raises awareness, and cooperating with local governments ensures their buy-in. ECOLOGICAL INTEGRATION Science-based monitoring gauges the effectiveness of management at marine protected area and the protection of key indicator species – like sea turtles and spider monkeys – which are also flagship tourism species. ECONOMIC INTEGRATION Empowering local businesses through technical capacity and marketing platforms enables communities to remain grounded, avoid the sale of traditional farmland, and maintain marine-based livelihoods. It also ensures local decision making for La Flor's future. UNIQUE APPLICATIONS OF TECHNOLOGY Project Noah collaboration empowers locals and visiting tourists to become citizen scientists through crowdsourced biodiversity monitoring. Portable Light collaboration illuminates beaches with specially designed, turtle-safe, sustainable lighting, and extends the reading hours of women and children in their homes. MARKET-BASED SOLUTIONS Experience with ecosystem services allows us to respond to increased global demand for biodiversity conservation by establishing sea turtle credits on the open market. Education and seed funding has positioned communities to capitalize on the rising demand for tourism honoring cultural heritage and the environment.
About You
Paso Pacifico
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



Paso Pacifico


, CA

Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Paso Pacifico

Organization Phone


Organization Address

Km 15, Carretera Ticuantepe, Nicaragua

Organization Country

, RV

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, RV

Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?


Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

Direct clients include local community members who benefit from the healthy ecosystems which attract geotourism.

Often overlooked for environmental conservation programs, women are naturally inclined to base enterprise on environmental and social values. Our female enviropreneurs manage tourism-centered businesses including kayaking tours, a guide association, hostels, locally-sourced seafood restaurants, and a tree nursery supporting watershed restoration. In coordination with our sea turtle program, women have also formed a sea turtle nursery, generating income by protecting nests and educating others about sea turtle conservation.

Communities may learn to be effective stewards, if empowered to manage coastal resources. Performance-based direct payments for conservation encourage community members to protect nests. Full-time sea turtle rangers protect La Flor's nesting turtles, including Hawksbill, Leatherback and Green sea turtles. Local fishermen lead boat tours to view humpback whales and sea turtles off the coasts.

Our education programs have changed local behaviors which impact the environment, mobilized over 15,000 participants in International Coastal Clean-ups, and enlisted a rising generation of Nicaraguan surfers to the cause of ocean conservation.

Participatory environmental programs in local schools engage children through field trips, sling-shot exchanges, and outdoor science projects.

With our partners we have developed interpretive signs, destination websites, brochures for micro-enterprises, and train eco-tour guides. Paso Pacifico’s more lasting impact is through the local communities' now commonly valued idea of the Paso del Istmo biological corridor and the need for landscape connectivity to enable tourism.


1. Strengthen female enviropreneurs:
• build on the leadership of women to spearhead tourism enterprises (i.e. restaurants, artisans, hostels)
• improve women-run sea turtle hatchery to receive tourists
• assist with market linkages
• train and equip tour guides, including kayak guide
• expand watershed restoration programs surrounding La Flor (increasing demand for saplings from women-run tree nursery)

2. Empower communities to manage resources:
• establish protective measures within Marine Protected Areas (MPA) with local fishermen leading patrols
• create voluntary management zones for MPA with no-take and sustainable fishery zones
• develop citizen science monitoring through Project Noah, share this activity with tourists
• provide employment via research and protection programs with rangers
• research and monitor reefs, forests, and watersheds
• provide income to communities through voluntary sea turtle protection, financing program through ecosystem markets
• protect nests and guide tourists using solar technology designed for sea turtle protection


We expect the ELLAS initiative to achieve several goals, all designed to meet the needs of local economic development and environmental conservation:

In addition to supporting already viable tourism-centered businesses (including kayaking tours, hostels, and guide associations), the ELLAS initiative will help women launch new local businesses to service the growing needs of the community and geotourism destination.

To ensure the biodiversity of coastal habitat unique to Central America's Pacific reefs, the ELLAS initiative will expand and support marine protected areas (MPAs) and ensure community management of those MPAs.

By protecting the nesting and feeding grounds of critically endangered sea turtles, humpback whales, and more, the ELLAS initiative will help Nicaragua's Rivas province attract tourists interested in marine wildlife.

The community-based programs of the ELLAS initiatve will put La Flor on the map as a geotourism destination boasting healthy wildlife populations, pristine beaches, and authentic communities.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

Path to ELLAS initiative success:

Year One:
• Negotiate management zones with local fishermen
• Identify capacity-building needs of existing tourism and conservation micro-enterprises
• Introduce Project Noah technology to communities
• Initiate MPA monitoring
• Work with mobile provider to enable technology
• Establish peer-reviewed standard for trading Sea Turtle Credits
• Create ecosystem service market, conducting third-party validation of products
• Purchase La Flor protected area to avert development and set aside for conservation
• Find opportunities for additional community-created coastal and marine protected areas

Year Two:
• conduct training to respond to needs of enviropreneurs
• assist with access to markets for enviropreneurs
• seek approval from government for community-designed fisheries management zones
• initiate wide-scale use of Project Noah technology in tourism and conservation activities
• expand beaches protected with voluntary payments for conservation system

Year Three:
• identify weaknesses in small enterprise to provide additional training and support
• form partnerships to increase global visibility of geotourism destination
• create and organize management mechanisms for La Flor and other community-established protected areas
• share results of Project Noah citizen science monitoring with tourists worldwide

Indicators for overall success:
• Increased levels of participation and increased decision-making, determined by pre- and post-workshop surveys and participant tracking
• Improve health of La Flor protected area, measured by long-term monitoring programs indicating marine health, sea turtle nesting activity, and key wildlife indicator species
• Accepted plan for fisheries-management zones to protect the marine protected areas, defined by published and publicly accepted plan
• Increased economic vitality and tourism sector built around principles of geotourism, determined by micro-economic indicators (household surveys) and an evaluation of alignment with geotourism principles
• Improved watersheds surrounding La Flor, measured through changes in forest cover over three-year period and monitoring of seedling survivorship in reforestation

What would prevent your project from being a success?

Our biggest concern is a massive housing development slated for La Flor. Though La Flor is currently a protected area, the local government has pre-approved the building of 200 homes on spec. The project is slated to break ground within the next year, so we urgently need to find a solution.

While we embrace the potential for economic development in the communities where we work, it is vital that foreign (and domestic) investors are made aware of our region's commitment to coastal ecosystems and local traditions.

We understand why the developer in question wants to build 200 houses. La Flor is home to some of the world's most unique landscapes: from mangrove wetlands and turtle nesting beaches, to a newly discovered coral reef unique to Central America’s Pacific. Because the Rivas Province offers unrivaled beauty, 200 spec homes would undoubtedly sell. Our focus, however, is to find an alternative buyer for this property, one dedicated to conservation.

Barring outright ownership of the protected area for the Nicaraguan people, we hope to cooperate with the developer to minimize environmental degradation. Many of Rivas' existing developments and resorts have actively sought our counsel to avoid the pitfalls of mainstream commercial expansion, such as extensive erosion, impacting mangroves and the sea floor; and watershed degradation resulting from increased irrigation and plumbing demands, which directly impacts vital marine ecosystems. At the very least, if the La Flor protected area is destroyed we will support the community to establish a new and voluntary marine protected area. The potential community-led protected area includes a mangrove estuary located in the Ostional community and already identified by local people as a priority for community protection.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$100 ‐ 1000

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?

What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

In what country?

, RV

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Paso Pacifico

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Community partnerships have always been the foundation of Paso Pacifico's conservation efforts. We establish these connections through meetings with local individuals, as well as through workshops where people share ideas and concerns for the future. We seek to support communities in their quest for local decision-making authority in resource management.

Partner NGOs bring complimentary areas of expertise, enabling Paso Pacifico to be more effective in the areas of science, business development, marketing, and rural development. Recently, AED became a key partner to our effort through a USAID-funded program promoting sustainable tourism.

Government agencies, particularly municipal governments, play a coordinating role between our efforts and other agency work.

Across Nicaragua's private sector, Paso Pacifico has successfully cooperated with businesses to create private protected areas (e.g., Las Fincas Reserve), restore wildlife (e.g., Pelican Eyes, El Palermo Ranch) and to educate (Fuente Pura Agua, Telefono Claro). We have found that Nicaragua’s businesses are looking for willing partners to provide technical expertise and help them “do the right thing”.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

With the La Flor protected area slated for development, we will form partnerships with the landowner, communities, and Ministry of Environment to preserve the integrity of the coastline. We seek international funding to purchase La Flor property for Nicaraguans and are exploring opportunities to leverage financing from international governments and from REDD mechanisms allowing the sale of credits on the voluntary market. We'll work with small-scale fishermen currently fishing inside the boundaries of the marine protected area to develop mutually agreed upon management and fishery zones, approved by government authorities.

We plan a two-pronged effort to ensure the competitiveness and financial sustainability of businesses established by local women over the past four years:
• Paso Pacifico will partner with other organizations to expand training opportunities and help women improve the quality of goods and services provided.
• Additionally, we'll help women identify sources of seed capital to equip and expand their businesses. For example, a women’s group which Paso Pacifico has supported in making jewelry from sea shells and forest seeds, will now receive assistance in branding their products and bringing them to larger markets.

Still a relatively young organization, Paso Pacifico will build capacity to take on the challenges associated with ELLAS and other initiatives in three ways:
• Current contracting positions to become full time staff include: a community-based tourism specialist, a sociologist, a fisheries coordinator, public communications and outreach coordinator, and a tourism marketing specialist.
• Increased training opportunities in the areas of leadership and project management will help key staff, including: Country Director, Executive Director, and Environmental Education Coordinator.
• We'll partner with scientists to help sea turtle rangers acquire new skills in scientific monitoring methods (e.g., satellite tagging, acoustic telemetry).

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Paso Pacifico began working with the people of La Flor five years ago. We conducted a study to gather perspectives on the conflict between the protected area and local communities. We heard from many voices, and one theme that local people repeated over and over was that they felt excluded from La Flor and its benefits. While their feelings were clear, it was difficult to distill what exactly caused this sense of exclusion. Until one day we heard the voice of an eight-year-old boy named Diego. During an environmental education class in Ostional, a small fishing village, Diego stood up to ask what a baby sea turtle looked like.

Tens of thousands of turtles nest on Ostional's beaches, but the community had not seen a baby turtle in over twenty-five years. Turtle nests near towns and villages are convenient for poachers and in Ostional, where one hundred percent of sea turtle nests were lost to poaching, children had little opportunity to see a turtle outside the water. While turtles were often visible on La Flor's protected beach, rangers distrusted community members and didn't allow local families to visit.

A sea turtle lives its life at sea, and for just an hour each year the turtle joins the coastal community as it digs its nest. Without seeing the baby sea turtles struggle from their nests in the sand to the water's edge, children have only this fleeting connection to the turtles. Without imagining the future of a tiny baby sea turtle, it is hard to grasp the value of protection efforts. The baby turtle came to symbolize a missing connection between the local people and their place.

Immediately, we began recreating this connection to La Flor by taking children and families on field trips to the forest reserve and marine protected area. The following year we scaled up to protect other high priority beaches where solitary Hawksbill, Leatherback and Green sea turtles nest. To lead this effort, Paso Pacifico employs a team of eight community rangers, many of whom were former poachers.

Today we protect over eighty sea turtle beaches and involve dozens of community members through a performance-based conservation payment program. In Ostional, women manage the sea turtle nursery and children count hatchlings on their way to the ocean, knowing that their mothers, and the community fund, will receive income for each baby turtle returned to sea.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

Sarah Otterstrom is Paso Pacifico's Changemaker. Otterstrom knows tourism, and understands the potential it holds for connecting people to place. While a biology student in Costa Rica, she spent two years working as a guide at one of the first rain forest canopy platforms on the Osa Peninsula. During canopy tours she saw tourists and local community members light up as they saw the forest from a new perspective. Otterstrom also became all too familiar with risks of tourism as she watched the dramatic transformation of Guanacaste Costa Rica’s coastline, changing from untouched beaches with friendly local fishermen to beaches lined with high rise condominiums and foreign faces.

As a scientist researching the impact of fires on the tropical dry forests of Nicaragua, Otterstrom also had close brushes with a figurative fire at the Chococente Wildlife Refuge where she worked. While she measured trees in the forest by day, at night she would leave her tent to venture onto the beach and watch nesting sea turtles.

In an effort to prevent turtle egg poaching, the Nicaraguan army was posted on the beaches. On one occasion Otterstrom had to duck to avoid gunfire, and on another, she gave comfort to nervous children waiting for their parents (poachers) who were out collecting eggs. As this human-conservation conflict played out before her eyes, another conflict unfolded.

The protected area was sold (most protected areas in Nicaragua are privately owned), and the news had spread that a group of investment bankers from New York had purchased the property for the development of a golf course and marina. On the one hand was the threat to sea turtle conservation due to poverty, and on the other hand, the threat of development was looming even larger. This paradox led Otterstrom to found Paso Pacifico to strengthen connections across communities to protect ecosystems and support livelihoods.

Today, Otterstrom dedicates her time to providing strategic leadership to Paso Pacifico from the Paso Pacifico office in California. Otterstrom relies on a dedicated team of Nicaraguan biologists, social scientists, and local people to implement grass-roots conservation programs. She credits the early success of the organization to the leaderships of Paso Pacifico’s country Director Liza Gonzalez and to genuine friendships and partnerships the organization has built with every group and individual that crosses its path.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Through another organization or company

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

Clinton Global Initiative

MIF Opportunity 2010
Has your organization been legally constituted or registered in your country or one of your target countries for at least three years?


Does the applicant organization have sufficient financial resources to guarantee the co-financing required by MIF during the execution period of the project? (This amounts to at least 50% of the project’s total budget with 25% in cash and 25% in-kind.)


Does the applicant organization have experience managing projects co-financed by international organizations? Please describe below

No. However, we have managed projects funded by international governments including the Swiss Government and US Federal Government. We have received grants from the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and USAID. We are currently "subs" on a recently launched four-year project focused on biodiversity conservation and sustainable tourism funded through USAID and with AED serving as the principal. The project targets four regions of Nicaragua, however we only work in one geographic area within the project. This project can provide a portion of the co-financing for the proposed ELLAS initiative.

Please classify the applicant organization according to the options below

What problem-area does your project address?

Access to knowledge and training, Access to markets.

How will your project address this problem?

The ELLAS (Environmental Learning, Leadership, Adventure, and Stewardship) Initiative will improve access to training and capacity building for small and medium enterprises run by women in four communities surrounding the La Flor Wildlife Refuge in Nicaragua.

The ELLAS Initiative will target existing businesses including hostels, restaurants, tour guide associations, and craft-making associations to evaluate their needs for additional training. The project will partner with organizations and experts to provide capacity building, identify sources of seed funding to effectively equip and expand businesses, and assist with business planning and operations management.

The ELLAS Initiative will increase access to natural resource management knowledge through the implementation of citizen science technologies. Additionally, the ELLAS initiative will provide training to activate citizens in the science of monitoring sea turtles, fisheries, and marine mammals, and to provide jobs that support the effective management of the marine protected area.

The ELLAS Initiative will seek to access local and international tourism markets to ensure the financial sustainability of these enterprises. Additionally, the initiative will ensure demand for certain environmental products developed by women, such as sea turtle biodiversity credits (sold on ecosystem marketplace), and native trees bought from women-run tree nurseries (planted by Paso Pacifico for restoration of watersheds).

Who is benefited by the initiative? (Please highlight the type and number of beneficiaries, and their role in the tourism value-chain.)

- 25 female enviropreneurs from communities surrounding the La Flor protected area, whose businesses provide tourist-friendly services and amenities such as: 1) kayak and natural history tour guides 2) locally-sourced seafood restaurants 3) hostel owners
- 5 local female artisans, who make and sell souvenirs to tourists including: 1) arts and crafts 2) naturally made products
- 8 local female growers, who grow and sell fresh fruits and vegetables to tourist-friendly markets (thanks, in part, to gardens established with Paso Pacifico)
- 15 natural resource managers from communities surrounding La Flor who serve as natural resource managers managing: 1) women-owned and operated tree nursery business 2) women’s sea turtle nursery
- 8 local fishermen, who provide additional guide services for tourists: 1) whale-watching, 2) diving tours
- 10 local community biodiversity monitors who help ensure a healthy tourist-friendly environment
- 20 local habitat restoration workers employed as seasonal laborers in restoration activities which benefit the quality of watersheds surrounding La Flor
- 5000 tourists, whose role is to purchase the goods and services of the local community, enjoy the natural beauty of La Flor, and to share in learning and friendship with local communities.

How will the project's results assist the region’s tourism sector and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises?

This project will result in three major outcomes:

1) At least five women-owned and community based businesses will see increased quality in tourism products and services, as well as improved management of these services.
2) The people of La Flor will have improved market linkages increasing the financial sustainability of local businesses.
3) La Flor will be a globally recognized geo-tourism destination with respect for local communities and traditional livelihoods.

The Pacific coast of Central America is under intense development pressure, and investors are constantly seeking to expand to new areas. While we embrace the potential for economic development in the region, we seek to avoid the traditional pitfalls of commercial expansion in the developing world. By demonstrating that small, local enterprise can provide the quality and diversity of tourism services sought by the geotourist, this project will create a model for tourism development throughout the region.

As small and medium enterprises have improved access to markets, the economic benefits will reverberate throughout the coastal communities of Nicaragua, where most economic trade within communities is local and skyrocketing demand for coastal properties and extreme pressure on locals to sell their land, abandoning traditional farms and fisheries. ELLAS community-based programs will put La Flor on the map as a geotourism destination boasting healthy wildlife populations, pristine beaches, and authentic communities, leading the way (and potentially providing local capital) for similar efforts up and down Central America's Pacific coast.

A. Total Budget (100%)


B. MIF Contribution (up to 50% of total budget and US$. 500.000 max)


C. Cash co-financing (at least 25% of total budget)


D. In kind co-financing (at least 25% of total budget)