“Ecosystems are a critical resource for communities in so many ways, and face their own pressures from both the climate crisis and development,” says Dr. Alexander Dale, the lead for sustainability and U.S. communities at MIT Solve.
“Finding ways to strengthen ecosystems against these shocks and stresses while also helping local communities thrive is key for the long-term success of humanity.”
That’s one reason why the folks at MIT Solve, an initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently announced teams for its Resilient Ecosystems Challenge as part of 42 teams chosen at the 2021 Virtual Solve Challenge Finals.
Seven teams were chosen to tackle the Resilient Ecosystems Challenge, which asked, “How can communities sustainably protect, manage and restore their local ecosystems?”
The winners include Buy-In Community Planning and Mapeo, both of which are working to help communities plan for and adapt to climate change and help ecosystems recover along the way.
MIT Solve distributed more than $2.3 million to the 42 selected teams, including $550,000 to the seven Resilient Ecosystem teams.
“That’s unrestricted grant funding to give them space to pursue their impact,” Dale explains.
“Next, we’ll be understanding what expertise and partnerships these social entrepreneurs need to take the next big steps and connecting them to the organizations who can make that happen.”
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Buy-In Community Planning
Buy-In, based in Oakland, California, helps communities relocate away from high hazard flood areas, making space for ecosystem restoration projects as sea levels rise.
Buy-In’s approach links groups that have had a hard time connecting, such as conservation organizations, coastal residents that may be economically stuck, and municipalities or flood insurers that end up paying for the same properties to be rebuilt over and over again.
“We’re excited to help them build out their revenue model and connect with more of the insurance industry as they get their pilots off the ground,” Dale says.
Kelly Leilani Main, Buy-In’s executive director, says that by 2045, more than 280,000 U.S. residents will be forced to adapt or relocate due to chronic, disruptive flooding in their neighborhoods, threatening $135 billion in property.
And, at least 13 million Americans live in flood zones at risk during extreme weather events, totaling more than $1 trillion in real estate assets.
Currently, publicly-funded voluntary property acquisitions (aka buyouts) are a widely-used tool to help households relocate, Main says. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has funded more than 40,000 buyouts in the last 30 years.
“However, FEMA’s buyouts are slow, opaque and rarely meet local demand, averaging over five years to implement,” Main says. “The inability of many households to wait this long for help often results in families selling their homes cheap to redevelopers, losing their equity and restarting a cycle of destruction and reconstruction which is socially, fiscally and environmentally irresponsible.”
Buy-In Community Planning is building better buyout programs with a holistic approach, to address people, housing and land: “the foundations of a healthy community,” Main says.
“Our services enhance each of these three building blocks, crafting a human-centered buyout process based on local needs, providing re-housing solutions and case management for participating households and enabling the creation of new conservation assets by helping communities move out of flood zones.”
On the ground, Buy-In partners with community organizations and municipalities to create “win-win solutions” for multiple stakeholders.
Buy-In’s Buyout Prioritization Index will use geospatial data to match vulnerable households with conservation organizations and transform hazardous real estate into open space, Main explains.
“At scale, our solution has the power to transform the climate adaptation and mitigation landscape by merging human and ecosystem resilience in climate-affected communities across the country.”
Mapeo, based in Madison, Wisconsin, is described as an open-source tool for “earth defenders” to easily document environmental information in order to protect their land.
“Mapeo is working with the Indigenous communities that manage areas with 80% of Earth’s biodiversity, but often lack clear land tenure and protections,” Dale explains.
“Mapeo is working for and with these communities, building technology that works mostly offline and fits specific local needs. At Solve, we’re excited to help them expand their use of (Artificial Intelligence) and think about applications in marine areas as well as terrestrial. “
Emily Jacobi, founder and executive director of Digital Democracy, the nonprofit that developed Mapeo, says the project is unique because it was built hand-in-hand with Indigenous partners in the Amazon rainforest.
“Key parts of the code were even written in the field—on boats, under mango trees and in community buildings while workshops were happening,” Jacobi says.
“By centering the needs of Indigenous users, we’ve built a tool that is innovative in more ways than one.”
Other members of the 2021 Resilient Ecosystems Solver Class include BioMio in Colombia, Folio Seed Bank in Brazil, HEAL Fisheries of Indonesia, NovFeed in Tanzania and SafetyNet Technologies in the U.K.
Other challenges being addressed by the latest teams include Digital Inclusion, Equitable Classrooms, Health Security and Pandemics, Antiracist Technology in the U.S. and Indigenous Communities.