Skoll Foundation


Gaia Amazonas

Skoll Awardee(s): Martin von Hildebrand
Award Year: 2009
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Environmental Sustainability

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Martín lived with Amazonian indigenous communities during much of the 1970s, understanding their worldview and their challenges. He completed a doctorate in ethnology in Paris, returned to work within the Colombian government on promoting indigenous territorial and cultural rights and in 1986 was appointed Head of Indian Affairs. He used his government position to support Constitutional reforms, the ratification of international agreements on indigenous rights and the actual placing of large areas of Amazon rainforest legally into the hands of the indigenous people. In 1990, Martín founded Gaia Amazonas, to work more effectively at the grassroots level and enable the Amazon’s indigenous peoples to take advantage of their newfound rights.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2009:

  • At a time when rights need to be respected, forests conserved and emissions curtailed, Martín has shifted thinking, policy and practice toward indigenous peoples and local communities owning and governing their forests.
  • Working with partners, Gaia Amazonas’ aims over 10 years for indigenous communities to protect 100 million hectares of continuous tropical rainforest in accordance with their cultural traditions/knowledge and shared government and international responsibility. In Colombia, some 35 million hectares of Amazon forest are now protected by indigenous territories or national parks.
  • In areas where Gaia Amazonas is most active, 17 indigenous organizations, representing 23,600 people from different ethnic groups, negotiate with government and govern more than 13 million hectares of forest. Their children attend local schools, receive an inter-cultural education, and their health plans, based on traditional medicine, reduce the costs of healthcare.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.