We were just doing the fall issue layout of Apogeo Spatial when I was invited by Geoversity to work with them on the Innovation Summit: The Power of Nature, taking place at Harvard in early November. Since that issue featured their work with the University of Redlands on GIS for conservation science in Panama, I agreed to organize a panel exploring the possibilities for creating a digital earth learning and simulation platform.
Today I think back on that fateful “yes” as one of my ‘Alice in Wonderland’ moments. I would soon grow to appreciate why the founders of Geoversity speak of it as being an ecosystem with a powerful purpose. Endowed with a diverse community of talented creatives and a magical place in Panama—the 12,900-acre Mamoní Valley Preserve—it envelops you. Two unforgettably stimulating days in Boston would, in a matter of months, be followed by a week of life-changing adventures in Panama.
The Geoversity staff asked if we could team up and turn my blog posts on our experiences in Boston and Panama into a report that they could share with their extended family and beyond. So here we are!
The entries and photos in these “Dispatches from the Field” capture moments of creativity, determination and hope, all unfolding just as the world for we humans was beginning an epochal sea change. Those recent memories already seem caught in amber, amulets from a distant past.
I hope you will find these stories, especially the vignettes of youth leaders who joined us in Panama from as far away as Bali and Bolivia, to be worth reading in this time of trial. Perhaps they can help us envision a new world—a world in which we will appreciate our lives and others on a deeper level. I see a new world where our differences will be put aside, our similarities as humans recognized, our priorities made more clear and our moments appreciated. We’ll realize that we need each other. Health and well-being will be important, and compassion and empathy for others will be inherent.
I keep thinking that the term “Life Changer” has taken on a whole new meaning, as we walk through this challenging time. The lifechanging experiences that Geoversity offers are opportunities to take these new values and important lessons even deeper.
Thank you for joining me on my journey through the Geoversity ecosystem. Please take good care of yourselves, of your loved ones and neighbors of all species everywhere.
Dispatch From Boston
Nov. 6, 2019
Connections at Earth’s Call, a Summit in Aspen, Colorado
Since meeting Nathan Gray last summer, my life has been a whirlwind of excitement and vision, as we are creating something new and ambitious on the solid foundation of Geoversity, based at the 12,900-acre Mamoní Valley Preserve (MVP) in Panama. Extraordinary people came together from around the world in November for strategic planning at Harvard, and are going in February to Panama in a culmination of all the planning and hard work. Three programs are running from February 4-12, for global youth activists on a call-to-action Pacific-to-Atlantic expedition, for young people with start-ups incorporating biomimicry into their business plans, and for business leaders seeking to gain insights from nature.
I met Nathan in Aspen last summer at the inaugural gathering of Earth’s Call, a new 501(c)3 organization dedicated to finding and funding innovative solutions to the climate crisis. It was an ambitious event inspired by using music to “tune” to the frequencies of the planet, vibrationally, emotionally, and intellectually, while moving people into action. Passionate and knowledgeable change-makers from around the country were invited, and I attended via the invitation of Gina Otto.
Earth’s Call was a mixture of inspirational music by icon Patti LaBelle, Mickey Hart (drummer for the Grateful Dead), and positive-message musician Colbie Caillat (known for her song “Try”), along with expert panels on subjects like tech innovation and the problems of “fast fashion,” and discussions over sustenance and cocktails. Business leader (later U.S. Presidential candidate) Tom Steyer was there, as were actor Matthew Modine, documentary filmmaker David Holbrook, and blockchain company ConsenSys head of partnerships Stephen Haft. Nathan was there at the invitation of his close friend Laurie Meadoff, who was one of the producers of the event. Laurie, a founder of the New York Citybased CityKids Foundation, was his partner in the early 1990s on the launch of Earth Train, youth-calling-youth-to-action train journeys and international conferences reaching millions of young people with the prescient message: “Don’t wait for the adults to clean up this mess. Take action now. Create tomorrow, today.”
The 2019 Innovation Summit: The Power of Nature at Harvard University
Because of my knowledge of the geospatial field (having published Apogeo Spatial for 16 years), Nathan invited my participation in growing Geoversity, since their creation of a new project is directly relevant to my work and network. First up for me was publishing a summary of Geoversity’s incredible work at their Mamoní Valley Preserve (MVP), an excerpt called “PanaMapping” from Esri ’s book, GIS for Science, which includes carbon sequestration maps of the preserve. Next was bringing some of my top-level colleagues for a panel discussion at a meeting-of-the-minds at Harvard on November 1-2. My panel included Lee Schwartz, U.S. State Department Geographer, and Barb Ryan, former head of the global U.N.-affiliated GEO (Group on Earth Observations). I also invited Dr. Michael Schmidt, whose expertise includes aerospace medicine, wilderness medicine and team cohesion. He is becoming involved with Geoversity as a medical consultant for the jungle and rainforest educational expeditions in Panama.
The meeting at Harvard, co-convened by Geoversity and Inovateus Solar ’s TJ Kanczuzewski (CEO of both), brought together a carefully curated group of people passionate about the work of the MVP and Geoversity, which is in the areas of ecology and conservation, creating with nature, and life-changing learning adventures. The real estate executive Colin Wiel, co-founder of the MVP and of Mamoní 100, with his sons, Eli and Zachary and his father Stephen, were there as long-time MVP and Geoversity supporters, serving in several leadership capacities and as inspirational examples of how entire families get involved. One of the keynotes was by Tommy François, VP for Editorial at Ubisoft in Paris, whose trip to Panama a few years prior started a commitment to Geoversity’s work; he’s joined the board.
Laurie Meadoff spoke about mobilizing youth, and brought her panel of experts, including Gina Otto, Chief Purpose Officer of Zero G Colony and visionary for their global tree campaign; Iva Kaufman, who promotes collaboration among funders, business leaders and NGOs; and Jonathan Gramling, co-founder of Amp.it, bringing digital video collaboration for youth around the world.
We heard about the important work of three initiatives associated with the Mamoní Valley Preserve: the drive to extend the preserve’s forest and river conservancy under the leadership of TJ Kanczuzewski and Lider Sucre, the Kaminando-Jaguar Habitat Connectivity Project by Kim Craighead and Milton Yacelga, and the Harvard-based Mamoní Natural History Project created by Ben Goulet-Scott, PhD candidate. They are doing excellent conservation work and field studies that will have important results.
Others in the room were Joe Bardenheier, Managing Partner of Brilliant Capital ; Archie Kasnet, CEO of Regenerate; Mary Pearl, Dean of Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York; Roberto Saint- Malo, Managing Partner of BetaAngels Management; Alison Sander, Director of the Center for Sensing and Mining the Future, Boston Consulting Group; and many other very accomplished professionals. Almost every board member was there, including Chair Verne Harnish, David Meerman Scott, Carolyn Kim Meenan, Shea Walsh, Stephen Wiel, Ph.D., Lider Sucre, and David Ricketts, Ph.D., who ran the show as Harvard’s Innovation Fellow at the Tech & Entrepreneurship Center.
Life-Changing Experiences Await in Panama’s Rainforest
Panama is the ideal setting, as it bridges continents and cultures, for three distinctly original and overlapping programs taking place in February as part of Geoversity. Twelve of the 60 people who were at Harvard are attending. Youth leaders from around the world are arriving, one directly from the World Economic Forum stage in Davos, others from Los Angeles-based MUSE School, and from the HQ of the International Indigenous Youth Council in Colorado. They will be immers ed in a lifechanging Earth Vision Journey 2020 and leadership program. The winners of the Biomimicry Institute’s Launchpad Program are gathering to set their winning ideas on fire with the help of entrepreneurial expertise. The third program is the Power of Nature, for CEOs to hear from Geoversity leaders and best-selling authors Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker on how to apply the wisdom of nature to their business practices, and David Meerman Scott on the power of Fanocracy, from his latest marketing book.
So, Laurie and Nathan have teamed up again, as they create this new ambitious venture to be announced next week ! More to come…
Dispatch From Panama
Feb. 12, 2020
I arrived in warm balmy Panama City after watching my plane de-ice on the runway in Denver at 5:00 a.m. A few days later, Denver got a foot of snow and my son got a Snow Day. That day in Panama, I hiked down a path through dense trees that Geoversit y staff and volunteers had planted 15 years prior, to swim and lounge in a refreshing pool in the Mamoní River, in a place they named Junglewood Falls. I was with inspirational youth leaders from Spain, Bali, North America, and Panama. At that moment, I was not missing the snow.
Over the past several months, Nathan had shared with me bits and pieces of what they are up to in Panama—projects which are so vast and so impactful that it was hard to comprehend at first. He said more than once, “Just come to Panama. You’ll see.” He was right. I’m attempting to put into words my heartfelt experiences, human connections and indescribable encounters with the wonders of nature.
Mamoní Valley Preserve is a magical place. It is Geo versity’s primary real-life campus of learning, just a few hours’ drive northeast of Panama City, accessible only by 4-wheel-drive and by crossing three rivers. It’s 12,900 acres of jungle and forest where magic happens, offering direct communion with toucans, monkeys, iguanas, agutis, coatimundis, even ocelots.
As I arrived, I realized that we are standing at the threshold of a decade that will determine our future and the quality of life on planet Earth. The work of Geoversity in places like the Mamoní Valley Preserve and their new field station in the Bayano wetlands on Panama’s Pacific coast will be the drivers to course-correct the direction of humanity towards one of survival, renewal and hope. The overarching and ambitious vision of Geoversity is biocultural renewal at a global level, and a popular shift in worldview, moving away from values and practices that set humankind apart from nature toward a fully evolved oneness with nature. This vision is achieved via three areas of innovation: ecology and conservation, creating with nature, and life-changing immersive learning experiences.
The occasion I’m sharing with you was a time in February 2020 when Geoversity organized three overlapping interrelated events—all ambitious and world-class and based on nature. First, the Biomimicry Institute brought their student winners of business ideas, and they were provided mentors to launch their businesses. Their last day overlapped with the second program, a day-long business course, “The Power of Nature: Global Leaders Applying the Power of Nature to Scale Their Organizations.” The third endeavor was the Earth Vision Transcontinental Journey of youth leaders from around the world. They were chosen and invited based on their impactful work already tackling major environmental and social challenges, in order to expand their leadership skills and amplify their voices. Their journey took them from the Pacific coast of Panama up over the continental divide along the Jaguar Trail, down to the Atlantic coast of Panama’s indigenous Guna and onto a tiny island now managed by youth leaders of the Guna General Congress. I knew I was witnessing history in the making. More on that later in this post…
Nathan and his team have ways of bringing together the most interesting and unique blends of people and projects. He knows how to bring the extra spice in the magical sauce that comes with mixing generations, culture (from indigenous to campesino to urban elite), and talents entwined with business, science, and the arts. I’d seen hints of the unique collaborations in images and reports from the past few years, and then at Geoversity’s Innovation Summit at Harvard in November. Finally at Centro Mamoní, I was surrounded by these amazing people. With us in Panama were media-tech entrepreneur Archie Kasnet; investor Roberto Saint-Malo; best-selling marketing author David Meerman Scott; biomimicry expert Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker; businessman Tom Hannaher, who owns and treasures one of the world’s largest collections of Guna art and plant medicine information; and Dr. Michael Schmidt, whose field is human performance and medicine in extreme environments.
Everyone who spends time at the Mamoní Valley Preserve gets to take a jungle nature hike with the incomparable expert and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) member Lider Sucre. I joined him with aeronautics pioneer (NetJets Europe and HiFly) Marianela Mirpuri, CEO & Founder of Hera, and her team, Mary Pagano, Dana Al Salem, and renowned French architect Gil Bakhtiar, who are considering Panama as one location for Hera City.
Hera City will be a large sustainable smart city providing unlimited potential for women with the support of people concerned about, and engaged in, creating a better future not only for women, but for all people.
Marianela told me about their pilot program in Mumbai, India. Hera City, once approved in Panama, will be located just 12 kilometers south of the Mamoní Valley Preserve, and will include new sustainable housing. Hera City will have an Iconic Hall, world class conferencing facilities, a museum featuring vernacular design, the art of Panama’s native nations, and the history of women around the world. The Institute will focus on the future of humanity studies.
We learned from Lider how the queen ant of the leaf-cutter ants runs their important show in the forest, and how she looks after the others, as a sovereign. This queen ant is a model of strength and independence ; perhaps she will become a symbol of inspiration for the women of Hera City.
Marianela, Mary, Dana, and Gil later went from the jungle into the city to meet with the Panamanian Government officials about locating Hera City in Panama in collaboration with Geoversity.
At “The Power of Nature,” Dr. Tamsin presented Panama and Mamoní as “Living Bridges” bringing diverse species and cultures together for rich exchange and innovation—opening new opportunities for ongoing evolution. She recognized that Panama’s rich “sancocho de gallina” of biodiversity positions it to become a world center for Biomimicry and a much-needed biocultural renaissance—a return to the human niche of cultivating and tending diverse opportunity and exchange. We are part of the living world, and we have a vital role to play in regenerating it.
Archie’s new media-tech endeavor, VIRTUAL GAIA, is an insights engine relating to the nature preserve. Their value proposition is in part a Digital Twin, or a new enhanced version of a Digital Earth with scientific data layers for education, entertainment, and social engagement. This is directly related to Apogeo Spatial, my magazine about using data from space to study the earth for the benefit of humanity. My knowledge of blockchain and quantum computing are also relevant to his project. I did not expect this great connection, and yet, creating connections like this is one of Nathan’s gifts.
The third program was the Earth Vision Journey 2020 of youth leaders. One of them is activist Gary Bencheghib, who tied plastic bottles into kayaks to paddle down the world’s dirtiest river, obtaining the promise of Bali ’s President to clean up their waterways! Gary founded “Make a Change World” with his younger brother Sam. They launched a series of videos and expeditions on plastic-bottle kayaks to bring attention to the world’s water issues. In the past three years, with support from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Parley, Gary’s work has been seen by more than 600 million people. His speech at this year’s WEF gathering in Davos earned him a standing ovation.
Building the Foundation of Geoversity’s School for Biocultural Leadership
The main purpose of the Earth Vision Journey, produced in team with CityKids Foundation and a diverse team of internationally renowned producers, scientists, educators, artists and civic and indigenous leaders, is to promote the creation of Geoversity’s School for Biocultural Leadership. The week-long journey put the spotlight on its campuses for global youth empowerment that will grow, teach, support and inspire young activists and entrepreneurs as they move forward into pivotal leadership positions. Building upon the 28-year legacy of Geoversity, they started with substantial resources that included a worldwide network of accomplished mentors, the Mamoní Valley Preserve, a new 1,000- hectare (2,500-acre) Geoversi ty Bayano Wetlands Conservancy in Panama, and Geoversity’s Atlantic Marine Field Station in the Azores, Portugal.
A key partner in the Earth Vision Journey was Geoversity-affiliated Oceania: Expedición Mar Azul. Oceania is a two-year sailing journey around the world with eight young people as crew, exploring local solutions to global problems, accompanied by a professional film crew producing material for global broadcast.
Additional youth participating were Terrell Catt Iron Shell, Thomas Lopez, Jr., and Micaela Iron Shell-Dominguez from the International Indigenous Youth Council in Colorado, teacher Kim Lavoie and student Dylan Green of the MUSE School of Malibu, California, and indigenous environmental leaders Nayla Altamirano from Mexico and Rusber Jiménez Zurita from Bolivia. The latter two are also members of Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Program.
Each of the Geoversity team and participants is talented, qualified, and dedicated to making the world a better place, not just for endangered species, but for all of humanity. The Earth Vision Journey culminated with a final sharing of local food and powerful introspection in the City of Knowledge in Panama City, where we welcomed a tribe of tiny Tamarin monkeys who ventured out of the bordering national parkland forest to feast on plantains offered by Nathan’s wife, Zita.
This transcontinental journey took place shortly after the 500th anniversary of the founding of Panama City. Earth Vision Journey reversed the march taken by the conquistador Balboa that resulted in the conquest of “the new world.” For the youth leaders, it was their way of celebrating a millennial reversal in worldview, from one focused on conquest to one focused on natural cooperation. I observed many of these youth leaders transforming before my eyes—their outer protective shells cracked open a bit, their sharp edges softened, their smiles more genuine.
Wisdom of the Indigenous Youth
One of the most powerful events for me was the morning hike literally following the jaguar trail up to the continental divide with Geoversity advisor Enrique “Kike” Arias, former Secretary General of the Guna General Congress; Michael Schmidt, whose close friend is a Lakota elder ; Gil Bakhtiar, the French architect of Hera City; and Tamsin, our biomimicry expert.
Laura Huertas Thompson, Micaela Iron Shell-Dominguez, and Nayla Altamirano, co-leading a traditional ceremony in the Mamoni Valley Preserve.
Once we arrived at the crest of the land, we rested in hammocks as the group arrived and gathered for a sacred Lakota Chanupa ceremony, led by Thomas and Terrell. The ceremony in the jungle honored the sacred land and water of the earth. It was emotional and heartfelt, as we all contemplated the amazing gifts and life provided by Mother Earth. Kike, Iniquilipi and Laura spoke, as well.
After hearing from the indigenous youth leaders of both Panama and the U.S., I was really struck by the contrast between their histories. Ninety-five years ago, the Guna people fought successfully to keep their land in Panama, which is why today so much of their culture and way of life is preserved. In the U.S., not only was their land taken over 200 years ago, but the rights of the Native Americans were severely limited, and are to this day. The deep ancestral wound of the Lakota was present in these youth, who are leading activists of The International Indigenous Youth Council, and the Dakota Access Pipeline. They bear the weight of these histories, and carry the responsibility of creating change in a mature and inspiring way.
I spoke with Micaela about the contrast between her people’s history and that of the Guna people. As I sat with her gazing out at the Caribbean Sea from the tiny uninhabited island, the last stop on the journey, I acknowledged the wound that my people (European whites) had created when they landed on the Mayflower and eventually destroyed so many native people. As I wiped the unexpected tears running down my face, I asked her honestly, “What can we do?” After a moment, she replied sincerely, “This is helping.” We will continue our conversation when we are both back in Denver, and I see us moving forward in the same direction, together.
It’s important to consider that the Guna and other indigenous people in Panama have not experienced extremes of violence and persecution. They live peacefully as they had before, in sharp contrast to the Native Americans who suffered genocide with many now living on impoverished reservations in the U.S.
Another part of the healing that is occurring is that, “we live in a time when we in the West have finally recognized the value of the indigenous perspectives on the world, a time when ancient and modern cosmologies are coming together and affirming one another,” (The Trust Frequency: Ten Assumptions for a New Paradigm, by Andrew Cameron Bailey and Connie Baxter Marlow, p. 183, 2012).
For me, an ideal life is one living on purpose, in the moment, in flow with the universe, with my heart engaged. Immersing in the MVP offers a rare physical reality of these concepts. For me, and I believe for most of us, that’s why it’s a life-changing experience. Being there reminded me so much of my life-changing course-correcting 18-month solo trip around the world over 20 years ago—pure magic!
Geoversity provides opportunities for people to come to Panama, to be in the magic of nature and experience it in a completely new way, immersed in the textures and sounds of the forest and rivers. Under the expert management of Geoversity’s COO Claus Kjaerby and his Life Changer program team, Mark Knetsch, Anna Gili and Kandi Valle, these journeys outside of ourselves connect us to deeper meaning as we experience the interconnection among all living things. As Eckhart Tolle observed, “There is a power at work in nature that humans have lost touch with. It is the creative power of the universe… While nature is a beautiful expression of the evolutionary impulse of the universe, when humans become aligned with the intelligence that underlies it, they will express that same impulse on a higher, more wondrous level,” (A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, p. 268, 2005).
The Mamoní Valley Preserve and Geoversity grid of life-changing expeditions within Panama provide the settings and challenges to engage the heart, expand our worldviews, and raise our consciousness—about other cultures, about the magnificence, beauty and power of nature—and perhaps most poignantly, about ourselves and our place in the world. These experiences are creating the paradigm shift that is so needed in the world today. Geoversity is the portal to a future that includes an incredible biocultural renaissance.
Imagine yourself contributing to a new world by having your own life-changing experience in the jungle of Panama! Join us in these endeavors, in whatever way that fits for you. Reach out to see how you can join our diverse community of purpose: