Twenty years ago, we planted the seed of an ipê tree. With the mission of contributing to the conservation of Brazil’s biodiversity, we founded a non-profit organization: IPÊ – Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (Institute for Ecological Research). Our name was carefully chosen to form the acronym, IPE, since the ipê, one of the most beautiful flowering trees in the world, is the national tree of Brazil.

Gradually, our branches spread to accommodate the variety of demands of conservation. While we started out trying to save Brazil’s biodiversity by focusing on endangered species, it soon became clear that we needed to include environmental education in our work. This would help people to learn about the natural richness remaining in their region and to value it: restoring degraded areas; forming forest corridors via reforestation, making it possible for animals to migrate; developing ways to improve the livelihoods of local communities; and influencing policies whenever possible.

IPE’s central trunk became education promoting conservation and sustainability. Those who founded IPÊ dedicated themselves to higher studies in subjects that complemented each other, to form a beautiful and sturdy canopy. That led us to understand the importance of education and the need to devote ourselves to cultivating fresh shoots of talent. That was how we began to disseminate more formally the knowledge we had acquired about the complexities of conservation.

In 1996, we planted the Centro Brasileiro de Biologia da Conservação – CBBC (Brazilian Centre for Conservation Biology), where we offer short-term courses on socio-environmental and sustainability topics. Years later, with our team ever better prepared and more mature (now with more than 10 PhDs between us), we applied to offer a Master’s programme. To our surprise, we were approved by CAPES, the Higher Education Department of the Brazilian Ministry of Education, who deemed us ready to bloom. This was how, in 2008, we created the Escola Superior de Conservação Ambiental e Sustentabilidade (ESCAS, Superior School in Environmental Conservation and Sustainability). With the support of Natura and Arapyaú Institute, the school forms another sturdy limb of our tree. This year, in 2012, we initiated a new partnership with other organizations (FIA/FEA- University of São Paulo – USP and Artemísia) and together, we designed and launched a MBA with a strong branch in sustainability. The students who have been part of our education programmes, more than 4,000 in total, represent seeds: they disperse ideas about conservation and sustainability throughout Brazil and other Latin American countries, where many of them come from.

At the same time, other saplings that we have been cultivating in our IPE plantation have grown into fine trees. One is the Sustainable Business Unit, which handles partnerships with the corporate world and handicrafts focusing on Brazilian nature, made by local community members. The Unit’s mission is to support our ongoing field projects and to fortify the institution itself, so it can spread its reach and be more widely recognized for its beauty and purpose.

Another tree we have cultivated is a company, Arvorar, which aims at scaling up projects on reforestation, environmental services and the adequate management of forestry-related issues. Again, the vision is to broaden the reach of IPE’s canopy, so as to contribute more significantly to those fields which enhance its performance.

On a number of fronts on which IPE is active, we developed links with companies and governments. Without a strong administration branch, which includes external auditing and gives the institution a professional calibre, much would have been impossible. Such professionalism helps inspire further support for the institution’s goals and it spreads our ideas of sustainability and conservation to audiences which are not always easy to reach.

Only with the right steps of cultivation in place, can we reap harvests. In the spreading of the seeds of our ideas, they need constant nurturing, young seedlings need to be watered and kept pest-free and ultimately, merit careful pruning. And when fresh shoots and buds grow, then the time is right for celebration.

Suzana and Claudio Padua



Editors Note
Suzana and Claudio Padua, Co-Founders, Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (IPE), Brazil; Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Brazil, 2009