The term Model Forest refers to a territorial management concept that integrates all stakeholders and sectors across a landscape to ensure the sustainable management of the territory. Its an esoteric concept, so let me break it down.
Model Forests are a governance platform that serves to manage the interests and relations present in a given territory. That base can be as diverse as mining companies, artisanal loggers and indigenous groups. Model Forests are civil society organizations that work with all concerned parties to collaboratively create development plans that address issues such as food security, forest management, economic development and more. It’s a platform for ensuring the sustainable management and development of a region in a collaborative approach. Each Model Forest identifies their own vision for how they will operate. For example, the Risaralda Model Forest in Colombia focuses on water management and working with the large coffee plantations, while in Honduras the Sico Paulaya Model Forest focuses on illegal logging and issues related to conflict resolution. With over 62 Model Forests across most of the globe, they are a growing governance platform promoting an innovative approach to territorial management.
Model Forests present actors attempting to foster innovation with a unique opportunity to reach out to multiple stakeholders. This platform facilitates the interaction between varied groups with diverse interests by creating a neutral territory where all concerns can be heard. Often actors in a region have little to no knowledge of the goings on in their region. Model Forests overcome this accessibility barrier by opening channels of communication between all levels of representation. They ensure that the needs of local actors are heard on the part of commercial industries and that checks and balances are in place. They are an excellent instrument for developing local corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that reflect the values and priorities of local communities.
This multilateral approach to governance distinguishes Model Forests from both top-down and bottom-up approaches. The desire to remain neutral and independent has allowed Model Forests to connect with all stakeholders. One of the rising trends within this model is their focus on forging alliances at multiple levels. Currently, there are 6 regional Model Forest network around the globe, all of which are members of the International Model Forest Network. Each of these regional networks facilitates the communication between local groups with members across the region and even across the globe. By hosting board meetings, capacity development workshops and overseeing project interventions, these networks are facilitating the development of cohesive and sustainable development projects. The largest regional network is the Ibero-American Model Forest Network that represents 29 model forests across 15 countries in Latin America and Spain.
Given the wide reach and ample mandate of these platforms, innovators should take more notice of the opportunities that these regional bodies present. The ability to quickly implement projects across various countries while including local stakeholders should been seen as a god-send for an program manager.