SSM Alumni brings systems thinking to Amazon rainforest

Written by Rachel Kraft Mattson 

Bernado poses with his team from Pachamama and people from the Amazon.
Bernardo Guaderas (gray shirt top row) poses with his team and an Amazon leader. 

Researching ways to create and improve sustainable systems across our world is a driving force behind our Sustainable Systems Management (SSM) program. One of SSM’s recent graduates has brought their systems thinking to the Amazon rainforest. 

Pairing systems thinking,which involves understanding the complex connections between ecological, social, and economic systems, with self-determination theory, which emphasizes the support of intrinsic motivation by meeting a community’s needs for autonomy, competence, and connection, is an integral part of Bernardo Guaderas’s (’22, SSM) work with Fundación Pachamama.

Fundación Pachamama is an organization centered around contributing to the “Sumak Kawsay” (wellbeing) of Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon communities through the conservation of the Amazon rainforest. 

The non-profit focuses on providing support to strengthen climate justice and the self-determination of the indigenous peoples in the Amazon. Pachamama develops programs and projects with the close involvement of the Amazon communities they serve. 

Bernardo wades into a river while working with Pachamama.

Guaderas said the non-profit is focused on many areas to contribute to the Sumak Kawsay, with the main goal of uplifting indigenous peoples of the Amazon to achieve the autonomous management of their own territories. 

With an active hand in many of the initiatives within the organization, Guaderas frequently stays with the communities he works in for weeks at a time. 

“Socializing and [community] engagement to fully understand what solutions look like, and trying to make a quantifiable analysis,” is a major part of my work in these communities, said Guaderas. The goal of every project is to create sustainable investments, both economically and environmentally, for these people. 

Workers build the roof of a birth house in a remote village in the Amazon.

A major project Guaderas is involved with is building new birthing clinics to empower women through maternal-infant health programs. Currently, there are areas where five to eight health practitioners serve approximately 10,000 people.

Not only do these projects aim to support the health of the communities, they also require the support, buy-in, and skills of the local people. Guaderas said the organization is thoughtful on how these buildings are constructed, ensuring the community is involved from start to finish. 

“It’s going to be traditional constructions, and it’s going to be documented to ideally serve as an example of native construction,” said Guaderas. This documentation will ensure the knowledge of native building methods is respected and preserved.

Other projects Guaderas has been involved with include fostering sustainable economies for indigenous communities by building bio-entrepreneurships around the cultivation of native fruits and vegetables. The organization also promotes and provides permanent protection of the Amazon Sacred Headwaters. They work to strengthen indigenous organizations, conserve and title ancestral lands, expand the sustainable use of natural resources, guarantee the rights of Amazon nationalities, and mitigate climate change.

Guaderas said his connections to the Amazon communities is the most gratifying part of his work. “These people are kind enough to offer me shelter and let me stay with them indefinitely.” The contacts and friendships formed have enriched his life. 

Learn more about the work Guaderas and Fundación Pachamama are working on with the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Alliance.
Interested in a deeper dive? Explore maps of the Amazon areas these organizations work in.