Above The Chaos, Case Study - The Amazon Sacred Headwaters

A post in Above The Chaos - October 18, 2023 Rapid draft for review and improvement, please excuse any typos


Let us imagine together that there exist around the world a series of bioregions of different scales. And let us imagine that among these, certain bioregions hold the key to core functions in the planetary Living System, acting like organs and organ systems at various fractal levels.

And let us imagine that one such crucial region, acting like the heart and lungs of the planet and anchoring the circulation of air and water around the world, is the Amazon.

And let us imagine that in among the most important parts of the Amazon is the sacred headwaters from which it originates.

Local Complexity and Diversity

And let us imagine that within the footprint of the Amazon Sacred Headwaters lies all the complexity of modern life and ancient history, with dozens of tributaries of culture and society feeding into a complex social and ecological ecosystem as rich as any on Earth.

Shared Bioregional Vision and Plan

Let us imagine that, understanding the importance of this region to the Living System as a Whole, it was placed on the hearts of individuals and tribes to go through the years of hard work required to overcome their differences, foster unity, and arrive at a shared Vision for the coming decade and beyond.

And let us imagine that this Vision was coalesced into a 10 Year Bioregional Plan, backed by the indigenous tribes and nations of the region, international NGOs, and potential funding sources looking to move large amounts of capital towards the highest priority regenerative activities available to the human species.

Bioregional Visions and Plans for All Bioregions

And let us imagine that this $1 Billion, 10 Year Bioregional Plan were one among the dozens of similar bioregional plans that would need to be formulated and executed on as part of the 10 Year Grand Strategy, such that humanity was faced, nominally, with 100 unique $1 Billion, 10 Year Bioregional plans, totaling $100 Billion, that if successfully implemented over the course of the 10 Year Grand Strategy, would land humanity and the Living System on a safe trajectory towards The Future We Seek.

The Question - How to Operationalize the Bioregional Plan and Bring Intention Into Reality

Prior to Operationalization of The Vision and Plan, a multi-year process unfolds, whereby relationships are forged, alliances are built, shared ideas emerge towards shared Vision and Values, the Vision and Values are dissected in terms of transformation across various geographic domains (specific territories / sub-regions, by tribe, by community, and how those stack up and align into the whole), and across various action domains (governance, advocacy, energy, learning, wellness, built environment, environmental regeneration, etc.).

From this shared Visioning, an alliance forms, and begins to build Trust.

From this Trust, a shared strategy and plan emerges that protects the sovereignty and autonomy of each tribe, community, and sub-region, while aggregating the resources and collaboration required to pursue a two pronged approach:

  1. Systems change work from the 'top down' via advocacy, political process, transforming legislation, winning court battles, referendums, working with local, state, and national leaders, etc. This is made possible through the functional unity among the alliance.
  2. Grassroots mobilization, project initiation, capacity building, ecosystemic and community development from the bottom up.

These two prongs are seen as part of a coherent and unified vision.

Step 1: Establish Program Mangement / Mission Control

The first step is the admission that the skills and practices that brought the alliance to shared Vision and Intention are distinct from those required to operationalize the 10 year $1 Billion Program of Action.

Because it is recognized that the $1 Billion program of action will be composed of thousands of smaller projects that need to be stacked up, aligned, measured, and monitored, an objective third party Program Management partner is retained.

The Program Management function works with the partners to initiate the System Wide Master Planning Process, that begins to articulate the Work Breakdown Structure, Implementation Phases, and quarterly priorities. 2% to 3% of program funds were dedicated to this end.

Step 2: Technological Backbone

The PM works with the Alliance to define the process infrastructure, and the technological backbone to enable the processes to occur in a transparent and accountable way to all stakeholders. 2% of 3% of funds were dedicated to the continuous improvement of shared infrastructure and technology.

Step 3: Training and Development

Recognizing that hundreds of project teams will be engaged in the same basic cycle / system / process, a robust training and development program is initiated. The # of trained personnel in each specialty is determined and balanced over Time via a cost and resourced loaded CPM schedule developed via the System Wide Master Planning Process. Initial specialities identified include Project Design, Cost and Resource Estimation, Proposal Writing, Project Management, Monitoring and Evaluation, Accounting and Administration, Storytelling, Fundraising, and Community Relations.

Recognizing that the progressive building of relationships, training, and development of highly qualified and values-aligned individuals was likely the bottleneck of the entire system, 3% to 5% of the total program funds were dedicated to this end, frontloaded into the early stages.

Step 4: Pilot Projects and Funds

Next, roughly $10M was aggregated into a Pilot Fund to launch a series of projects to validate the core methodologies, systems, processes and theory of change, while demonstrating the capabilities of the various partners in the alliance. These projects we accelerated during the first 12 months of the program, with the small scope and close attention enabling exceptional progress, which was validated and reported out on via the Program Management System, and made visible via the dashboards on the backbone technology.

As month by month progress was reported on, Stories of Transformation were broadcast, and fundraising commenced for a $100 Million Phase II fund, which was activated in 2025.

Step 5: Centralization and Standardization of Core Functions

Recognizing that hundreds of teams were going to need to be convening, designing, articulating proposals, raising money, implementing projects, and monitoring, evaluating, reporting, and story telling... and that it would be terribly inefficient to have every community attempting to reinvent the wheel... certain key functions, and the associated processes, were standardized via guilds that trained the localities in the best practices that enabled resource flow and interoperability...

Certain other highly specialized key functions were centralized to an appropriate level that protected the sovereignty and autonomy of each team and locality, while providing them with excellent services that relieved core burdens and difficulties that were difficult to replicate on site.

This 'right centralization' and standardization of the Minimum Standards of Interoperability created the potential for resources to flow in unprecedented ways.

Step 6: Continuous Learning and Improvement

The PM was tasked with implementing a formal system of continuous improvement rooted in continuous feedback loops throughout multiple levels of the system.

This process was run in parallel with the resourcing layer, program management / mission control layer, alliance layer, and grassroots projects layer, ensuring that each level was strengthened aligned and as the alliance moved towards scaling up into the Phase II and Phase III funds.

Approximate Resource Allocation - Pilot Fund

The Pilot Fund was established separately from the ongoing operational funding of the existing entities.

90% of the fund was distributed to on the ground projects 10% of the fund was leveraged to elevate and empower the array of teams via:

  • 2-3% on technology
  • 2-3% on program management
  • 3-5% training and development
  • 1-2% compliance and administration
  • 1-2% story telling and amplification

Each of the resourcing buckets was distributed to existing, competent partner organizations with unique superpowers in these areas, strengthening the integrity of the ecosystem, and cross-pollinating systems and process knowledge.

Scaling Up

The approach above enabled the Amazon Sacred Headwaters bioregional plan to succeed, as capacities and partnerships scaled up from the $10M Pilot Fund, to the $100M Phase II Fund, to the $300M Phase III Fund, to the $500M Finishing Fund, after which the array of projects were self-sustaining.

Simultaneously, the successful demonstration of the Pilot in the Amazon Headwaters bioregion encouraged the rapid cross pollination of the model into other bioregions around the world, that began their own decentralized bioregional processes.

Because the success of the Amazon Sacred Headwaters plan was forged through strengthening the skills and capacities for coordinated delivery via partnerships, these partnerships and processes were rapidly deployed in support of the emerging array of bioregional projects.

The minimum standards of interoperability, transparency, accountability, systems, and technology enabled for the funding, resourcing, and support mechanisms to be cross-pollinated. Train the trainer programs ensured that each specialist trained was responsible for training the next specialist in the processes, systems, and technologies, and soon the distributed array of regenerating bioregions began to look like a single, healthy, flourishing Living System.

To see a living visualization of the systems, process flows, and feedback loops employed, see (link).