Jun 28 2024

James Lynch

XPRIZE is excited to present an enlightening XPRIZE Voices interview with Pedro Hartung. Hartung is CEO of Alana, a socio-environmental impact non-profit and sponsor of XPRIZE Rainforest. Join us as we delve into the groundbreaking potential of XPRIZE Rainforest.

Hartung has a deep commitment to environmental advocacy and children's rights. His work at Alana emphasizes the critical connection between environmental conservation and the well-being of future generations, making him a pivotal voice in the conversation about sustainable development and the urgent need for protecting and restoring the world's rainforests. 

XPRIZE Rainforest is designed to create and scale innovative solutions to enhance our understanding of these vital ecosystems. By leveraging cutting-edge technology and scientific research, this initiative seeks to map the biodiversity of rainforests in unprecedented detail, aiming to accelerate conservation efforts and ensure these precious habitats are preserved for generations to come.

Protecting rainforests is not only about conserving biodiversity; it’s about safeguarding the myriad ecosystem services they provide, which are essential for human survival and well-being. Experts estimate that robust rainforest conservation could significantly mitigate climate change, support sustainable livelihoods, and promote global ecological balance. The economic benefits of preserving rainforests, through ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water purification, and biodiversity tourism, are immense and critical to the planet.

The ambitious goals of the XPRIZE Rainforest initiative resonate deeply with Hartung's vision at Alana. His organization is devoted to promoting initiatives that foster a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature, emphasizing the importance of environmental stewardship for the sake of children's futures. 

Join us as we explore the intersection of environmental protection, technological innovation, and social equity with Pedro Hartung, a leading mind at the forefront of environmental advocacy and innovation.

What is Alana's vision and mission for biodiversity conservation?

Pedro Hartung
Alana is an ecosystem of different organizations. We are a global organization rooted in Brazil where we have one of the biggest rainforests in the world with the biggest biodiversity. But we know little from that. We still need to figure out what is inside the forest so we can understand it better, and conserve it.

When we do that, we can both protect the forest and support people that are already living there. 

Alana thought about this challenge of mapping biodiversity as one of the key challenges we are facing right now. We have a triple threat: the climate crisis, the pollution crisis, and biodiversity loss. Our idea was to co-create a prize with XPRIZE that could help us better understand the rainforest and develop technologies to map it. 

Our mission is to protect and promote children's rights. We need biodiversity to sustain all different aspects of our life: food systems, water, and medicines that come from the forest. 

What drew you to XPRIZE and inspired Alana to move forward as an XPRIZE Rainforest partner?

Pedro Hartung
We are very happy to support and to develop with XPRIZE Foundation.

XPRIZE is a leader in developing prizes to nudge different experts, scientists, and leaders to collaborate. It's a prize competition, but we know in the end it's more about collaboration. This framework, this methodology of using a prize to nudge collaboration to solve worldwide problems, is something that is very much part of our vision as Alana. 

We believe that philanthropy should take risks. We actually see ourselves as a venture philanthropy organization. It is important to support and invest in these kinds of initiatives so we can have the collaboration to bring solutions to the present. 

What relationship do Brazilians have with the environment and nature? How do Alana’s initiatives hope to change or grow these relationships?

Pedro Hartung
It's impossible to be Brazilian and not be in love and affected by nature as a whole. Brazilians, we are surrounded by different kinds of natures, different ecosystems. We have rainforest, but we also have other biomes. It is part of our daily lives. 

With the development of urban areas, we are seeing the importance of fostering new blue and green spaces. That's why we are invested to create, restore, and re-flourish different urban areas to bring green areas to our daily lives, especially for children. 

We at Alana believe in a fourth threat that is underneath the triple threat: a lack of connection between human beings and nature. 

Understanding that we are part of nature is the first problem. We divided ourselves from nature. We see nature as something external. But we are part of nature. We are animals. We are part of ecosystems. Because of our way of development, or even the way we are creating society in general, we started to understand nature as an object of intervention or even violence. 

This idea that we are trying to restore nature, regenerate nature, it's a very important aspect of our work as a Brazilian-rooted organization. We want to contribute to the world a nature-based solution for the triple threat, and bring nature to our daily lives from childhood.

We are facing global challenges, beyond borders, beyond territories, that we need to solve together. That's why XPRIZE Rainforest is so important to find different solutions around the world, and implement the solutions locally. 

How can partnerships cause meaningful change?

Pedro Hartung
Here in Brazil, we have a very strong scientific community that is already developing different technologies for rainforests and other biomes. The importance of bringing different stakeholders to the table, it's key for success. 

We especially need the government for the legal policy dimension, to bring not just the technologies but also the social bioeconomy policies to help us achieve a greater impact. We need a private sector that will allow us to have the governance needed, the resources needed, and the innovation we need to support these new markets or innovations. 

We also need civil society, the activists, to help us bring and co-create these new technologies. We also need philanthropy to help us have the seed money and venture perspective to allow these technologies to come to the market and scale through different strategies.

Partnership is a key component. We should find ways to collaborate and bring different stakeholders to the table so we can solve one of the biggest challenges that we are facing as humanity right now: biodiversity loss.

What biodiversity conservation solutions do you hope will come out of XPRIZE Rainforest finals?

Pedro Hartung 
So many things. It is amazing to see different scientists and experts from different fields collaborating with robotics, biology, genetics, and really creating multi-diverse teams to find ways to understand what is inside the rainforest. We are very excited that we now have new and different kinds of drones, rovers, and autonomous robots that can help us understand and track the biodiversity movement inside a forest. 

With that, we can better understand and conserve it and then develop a social bioeconomy in a very sustainable and just way. 

What have you enjoyed seeing in live testing? 

Pedro Hartung
We saw very ingenious solutions for different challenges. For instance how to have enough signal for drones to map a huge portion of a forest, how a rover can be inside a forest and record the night sound of a forest, which is when the forest is alive, using applied AI to understand the number of different insects, birds, monkeys, et cetera, it's all really impressive. 

It was very interesting to see scientists, especially from the Global North, deal with the challenges of rainforests as they tested solutions that were developed inside labs. Some solutions did fail.

XPRIZE is just the beginning of a very important road of innovation and partnership between scientists from the Global North with scientists from the Global South. This collaboration, this dialogue, it's very important to solve the challenges, and co-create ways of living more harmoniously with nature. 

This is the idea, bringing these new technologies to blend with traditional knowledge and traditional technologies to co-create the solutions that we need to solve the biodiversity loss crisis. We are on a good path.

As we move to the finals of XPRIZE Rainforest, we'll be in the Amazon. As one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, what makes it such a great testing ground for these new technologies? What challenges will teams face?

Pedro Hartung
The challenge is part of the contest. XPRIZE was developed to really challenge the teams to solve very clear and complex challenges inside a rainforest. Challenges like humidity and the denseness of the forest.

It will be interesting to see how the teams will solve the logistics, test genetics from different species on site, find more feasible and cheap ways to do the science, and deliver the information that we need. These are the challenges the rainforest poses, and now we will see how the teams will tackle them.

I think we will see after the finals a very interesting ecosystem of new technologies, new approaches, new protocols, new science, and also possibly new markets, policies, regulations, and socio-economic developments.

How important is it to Alana to create inspiration for future generations? To follow the crazy ideas and put so much human effort into finding solutions to protect nature? 

Pedro Hartung
We are doing all of this because of children. For Alana, we understand children as the present. We need to take care of them and bring them the solutions and ideas to allow them to have a voice and to have participation in this discussion. 

We are working on different ways to bring this topic to them and to sensitize not just children, but also educators, families, and all the school community to understand the importance of nature. 

That's why inside Alana right now we have a new project called Nature-Based Education that wants to bring this kind of debate, solutions, and ideas to the daily work of school communities to change how children understand and relate to nature. In the end, we cannot take care of something that we don't know. We cannot protect something that we don't love. It's very important that children really be in love, in contact with nature, especially inside schools where they go every day and have different experiences of knowledge and development.

I really believe that bringing these kinds of ideas, technologies, and solutions like XPRIZE Rainforest inside schools will be something that transforms their lives and perspectives on nature and on how we should relate to other living beings.

As we look three decades into the future, what does success look like? What does a world in which we’ve solved these problems look like? 

Pedro Hartung
Our vision is a world that puts children, and not just human children, but other living beings' children, at the center of our care, of our action, of our thoughts, and of our decisions. We will be successful as society, as humanity, if we take care of the most vulnerable ones in all different expressions of life. 

Our vision for the future of society, of humanity, of our world, is a more harmonious world where we understand ourselves as nature and we protect ourselves as nature. Not just coexisting, but being balanced and finding ways to live in society, to develop our economies, and to consume as we connect with and understand the importance of nature as a whole. 

What brought you personally to work with Alana? And what keeps you motivated to find solutions to persistent huge challenges?

Pedro Hartung
This is a very long story. I came to Alana with this idea of understanding the importance of children and their rights. It was my passion to think, to research, and do advocacy for children and their rights since the beginning of my law school years. 

But with Alana, I discovered nature as something bigger, and maybe the mother of all causes that we should address right now. Yes, we need to tackle different rights and inequality issues, but right now, one of the most important causes that is underlying all the others is the nature crisis that we are facing. 

We won't have human rights if we don't have nature. This is, in the end, the most urgent question that we should address: can we have a different model of existence as humanity? Can we challenge this anthropocentric perspective that we are living?

The nature crisis, the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, pollution, they’re all children's rights crises too. We cannot solve one without solving the other. Alana has been very active in bringing other stakeholders to this mission of protecting children and protecting nature.

To support XPRIZE Rainforest, our mission to preserve these essential ecosystems, and follow along with our upcoming competition finals, explore more here

James Lynch