Sheila and I happened to be at an event in Oakland where the conversation turned to Ecuador and someone gave us a business card for something called the Pachamama Alliance. With the card came an invitation to the group’s luncheon. Neither of us had ever heard of the group and we were skeptical. Curiosity more than anything else brought us to Ft. Mason the following Thursday at noon for the luncheon. The event made us believers.
This was the most tightly organized, best run nonprofit event I’ve ever attended. It started on time. Presentations were short, varied, interesting, and disciplined. The fundraising pitch — essential in every such gathering — was the best-delivered and best-organized I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few. The whole event was streamed live over the web; see http://pachamama.org. My guess is that the number of folks physically present at the luncheon exceeded 1,000.
The tight organization was all the more remarkable because the group’s mission is broad and lofty: to save the planet from ecological disaster. However, the group has a firm grip on at least one corner of this global undertaking: keeping the oil companies out of the northwestern Amazon rain forest, most of which is in Ecuador.
The rain forest is home to a number of nations of indigenous people. Four of their representatives spoke at the luncheon. Translation was needed for their words, in indigenous languages, but their tone, passion, and gestures were universal. They wanted no part of the oil companies in their homeland, and they were angry, militant, and determined.
Pachamama, we learned, is a goddess of good things among the indigenous people, and the Alliance is just that: a bridge between the indigenous nations of the rain forest and the environmentally concerned people of the industrialized countries.
We’ve seen what oil companies do to the environment in the Gulf, in Alaska, and locally at Chevron in Richmond. They’ve made their sordid mark also in the Ecuadorian Amazon. A 17-year court case involving widespread oil contamination in Ecuador by Chevron’s predecessor Texaco came to trial last July and resulted in a $9 billion fine against the oil giant.
Kudos to the Pachamama Alliance for good work in a noble cause, and for a brilliantly organized fund raising luncheon. All nonprofits have lessons to learn here.