The bush plane detoured from its route to circle around something called the "Devil's Egg," a natural rock formation on a cliff.
The deep Suriname jungle below us in super close proximity, we banked left. The site was astounding and so close that I felt as though I could reach out and touch it ... which was the problem; we had come too close. A gust rocked the small, 10-seater Cessna. The pilot adjusted. But as we came around the base of the egg, we were too low. The face of the cliff was staring right at us.
I had come to Suriname, the smallest sovereign country in South America, to see first hand the workings of Skoll entrepreneur Dr. Mark Plotkin and his Amazon Conservation Team (www.amazonteam.org). The ACT empowers the indigenous inhabitants of the jungle to take care of it themselves. They train park guards to prohibit deforestation, direct education programs and work with the shamans to erect health clinics.
The Skoll Foundation looks to benefit communities around the world by investing in these types of social enterprises. With its ACT initiative, Skoll funded further mapping of the South American rainforest. This is important for land rights and, in turn, preservation.
There is no need to chop down trees to exploit the jungle's riches, as the ACT has found. Indeed, a new program it devised will produce income from tea and the medicinal herbs grown in the jungle. These are impact investment programs in the first degree.
Next week Plotkin will be attending the Skoll World Form in Oxford, England, where he will mingle with other innovators. The Skoll World Forum each year brings together 800 social entrepreneurs, thought leaders and strategic investors to exchange ideas and solutions for some of the world's most pressing problems.
Trudging through the jungle paths where jaguars roam and seeing the amazing effects of the medical herbs, I can attest there is huge opportunity for these types of "outside the box" programs. (I had cut my arm and a shame wielded his machete, chopped some bark off a nearby tree, mashed some of the inner layer, and applied it to my wound. It healed quickly.)
Alternative health clinics, too, work wonders. Ramon, a maroon tribesman, uses an ancient process to turn bones into putty - and fix them when they are broken. Bones heal in three weeks.
Suriname itself is rife with interesting investment possibilities. Alcoa, IAMGOLD, and Newmont mining are already here digging up the place and mining for metals and minerals. And a new highway connecting it to Brazil may increase trade.
China is taking a major foothold in the country. In terms of generating social and financial impact, it may be tough to beat Suriname and the programs the ACT has in place.