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ArcWatch: Your e-Magazine for GIS News, Views, and Insights

June 2009

2009 Esri International User Conference Keynote Speakers Focus on

Improving the Economic Fortunes of the Poor

By Carla Wheeler and Caitlyn Mitchell, Esri Writers

What does an Indonesian biologist have in common with a Peruvian economist?

Hernando de Soto, president of Peru's Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD), and Willie Smits, founder of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation and chairman of Indonesia's Masarang Foundation, both started groundbreaking programs that empower the poor and help them thrive economically. And both men will take the stage on July 13 as keynote speakers at the 2009 Esri International User Conference in San Diego, California, where they will tell the compelling stories of how the programs are working and changing lives for the better.

  photo of Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto

Named a decade ago by Time magazine as one of the five leading Latin American innovators of the century, de Soto will talk about how the nonprofit ILD works with governments in developing countries to help the poor acquire property rights. He believes that those rights, along with other legal tools, give them the access they need to the market economy to help lift themselves out of poverty.

In his seminal book The Mystery of Capital, de Soto links the formal recognition of property rights to the creation of a robust market economy. He says that for some poor people, the land they occupy may be their only asset. If they can gain legal title, they can leverage the land as collateral for loans to start a business or improve the property.

In his talk, de Soto will highlight the important role GIS technology can play in formalizing landownership for the poor.

Many of de Soto's ideas were put into action recently when a pilot project in Ghana, Africa, began using geospatial technologies to create a land titling process and a GIS-based land records system. The time and costs involved in collecting and documenting property ownership information were reduced, and the number of people with formalized land rights increased.

  photo of Willie Smith
Willie Smits

Born in the Netherlands, Smits moved to Indonesia almost 30 years ago to work in the fields of forestry and nature conservation. After finding and saving a very ill baby orangutan, he embarked on a mission to protect the animals in Borneo, which led him to launch a project to save the apes' habitat and-at the same time-provide a livelihood for many people in what was once the poorest district of East Kalimantan Province.

His Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation bought land that had been devastated by clear cutting, then launched an agroforestry project, planting trees and shrubs with crops such as pineapples, beans, and bananas. Orangutans now live in this Samboji Lestari forest, which is returning to its natural state. Smits uses satellite imagery to monitor how the forest is developing.

"We have created jobs for 3,000 people, the climate has changed-no more flooding no more fires-and it is no longer the poorest district," he said in a talk he gave at the last TED Conference, a video of which is posted on the Masarang Foundation Web site. "There's a huge development of biodiversity. We have over 1,000 tree species, we have 137 bird species, and we have 30 species of reptiles."

In 2007, the Masarang Foundation opened a palm sugar factory that uses thermal energy to turn the juice from sugar palm trees into sugar and even ethanol, returning cash and power to the community. The factory provides local residents with jobs that are an alternative to the short-term fix of harvesting forests to survive.

"My lifelong goal is to save as much as possible from our global environment for future generations by providing real-life examples of harmonious living in balance with nature," Smits wrote on the Masarang Foundation's Web site. "I also believe that we cannot save the environment if we do not simultaneously take care of the people's needs."

The 2009 Esri International User Conference will be held July 13-17 at the San Diego Convention Center. The conference draws thousands of Esri software users from around the world who spend the week networking and learning about the latest GIS technology. Esri software users can register today.

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