Bogotá Hills School Network
Development of collaborative projects that use natural ecosystems in the city of Bogotá as learning environments, enhancing the leadership
I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
I am 18 years old or older.
Activities organized by the School Network and perceptions of its members about the initiative.
Infograph about events organized and members of the School network involvement.
The last students' workshop to facilitate the involvement of students in the creation of Geographic Information Systems with different kinds of data (biological, chemical, physical, emotional, artistic and social).
Art contest inviting kids to paint their local territory.
Initiative's representative name
Initiative's representative date of birth
21 March 1969
Initiative's representative gender
Headquarters location: country
Headquarters location: city
Where are you making a difference?
Website or social media url(s)
Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working toward the next level of expansion)
Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?
1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.
While working to generate interactions between schools in a large city as Bogotá containing over 25% of the country's population, where urbanization is over 80%, we realized we needed intentional action. We saw there was very little to no communication between schools and that learning was not considering nature as part of the urban landscape for learning or even life. Creating a joint initiative to break down barriers (social, geographical, economic, cultural) between schools and foster collaboration and the creation of a learning ecosystem that works with a city wide perspective and integrates natural urban areas into the learning environment using citizen science and nature-based education as tools to reconnect people and nature.
2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
Urban environmental problems are becoming more complex everyday, but educational changes needed to prepare future generations to value and conserve biodiversity in urban contexts are still scarce. Moreover the social gap between kids in latin american cities as Bogotá, jeopardizes the ability to learn to work collaboratively towards the development of sustainable communities and cities. Environmental curriculums in schools lack the qualities to help students reconnect with nature.
3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
We have built a very inclusive and accessible network platform called “Red de Colegios Cerros de Bogotá (Red Cerros)”. This platform connects children from different contexts : Schools (public and private), universities, local government organizations, local civil society organizations and other actors into a learning community. At the moment we have over 100 schools, 21 organizations, 3 governmental agencies and several universities engaged.As a community we engage with students and teachers in several areas: nature-based education, citizen science, environmental action, communication and natural space use and enjoyment. Our main focus during the last 2 years has been to strengthen a community of collaboration and build capacities in students and teachers in citizen science tools such as iNaturalist and Water Monitoring as well as strengthen capacities to incorporate nature-based education into the classroom. Additionally we have created local network nodes based on the watersheds in the city in order to have local groups working around shared natural systems.We have created a urban nature classroom network which consists of three natural reserves .
4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?
The first is systemic and holistic thinking applied into collaborative educational structures that allow for shifting entrenched structures within the educational system in order to break barriers and allow new ways for collaborative learning.The second approach is nature-based education which brings nature into the center of learning, nature as a learning environment, as a teacher.The third is we are implementing weaving methodologies to create learning ecosystems for universal wellbeing. By combining these three approaches into a “city of learning” framework we have been able to connect the educational system with other actors that usually do not engage and we have been able to integrate urban natural areas as key learning environments.
5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?
As we have mentioned, our approach is based on fostering collaboration at multiple levels. We are actively creating collaborative opportunities for teachers, principals, students and diverse organizations. The collaboration is focused on improving education and strengthening environmental awareness and action. For example, we are working with the National Institute for Biodiversity (national Governmental), with the city’s Botanical Garden (local governmental) and with the schools to generate knowledge and gather information on urban biodiversity and establish actions to restore local ecosystems.
6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?
The Red Cerros has created horizontal collaborations that were none existent between private and public schools, teachers and organizations (governmental and Civil Society) from different social backgrounds.
In less than 5 five years there are 94 schools that are members of the network , and 118,000 children and families from different social background interconnected around the biodiversity of a high mountain tropical megacity.. Organizations that are part of the Network had become a very important support for teachers that want to develop pedagogic projects based on the local challenges faced by urban biodiversity.
We plan measuring progress by the involvement of the school members in the creation of Geographic Information Systems with environmental data of their territories. These data will be used by the students to propose to local authorities strategies to act in order to restore and conserve local biodiversity in the long term.
7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?
We envision two levels of scaling.
The first level is to scale within Bogota. The city is very big and diverse, our first objective is to consolidate a network structure that invites as many schools as possible into this process. In 2020 we expect to consolidate the network and the watershed hubs, enabling us to start connecting more schools into participating in the networks programs and collaborative projects.
Our second level is expanding to other cities with similar conditions. As the initiative matures we will be able to offer the model for adaptation and replication in other major cities in Latin America and beyond.
8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?
Our initiative is creating value by weaving a collaborative network that supports change in education towards student-centered education that includes a systemic perspective focused on living systems and not only on academic subjects. In a highly urbanized region of the world, the Red Cerros provides an alternative for students to re-connect with nature and have learning experiences that help students understand themselves as an integral part of an interconnected and interdependent living system. Recognizing this allows students to think and act in a sustainable and responsible manner, learn the causal relations between human decisions and environmental impacts such as biodiversity loss and
9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?
Up to the moment, the project has been supported by the founding members. We have raised funds and resources needed for training and gatherings through sponsorships and ally organizations. In the short term this model is functional even though it has limitations. We expect to build capacity to sustain a basic team focused exclusively on the network’s activities finding grants and sponsorships. In the long run we are looking at creating a model of membership that allows cross-funding support in order to assure operational sustainability but also to maintain an inclusive and equitable horizontal network format.
10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
We are a mixed team composed of members of the founding organizations and participants from within the network. Our core team is multidisciplinary with biologists, engineers, architects and educators. We require to strengthen the team with a permanent community convener whose only role is to generate cohesion and impulse with the members and the projects each node is leading. We are activating node leaders within the network both students and teachers of the network to become local conveners.
11. How did you hear about this challenge?
Through the Ashoka Network since Luis Camargo (OpEPA) is an Ashoka Fellow from 2005.
12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.
First through workshops we promote the use of natural ecosystems of the city as learning environments. We enhance teachers' capacity to apply teaching methodologies of nature based education, to motivate them and their students to engage in collaborative projects that seek to learn about the city’s biodiversity.
Second, we organize ecological restoration activities that involve workshops to teach about the original ecosystem biodiversity, focusing on interactions between plants and other species, and planting native species. Lately we have focused on water streams as ecosystems extremely affected by rapid urban growth and we have designed a methodology to evaluate the main causes of biodiversity loss in these ecosystems, in order to collaborate with local authorities to counteract these pressures. These pedagogic experiences impact kids whilst contributing to their appropriation of natural ecosystems in the city and their empowerment as citizens to contribute for their conservation.
13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.
We strengthen school capacities to learn about restoration of natural ecosystems and socio ecological relationships with children from diverse backgrounds. With Bogotá’s Botanical Garden we organized a workshop to learn about this and two events with local partners in which students had the opportunity to plant native species and learn about their importance. One was in a private natural reserve, the second was in a public park involving district and national environmental institutions. These resulted in an increased number of visits of species such as birds (Ex.Penelope montagnii) and mammals (Ex. Nasuella olivaceae, Cerdocyon thous), more research is required to assess the socio ecological impact. We have designed citizen science workshops and initiatives to learn and conserve biodiversity. We organize an art contest engaging hundreds of kids in the artistic representation of their perceptions and concerns about conservation of urban biodiversity. Many synergies have been generated.
14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?
There is a wide range of isolated initiatives aiming to address the problem, but most of them are single institution efforts. Schools seek to address biodiversity challenges through an individualistic approach. Our project aims to overcome this approach towards a collaborative one that evidences that sustainability and biodiversity conservation require horizontal interactions between diverse individuals and communities. In Bogotá there is a huge social gap, private and public school students rarely have opportunities to interact. Our project aims to strengthen collaboration of students coming from different social backgrounds. Considering the size of the city (163.000 Has) and more than 8 million inhabitants, there are remarkable spatial differences and diverse biodiversity conservation challenges. The school network approach allows children to understand the city as a complex system where collaborative work can achieve better conservation outcomes than isolated initiatives.
15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?
One of our Founders (Bogota Hills Foundation) have two recognitions in the Public Space Biennial of Bogotá (2019) as community program, and the WIC The next Green Awards, community category recognition 2016.
16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.
Corporate contributions 10%
Grants or contracts 10%
Other 80% collaboration between allies and permanent volunteering
17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?
The prize money will be invested to afford a project coordinator to involve more schools and inspire more educators to get involved actively. We will also create a public access GIS with data collected by students. Finally we will strengthen school collaboration around micro-basins. Money will allow low income schools to access water monitoring kits. The project coordinator will facilitate children's participation in planning their micro-territories around water to provide inputs for city planning.
In a country immersed in a process of reconciliation, its capital city requires concrete actions to become a territory of peace, inclusive, equitable and harmonious with the nature of which it is part. The project aims to awaken children's curiosity and ask important questions about their role in nature. Children should become agents of change and participants in the planning of their territory with Biodiversity as an axis for the development of the future cities.