SUGi makes restoration of biodiversity simple, shareable, and societally transformative.
SUGi is a people-powered platform on a mission to make the restoration of biodiversity simple, shareable, and societally transformative.
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.
Initiative's representative name
Elise Van Middelem
Initiative's representative date of birth
Initiative's representative gender
Headquarters location: country
Headquarters location: city
Where are you making a difference?
SUGi is a global platform, active in: USA, WA, Seattle; Cameroon, Buea SW; Australia, Queensland; Lebanon, Beirut; Pakistan, Karachi; Mallorca; Romania; France and India, Rajasthan amongst others.
Website or social media url(s)
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5Ii-sttjNbkKBq2-Fpw6vg
- SUGi App: linkt.ree/sugiproject
- FaceBook: www.facebook.com/sugiproject
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/sugiproject
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/sugiproject
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/sugiproject
- Website: www.sugiproject.com [SUGi 1.0]
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.
In 2018, I wanted to plant trees to commemorate a special year. I found myself going through many websites and leaving puzzled: How are these millions of trees planted? Where? How many survive? Does biodiversity return? I then decided to donate 200 apple trees to a dear family friend in Upper Mustang, Nepal. [The apple tree being an important livelihood for this community]. Fast forward, the summer of 2018, I woke up one morning and wondered if my apple trees had been planted.
I remember thinking "why is there no app out there to help me track the growth of my trees?" That's how SUGi was born.
2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
SUGi responds to the following three challenges: (1) Climate change seems like a monolithic threat and people are overwhelmed and disempowered by the scale and complexity; (2) Even if willing to tackle environmental crises, Transparency, Tangibility & Tools are often lacking; and (3) Growing social momentum on sustainability goals and calls for increased corporate social responsibility have let to a proliferation of overly-simplistic, blanket solutions that give a false sense of progress.
3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Currently, we connect a global community to local ‘rewilding’ projects via the SUGi App. The app enables users to easily initiate and fund new ecological restoration projects in cities around the world. SUGi catalyses, funds and tracks progress of each of these citizen-driven projects.
What makes our forests so special? Our global network of forest makers create ultra-dense, biodiverse forests of native species only using a proven Japanese technique called the Miyawaki method. These forests are 100% natural, 30x denser and 100x more biodiverse than conventional tree plantations.
We began building SUGi 2.0 in March 2020, and are in the midst of expanding & deepening our reach:
(1) a full relaunch of our web/mobile presence as a alternative access point (i.e., in addition to App);
(2) leverage brand partnerships for marketing reach, funding stability, and engagement of their employee communities;
(3) monthly membership/subscription program;
(4) dynamic multimedia storytelling & experiences as a core benefit of membership; and
(5) manifestation of biodiversity benefits reports as a groundbreaking tool for measuring ecosystem impacts rather than feel-good surface metrics.
4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?
The app allows you to plant, request, gift and track a specific forest. These modes of audience engagement are innovative & distinct. Here is an example: Limbi Tata, in Buea, Cameroon, dreamt of rewilding 5 water catchments in her village with the goal to raise the water levels. Limbi reached out to us via “Request a Forest” in the SUGi App. Once we understood her intentions for her community, we onboarded her onto the SUGi platform, resulting in online training & peer-to-peer support via our network of SUGi Rewilders.
A key innovation central to SUGi 2.0 are ongoing biodiversity benefits reports that illustrate impacts of individual investments on a particular project (species sighted, trees planted, etc.) and virtual guided forest tours.
5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?
I wish to engage all stakeholders from citizens to companies and from cities to scientists. Via the App (and soon web/mobile), citizens can not only contribute to a project, but also volunteer for forest-making or maintenance. We create packages for Companies & Corporations from tree-planting activities to special marketing content. SUGi 2.0 will welcome the first of our Brand Sponsors, Breitling. We see huge opportunities to leverage the marketing reach of this and other corporate partners to build our audience from the employee population to their consumer communities.
Our work on the ground is highly collaborative. We follow the lead of our SUGi Certified [urban] foresters, soil restorers, beekeepers and seed savers. But perhaps our greatest promise is that we help anyone rebuild their relationship with nature. SUGi puts powerful tools in the hands of regular people, making it easy and fun to make a huge difference.
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?
Since launch in May 2019, SUGi raised 73,000 USD, resulting in 10 forests in 6 countries. With each project, we engage & support local communities and capture content to reward, inspire, and regenerate enthusiasm. This furthers our mission to build and restore communities ecologically & socially.
E.g. Adib Dada, SUGi Rewilder in Beirut, had been raising awareness around the ecological disaster of the Beirut River. In October 2018, we introduced him to the creation of Miyawaki forests and their benefits. In May 2019, we held a workshop and planted 800 trees. The creation of the first urban forest in Beirut brought Adib international & national recognition. He went on to win the D&AD Future Impact Award. The local community chose him as a leader in the Green Movement during the Revolution. We're now raising funds for a 3rd forest via the App.
Impact is measured by how many natural forests are rewilded, which ties to money raised on the App or for SUGi 2.0, via sustained subscriptions.
7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?
Considering the current landscape, we came to the conclusion that we must slightly shift our focus to expand our vision and deliver most fully on our promise. We have begun the transition to SUGi 2.0 with the insight that SUGi has a unique role to play at the confluence of 3 vital paths in sustainability: (1) carbon footprint reduction; (2) ecosystem regeneration; and (3) global biodiversity. Now is the time to think boldly!
In June 2020, the SUGi “Rewilding Membership” will launch centered around these three goals. The monthly subscription model allows for a steady revenue stream to ensure we deliver to partners on the ground.
SUGi 2.0 stays true to the original vision, yet will allow us to scale our mission and impact exponentially.
8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?
Through the creation of ultra-dense, biodiverse forests in cities, SUGi impacts public health, economic stability, and sense of purpose of local communities. Tree planting is highly social. Volunteers can join SUGi Rewilders in planting & maintaining the forests. They become the guardians of the sites. SUGi forests become healing and learning sites for future generations.
When we restore the biodiversity of a physical space, we restore the sense of purpose and possibility. Our forests don’t simply rebuild natural webs of interconnectedness, we reunite people. Strangers become collaborators. Foreign lands become “our forests.” Rewilding happens from the inside out and can be transformative.
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?
In the short term, the SUGi “Rewilding Membership” will launch in June 2020. This monthly subscription will be available in different tiers: 5 - 12 - 30 USD/Month. The monthly subscription model will allow for a steady revenue stream impacting directly our SUGi Rewilding Community.
We’ve onboarded our first brand sponsor, Breitling, which will provide funds into the medium term and will allow us to attract both additional subscribers, as well as additional brand revenue.
Our ability to secure the Changemakers award would be tremendously helpful in acceleration of marketing efforts so that we can best maximize all these opportunities and ensure sustained success in the long term. We are grateful to be considered.
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?
Elise Van Middelem, Founder & Chief Impact Officer is a leader in forging connections between disparate groups by uniting them under a common purpose.
Daniel Lincoln, Platform Developer & Art Director, is a multi-disciplinary creative strategist.
David de Rothschild, Rewilding Architect & Board member, is an influential environmentalist.
Shubhendu Sharma, Advisor, is an award winning forest maker.
Tamsin Smith is a social impact innovator, now supporting SUGi 2.0 visioning and development.
11. How did you hear about this challenge?
12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.
SUGi has three core goals: restore biodiversity; rebuild connections to nature; and regenerate ecosystems.
The sustained health of the natural world is not as simple as the “plant trees, save planet.” It matters greatly what kinds of trees are planted, where, and how. Monocultures are known to be ecologically damaging, as they reduce soil fertility and enhance fire risk. If plantations are to be resilient and survive well into the future, the soil must be healthy and there must be a microcosm of habitats for complimentary species that support forests’ survival through seed-dispersion, natural pollination, etc. SUGi’s funds ultra-dense, multi-layered forests of native species that are 100% natural, 30x denser, and 100x more biodiverse than conventional tree planting.
SUGi can play a key role in citizen engagement to further the UN's decade of ecosystem regeneration. We can mobilize grassroots corps to be excited about and directly engaged in restoring biodiversity.
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.
SUGi is a global, non-centralized platform working directly with local communities to scale local solutions. In our first 10 months, we helped communities in Cameroon, USA, Lebanon, amongst other places. This is only the beginning of our reach! Ethan Bryson, SUGi Rewilder in Seattle, WA, USA, convinced the Yakama Nation to create an inspirational & educational forest, TU’PAXIN, for the community; in the shape of a Native American medicine wheel. In November 2019, we raised the funds for the first half of the wheel (700 trees). Planting this first part with the Yakima Tribe resulted in a chain effect. As we built trust we also witnessed the incredible power of a people regaining pride in their heritage & renewed curiosity about the healing insights of ancestors related to medicinal plants and root gathering. In March 2020, SUGi raised funds to not only complete the medicinal wheel (700 trees), but also to establish a healing forest (5000 trees) at the Yakama Nation Correctional Facility
14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?
Tree-planting: Many organisations solely plant, non-native, tree species in monoculture, in remote sites. These projects have minimal social impact with a lack of transparency on growth and long term environmental impact. SUGi instead is radically transparent.
SUGi sites are deliberately very accessible; they are biologically & socially restorative. Via the Miyawaki Method we create ultra-dense, biodiverse forests.
Carbon offsets: 99% of the carbon monthly subscription models are based on a “tick the box formula”: an entity or individual generates carbon, then writes a cheque to someone who promises to invest that money somewhere in a project that reduces future carbon emissions, such as energy-efficient stoves or monoculture tree planting. SUGi, on the other hand, does something radically different.
Through our Rewilding Membership, you get unique access to regeneration, restoration and reconnection. SUGi guarantees authentic rewilding via our in-house global network of Rewilders.
15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?
Over the past 10 months:
- Arc'teryx chose us as Problem Solver in their world wide campaign.
- World Summit Award: SUGi was nominated as the best and most innovative digital solution in Environment & Green Energy from Switzerland. We made it to the final round yet lost against Ecosia.
- ChangeNOW Summit in Paris invited us to show our solution at the Grand Palais in front of 40 cities.
16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.
Personal funds: 90%
Sponsorship contract 5%
One-time donations via the SUGi App 5%
Personal funds: 10%
One-time donations via SUGi App 5%
Monthly subscription model: 50%
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?
We’ll be able to build out SUGi 2.0 to its fullest potential; to take the problems we seek to address & fully transform them into opportunities. We believe successful implementation and communication of our “biodiversity reports” can have a huge positive impact in showing that social impact can be responsibly measured without straying into the realm of green washing or marketing false or misleading targets. We believe people care about real results and companies do too, but there are too few organizations (particularly in the tree planting space) that take the full ecosystem into account. We not only make that possible, we make it fun, shareable, and socially uplifting. We believe in “showing by doing.” We can demonstrate what’s possible and inspire others to pick up their own challenges & run with them. We also see several other changemaker applicants that we'd love to onboard! This grant would make that possible, amplifying the impact of several changemakers with one award!
18. Pitch-video (finalists only)