Beirut's RiverLESS Forest

Reclaim urban landfills by empowering communities to plant dense native forests and recreate a shared habitat for humans and other organisms

Photo of Adib Dada
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Eligibility Criteria

  • 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

Adib Dada

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative's representative gender

  • Not Specified

Headquarters location: country

  • Lebanon

Headquarters location: city


Where are you making a difference?

Different cities in Lebanon, with an ongoing study of forest areas which burnt during the fire of 2019 [worst year]. Potential to expand in the Middle East. Our forests are local with a global impact.

Website or social media url(s)

Website: Instagram: beirutRiverLESS: Instagram: theOtherDada: LinkedIn: theOtherDada: Facebook: Beirut RiverLESS:

Date Started

January 2019

Project Stage

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan going forward)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €10k - €50k

Organization Type

  • Hybrid

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.

theOtherDada initiated Beirut RiverLESS research project in 2013 in reaction to the Ministry of Energy’s plan to build a solar farm on top of Beirut river, which would further disconnect the communities from their river and enhance its artificiality. In Lebanon a trend is emerging towards turning more of our natural ecosystems into artificial infrastructures. We decided to act fast, moving from research to action, focusing on green infrastructure to recreate habitat for native biodiversity, fauna and flora. As forests are one of the best ways to mitigate climate change, in 2019 we approached a municipality adjoining the river and reached out to private businesses and citizens to fund our project to plant Lebanon’s first Native Urban Forest!

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

We are addressing the negative impacts of urbanization and the lack of green public spaces in Beirut, with the loss of native primary forest coverage, soil erosion, wildlife habitat loss, urban flooding, pollution, and highlighting the plight of Beirut River which was transformed to a sewage canal. Beirut suffers from a 30% influx of Syrian and other refugees that increase stress on already poor infrastructure. Beirut has only 0.8 sqm of green space/capita versus the WHO recommended 9 sqm/capita

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We are using the Miyawaki method of afforestation to reclaim undervalued leftover spaces and urban landfills, planting dense native urban forests in order to mitigate the climate crisis and create green public spaces in the dense city of Beirut. These forests become self-sufficient within 3 years! We actively engage the public in every phase of forest-making, by calling for people from the community to volunteer in the land preparation phase, the planting of saplings, as well as the monthly maintenance sessions where students, scouts, professionals, and passersby help us maintain the forest to enable the saplings to thrive, and finally being able to use these areas as a public space for gathering, when the forest gets established within 3 years. We also collaborate with artists to introduce public art for community outreach and continuous awareness. Hence we’re seeking solutions that protect and nurture the rich biodiversity of native forest ecosystems to strengthen them in an urban environment through strategies for implementing green infrastructure and engaging city residents in creative conservation efforts that reconnect them with nature from the 'comfort' of their city

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

We innovate by: -Applying Biomimicry [design inspired by nature] at the systems level to bring back the river’s lost ecosystem services and forest cover -Bringing degraded urban soil back to life, along with its healthy microbial and fungal communities by preparing a proprietary compost tea. Focus on healthy ‘alive’ soil which has great potential for carbon sequestration -Starting to quantify carbon sequestration potential of forest AND soil -Studying the Potential Natural Vegetation PNV of the Beirut River Valley -Applying the Miyawaki method of afforestation to restore our native forest ecosystem in leftover urban spaces as small as 1 sqm [5 trees + shrubs] -Outperforming typical reforestation initiatives by 30x more biodiversity

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

Our initiative fosters the collaboration of experts, professionals, the public sector, and community members. As theOtherDada, we collaborate with Afforestt, SUGi, Advanced Car Rental and Native Nurseries. Collectively we attempt to shift the way people think and to publicize shared concerns by insisting that small, bottom-up projects can have a positive impact on the people and their surroundings to preserve biodiversity. Public sector not clued in, planting exotic and often invasive, maintenance-intensive species which need pesticides as opposed to the Miyawaki method of afforestation that brings in 100x more biodiversity into the city. Through social media, we gathered people from different backgrounds and contexts in the same space to maintain the forest and encourage its physical growth. Eventually the forest space had become a transition space between the city and the native ecosystem, bridging the gap between urban living and nature, living together as humans and other organisms

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?

Our successful pilot project has made a difference in multiple ways. First by challenging the conventional afforestation and landscaping services offered by organizations and municipalities in the country, and in the future where municipalities all over Lebanon can have a comprehensive toolkit [which we will compile and distribute] to plant forests on their own. This creates a new field of sustainable landscaping which will generate business opportunities to plant more forests; hence providing a steady revenue stream for native nurseries, botanists and local contractors. Additionally, since our project involves the community throughout all its phases, it brings people closer to their indigenous native forests, creating a social impact through engaging collectively in a positive action. We plan on measuring progress by measuring financial benefits to local suppliers, community engagement, number of public spaces reclaimed, and quantifying carbon sequestration of the trees and soil.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

We are scaling our impact on multiple levels. First, by providing proof of concept in several areas, we can interpret results to enhance our understanding of opportunities and challenges of our project’s impact for future plans. After our pilot project was finalized and showed a successful POC, a guideline to plant native forests in Beirut and greater Lebanon was created, and we started to develop the database to replicate this in even more arid countries in the region. We use local and international ambassadors to reach out to their own communities to expand our business outreach. Through social media we promote our services and events to build and expand awareness. We also developed a press strategy that created an identity to our impact.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

We are reclaiming urban landfills by reconnecting people with nature and empowering communities to plant dense native forests and recreate shared habitat for humans and other organisms. These forests restore the water cycle, provide habitat for critically endangered species and bring back the river’s lost ecosystem services. Actively engaging the public to assist us in every phase of the project leads them to adopt and care for it. Other than providing mental and physical health benefits, Miyawaki forests have immense environmental qualities, sequestering 30 times more CO2 and pollution, water infiltration, etc. and are 100% more biodiverse, bringing insects and beneficial life into the city

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?

We offer a competitive price [30% cheaper] than typical reforestation companies. We plan to continue funding projects through crowdfunding platform SUGi and private projects, reaching out to clients through social media and personal connections in the short term. For the medium term, we will use LinkedIn targeted marketing campaign to promote urban afforestation as an attractive CSR activity to corporate executives, and pitch to school directors as an educational curriculum. We successfully tap into alternative funding streams such as the AFAC art grant and D&AD design grant to fund our projects. For the long term we are building our network of executives and stakeholders in Lebanon and the Middle East through local partners in each country

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?

Adib Dada, Founder/ Lead Architect / Biomimicry Specialist (Full-Time) Dana Harakeh, Landscape Architect/ Forest Maker (Full-Time) Ahmad Yehya, Architect/ Business Consultant (Full-Time) Danielle Masri, Architect/ Intern Our plan is to employ our intern full time, bring in scientific experts into the core team such as botanists, soil biologists, environmental scientists and hydrologists. Also by delegating the initial groundwork to ambassadors so they can initiate and activate projects.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Cospe NGO

12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.

We are restoring the native forest ecosystem within the watershed of the city’s only river. By regenerating the Beirut watershed capacity, we can preserve the rich Bisri Valley from the proposed dam. We conducted a Potential Native Vegetation botanical survey of native species living in a mature forest upstream of our site within the same watershed. We then planted the 17 available species to bring back the native forest ecosystem into the city. Beirut River valley is an Important Bird Area (IBA 4) crucial for bird migration between Europe and Africa. It is an internationally-recognized biodiversity hotspot with rare and IUCN threatened species such as storks and eagles relying on the valley during migration. Due to urbanization, we have seen a total loss of wildlife and insect habitat downstream the river. We have already started to see native fauna, fungal and microbial communities in the newly established ecosystem. So far we have planted 2470 trees & shrubs in 615 sqm in 1 year!

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.

Since the beginning of the pilot project in May 2019, the forest-making process has been constantly bringing people together on the afforested land and turning it into a new public space. Throughout the forest making process, we’ve gotten volunteers, community members, and laborers involved with bringing the dead soil to life, learning about native species and planting them, and maintaining the forest for 24 months after it is planted. We’ve documented the process of transforming an empty barren plot of land to an educational space for workshops and a public space for communities to rediscover nature in the city. We’ve documented the way the ecology of the plot transformed from barren soil with invasive tree species to an ecologically rich forest ecosystem teeming with native insects and beneficial soil microbes within few months. We are preserving biodiversity by providing nature-based solutions for Beirut’s water shortage, avoiding further destruction of 6million sqm land in Bisri

14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

While traditional reforestation initiatives are active in Lebanon, we are the only initiative working on urban afforestation in congested cities. We are using the Miyawaki technique of afforestation, a unique Japanese methodology of dense afforestation developed by botanist Dr. Akira Miyawaki, scientifically proven to be the best afforestation method to combat climate change and which works worldwide, irrespective of soil and climatic conditions. Other reforestation initiatives use conventional reforestation (1 tree per 5 sqm), while we use dense forest plantation (4 trees and shrubs per sqm) using the innovative technique. Our forests grow 10x faster (1 meter every year), take up 30x more carbon and pollution, are 100% organic, 100% biodiverse, 30x denser, absorb noise and pollution 30x more efficiently, and cost 30% less per tree than conventional methods of forest-making. More impact for less money, with a focus on empowering local communities to be actors of massive system-change

15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

-D&AD Future Impact AWARD recognizing our project’s environmental & social impact locally and regionally -D&AD Development GRANT USD 14k to develop our impact quantification research and biodiversity database -Arab Fund for Arts & Culture GRANT USD 15k to develop an Art & Ecology artist residency program -International Architecture BIENNALE Rotterdam “Water As Leverage” -Istanbul Design BIENNALE “Empathy Revisited: Designs For More Than One”

16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

Crowdfunding: 10,000 USD 16% Individual donations: 9000 USD 15% Corporate contributions: 10,000 USD 16% Grants: AFAC and D&AD 29,000 USD 48% Earned income: 2300 USD 4% Workshops: 300 USD 1% Total: 60,600 USD We rely on multiple funding streams in order to implement and maintain our projects. Crowdfunding through the SUGi platform constitutes 16% of our total funds and will keep growing as the platform is gaining worldwide recognition. Corporate contributions are 16%. Our earned funds from private projects are 4% with growth expected to reach 40% as we start to actively pursue private clients and expand regionally. Individual contributions constitute 15%. The two development grants constitute 48%, the largest share of funds. For our future financial sustainability we will also be increasing our earned profits from selling an Urban Survival Kit inspired by the forest, which we have designed for the Istanbul Design Biennale. Also, our overheads amount to 15% only of the total costs

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?

By winning the Act for Biodiversity challenge, we are looking to share our knowledge and expertise in forest making with the rest of our local and regional community. Democratizing the information by creating toolkits for alternative landscaping methods that will create rich biodiverse ecosystems to combat the climate crisis. The award will amplify my role as an architect to push for my peers to consider not only the immediate, but also larger ecosystem when designing buildings, and eventually how to create spaces that can be shared across species, human and otherwise. How can designers create conditions conducive to other life? Providing not only for ourselves, but for other species as well, in perfect balance with Earth’s operating conditions.
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Attachments (2)

theOtherDada - 5th Istanbul Design Biennial.pdf

theOtherDada Urban Survival Kit inspired by the forest for the Istanbul Design Biennale 2020


Join the conversation:

Photo of Carson McBain

You are taking critical steps to bring green spaces back into the urban landscape where is is needed most; the green space/capita percentage you shared is disturbing and highlights well the urgency of reforestation in cities like Beirut. I am a big fan of the Miyawaki method; it is well-suited to quickly reforesting urban spaces with native and biodiverse tree species. However, not everyone who reads this will be familiar with the Miyawaki method so a couple sentences explaining how this works is recommended. One of the greatest benefits of this method is the diversity of native tree species which increases biodiversity, so I would highly recommend to emphasize that in your writing since promoting biodiversity is the core of this Challenge. The entry could benefit from sharing more details about your financial sustainability and quantitative indicators of your impact. You make amble use of photos and video which really adds a lot, as they say 'a picture tells a thousand words' and it shows the progress as your urban forest grows. Thanks for sharing this project with us!

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