A Digital Path to Green Jobs

About Solution

GreenStand harnesses technology to pay people living in extreme poverty to undo environmental degradation. Our organization is developing and deploying a cloud-based mobile app that allows end-users (planters) to visually document individual trees they plant and tend. Through the app’s back-end, which uses machine learning and image recognition, donors (governments, corporations, and individuals) can remotely verify the planter’s geotagged work and pay them for their environmental services.

With MBRI support, GreenStand seeks to deploy, evaluate, and further develop this program. This includes continued user testing and developing scalable systems for training individuals in basic tech literacy skills, like setting up user accounts, creating mobile banking accounst, taking photographs, and learning to purchase and maintain a mobile device and data plan.

Alignment: Worldwide, the people most in need of opportunity are shut out of the digital economy. The TreeTracker app is being created for—and tested by--the no-tech/low-tech user. TreeTracker favors images over words to remove linguistic or literacy barriers for planters using the app. It is free, lean, clean, and operates offline (except for data transmission). Dozens of villagers can share the app on one smartphone, thus benefiting from the digital economy without the expense of individual mobile devices. It opens the world of payment for ecosystem services (PES) to the poorest people, including women.

Potential for Impact: The world’s extreme poor tend to be rural, illiterate, and no-tech—and are consequently shut out from most economic activities short of subsistence farming. But it is their location and skill set that the TreeTracker allows them to leverage for economic gain. Getting paid to plant and monitor trees, even part-time, provides a crucial ecological service and can have a life-changing impact for the millions of people now surviving on less than $3 a day.

Scalability: During our pilot phase, users have already planted, uploaded, and mapped over 60,000 individual trees in Tanzania and Kenya. As we continue user testing, we are finding ways to streamline the user interface and build a more robust back-end. Because of the interface’s minimal literacy demands, it can easily be translated into any number of languages and downloaded worldwide.

Three billion hectares of degraded lands could be reforested, much of it in the global south – sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. These areas could most benefit from meaningful employment opportunities with low barriers to entry. Africa alone has 700 million acres of reforestable land. PES is a critical need with a low barrier to entry that cannot be offshored and won’t be going away any time soon. This sector is ripe for digital verification services.

Innovative Approach: Millions of seedlings are planted every year, and either left to die or supported by prohibitively expensive monitoring. The world needs an inexpensive, scalable monitoring system.

The TreeTracker is the only app of its kind, designed specifically for the low-tech, low-literacy user. It is also the only app created to directly create transparency in the transaction between tree planters and funders, thereby giving the world’s indigent access to global markets. Finally, it captures data that can be used to ascertain best-practices and disseminate them into the field.

Feasibility: Self-sustainability is a core element of GreenStand’s PES project. The infrastructure needed already exists in our target areas: potential planters, as well as nurseries, a network of planting and agroforestry organizations, smart phones costing around $50, and mobile banking for payments.

The demand for such a service also exists: corporations and investors have pledged over $2 billion toward reforestation efforts in Latin America alone. Countries are already or plan to pay smallholders to reforest their lands – and the success of such programs would be infectious. Our ability to demonstrate sustainability is also baked into the project since the exact number of trees planted and tended, and the amount of money flowing from donors to planters, will be tracked as it happens throughout the life of the project.

MBRI support would allow us to demonstrate the value of our program, thus opening market-driven sources of funding to the planters.



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