Montes de Socios: social entrepreneurship for rural development

Montes de Socios

Many lands in Spain, especially forests, are not property of one person but rather of a group of people. This type of joint ownership has different names depending of the region but almost all of them share the same characteristic, the woodland is pro indiviso, which means that the property is not divided between its owners.  They can have different shares of the land property but there are no demarcations dividing what belongs to each member.

The property passes from fathers to sons, multiplying the number of owners with each generation and, in most of the cases, these transfers are not documented, being the title holders people dead 100 years ago. Hence, the cadastre shows that the land belongs to nonexistent companies, deceased owners or entities that do not accurately represent the legitimate owners.

This complex property regime extremely complicates the management of the forests, having to face a lot of administrative obstacles in order to complete any kind of procedure. The result is woodlands managed and exploited in a way far from ideal or completely abandoned in many cases.

Montes de SociosPedro Medrano, as part of the Sorian Forest Association (Asociación Forestal de Soria) has being working to solve this issue. He launched, through the initiative Partners’ Woodlands (Montes de Socios), a management model based on traditional mechanism that establishes clear partnered ownership and management of the forest.

These model, the Management Boards (Juntas Gestoras), were integrated in the Spanish legislation trough the 2003 Forestry Act (Ley de Montes). These Boards allow the co-owners of woodlands to act as a single legal entity, making possible their management and conservation, adding value to otherwise abandoned land. But also become a liaison between city and countryside people that have inherited the ownership from ancestors which were fellow countrymen, creating a renewed interest and a sense of connection to the countryside.

Partners’ Woodlands also works on the recuperation of the documental base of the forest confiscation; offers guidance for forest management and conservation and promotes the creation of legal frameworks for co-owned woodlands.

At present day, many Management Boards have been constituted through Partners’ Woodlands: 34 in Soria, 9 in Asturias, 2 in Guadalajara and 1 in León.

A two page article (present in front cover) was dedicated to the initiative in the newspaper EL País the 28th November 2011. The initiative has been also awarded with the Dubai International Award for Best Practices 2012. In addition Pedro Medrano has become, in February of this year, fellow changemaker of Ashoka.


Pedro Medrano & Cándido Moreno

Pedro Medrano and Cándido Moreno show a record of a co-owned woodland's owners. Source: El País Photo: Carlos Rosillo

Related Websites

    Montes de Socios 

    Asociación Forestal de Soria

    Pedro Medrano’s profile in Ashoka’s webpage


Corporate Responsibility starts at the heart


When talking about of Corporate Responsibility what always comes first to mind is a big company doing some kind of philanthropic activity trying to offset its negative impacts. But in a country like Spain, where 99.88 % of the companies are SMEs, thinking that only big companies are required to be responsible leaves most of the economic activity (and pollution) out of the picture. However, that’s not the way corporate responsibility works. It is simpler, it’s all about acting responsibly.

The Oxford Dictionary defines responsibility as a moral obligation to behave correctly towards or in respect of something or someone and also as the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something. It is as simple as that: making any decision, while keeping in mind that the decision-maker has the moral obligation to act correctly and at the same time, he or she is accountable for it. In this simple equation there is no room for the size of the company. It doesn’t matter if the company has 10 employees or 1,000, the principle is the same. What changes is the impact.

Of course, the impact of a small company that acts responsibly and seeks sustainability is nothing in comparison to transnational corporation but if we go back to the first figure (99.88 % of the companies are SMEs in Spain) our perception of the potential impact of SMEs grows exponentially. And with such an easy recipe to act responsibly: act correctly and consider the consequence of each choice; the effect could be the same as waves in the water. From a small drop (the core of the company, the leader), it amplifies and scales up in magnitude changing the way the company acts, disturbing the market, modifying how suppliers work, increasing the awareness of the community and creating and enabling environment for positive change.

But all has to come from the heart of the company, big or small. The decision-maker has to be responsible and act with responsibility.

Spheres of Influence


Making money out of the poor

Money out of the poor. Source: (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)30 years ago, pursuing the social good and making money out of it was unthinkable, even blasphemous. Social work and business were apart, divided by a wall which few dare to cross. The role of businesses was just philanthropy: giving money away for projects without more involvement beside a certain level of results follow-up. The social workers’ role was the other way around: they were recipients of money from donors (public, corporate or private) and their job was to make the biggest impact possible with it.

But in the last few years this wall has crumbled down and the line diving social good and business is fading.  And it is happening because of the social entrepreneurs, people that create their business not looking for profit but to have a positive impact on society (and earning a living, of course). It’s not the return on investment (ROI) what matters to them, what matters to them is the social return on investment (SROI).

And then raises the question: is it fair to make money out of the poor? It depends (as a teacher of mine once said, you can answer any question with “it depends, because of China or the Internet). It depends on the way they earn the money. If it is creating value in both sides, the customer (the poor) and the company, it is not only good, but the best way to work pursuing the social good.

Those social enterprises that are self-sustainable in economic terms will be the ones with more chances to create a bigger social impact, escalate and be prone to replication, becoming real change-makers.


Tropical Salvage

Tropical SalvageTropical Salvage is social enterprise, what it is called “a business with a cause”. Its business model is simple: import high-value hand crafted furniture, household accessories and architectural components. But it doesn’t end there, accordingly to their claim: “We never cut down a tree to make our solidwood furniture” and is there where the salvage part starts. The source of wood is any that one could imagine except logging, from timber floating down rivers to trees knocked down by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.  This wood is recovered (salvaged) and used to craft different items by up to 95 qualified Indonesian carvers, whose employment is based on fair trade principles. The broad range of tropical species leads to unique figures and colours.

Tropical Salvage was created by Tim O’Brien after he saw, during a hike Gunung Lueser National Park (West Sumatra) in 1998, a vast area of recently clear-cut primary forest. The logging project had harvested only the trees’ trunks, leaving behind the crowns and stumps. He was so shocked and moved by the experience in Sumatra that he decided to take action by creating a business strategy that would help reduce destructive pressure on primary forests.

Different items made out of salvaged wood.

Different items made out of salvaged wood.


Salvage of a trunk.

Salvage of a trunk.

The company collaborates also, in partnership with the Institute for Culture and Ecology (IFCAE) and the Jepara community, to develop the Jepara Forest Conservancy, a botanical park and environmental education centre to improve local environmental conditions and raise environmental awareness on the Mount Muria peninsula in North Central Java.



To know more:


Buy local, part of the solution or part of the problem?

Buy Local poster

“Buy local”. These two words have become a mantra for many people in recent years, the so called “locavores”. The idea is easy: to buy locally grown, the nearer the better. The issue comes when defining what is local, being for most of the people a limit of 100 mile radius (160 kilometres), in what is called the 100-Mile Diet. But it doesn’t imply only distance, also buying products that are seasonal and minimally processed from small farms. The supporters of this way of consume adduce the many benefits of local food:

With the strong idea of consuming just locally grown products, the concept of “food miles/kilometres” has gained strength, in the sense that it measures the distance that the food has travelled to reach the vendor. However, this food mileage doesn’t show the real environmental impact, because it depends not only on the distance but also on how it is transported and how it is produced.

Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews, of Carnegie Mellon University, carried out a life cycle analysis (LCA) of the average North American diet and concluded that 83% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions occur before produce even leaves the farm. In contrast, transport from the producer to the point of sale accounted only for 4% of the total GHG emissions. Another LCA of the British food chain made by Tara Garnett, of University of Oxford, showed similar results: transport from farm to vendor represents 10% of the total GHG emissions.

But another issue arises when buying local in high-income countries: agricultural subsidies. Although the subsidies that wealthy countries give to their farmers are classified as “non-distorting”, actually they allow developed countries’ farmers to sell on market at prices far below production value,  leaving small producers  in the developing world unable to compete. They also encourage excess supply, which further lowers world agricultural prices and render small producers  unable to benefit from price increases but exposing them when prices decline. It also creates a chain effect: livelihood insecurity of food producers generates high and volatile prices in local food markets, causing food insecurity for local consumers. Additionally, measures from developing countries’ governments to support local producers tend to clash with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

Given the circumstances, choosing between locally grown or imported food may suggest choosing between a closer, environmentally friendly way of producing or a big scale, industrial and high pollutant production. But it can also mean choosing between a subsidized production or a way of production that has to compete against distorted prices, where the producers are in the brink of extreme poverty. The choice is not an easy one.

Main sources

  1. DeWeerdt, S (2013) “Is Local Food Better?”, retrieved from
  2. FAO (2003) “Subsidies, food imports and tariffs key issues for developing countries”, retrieved from
  3. Ghosh, J (2002) “Why farming subsidies still distort advantages and cause food insecurity” in The Guardian, retrieved from

Nature 2000: network of European biodiversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity , a legally binding treaty signed at the Earth Summit in Rio 1992, was the starting signal for the European common effort to protect and preserve Europe’s biodiversity. To comply with it, the Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of natural habitats of wild fauna and flora, commonly known as the Habitats Directive, was adopted and it complemented the existing Council Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds (Birds Directive).

These two directives are the cornerstone of  Natura 2000, a network of nature protection areas in the EU territory. Consisting of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs, proposed by Member States and approved by the European Commission) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for bird life (designated directly by Member States), Natura 2000 has the aim to assure the long-term survival of the most valuable, representative and threatened European species and habitats, both inland and coastal.

Nevertheless, not all the SACs and SPAs are strict nature reserves where all human activities are excluded, but areas where all these activities are managed in a way that doesn’t endanger the conservation of designated species and ecosystems: “the conservation objectives should be met while taking account of economic, social, cultural, regional and recreational requirements1 ”. However, the Habitats Directive doesn’t establish the management procedures of the sites, being it competence of each Member State. The European Commission has elaborated guidance documents and best practice guides with regard to management of the sites.

Currently the Natura 2000 network has more than 26,100 sites, covering more than 750,000 km2 inland (17.51% of the EU’s total territory) and 198,000 km2 offshore.

The Pharmaceutical Industry: a key player in development

In 1996 a meningococcal meningitis epidemic was declared in Kano’s State, Nigeria. Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières) responded sending a team of volunteer physicians to the city of Kano, capital of the region and second largest city of Nigeria. They treated patients with chloamphenicol, one of the two antibiotics, as well as ceftriaxone, recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to treat meningococcal meningitis in areas that have limited health care resources of Africa.

At the time of the epidemic, the US pharmaceutical Pfizer was trying to obtain the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration for the antibiotic Trovan (Trovafloxacin). In order to gain a better knowledge of its effects in children, Pfizer sent a research team to Kano, depicted as philanthropic work.

They treated 200 children, half of them with Trovan and the other half with ceftriaxone, as comparison group. However, in an effort to save time, the ceftriaxone was not administrated following the standards of the manufacturer: the dosage was reduced to one third of the recommended and it was injected in the buttocks instead of into a vein.

After three weeks, the Pfizer’s team was unable to determinate the effectiveness of the treatment and abandoned Kano. By the end of Nigeria’s epidemic, at least 8,000 people had died, many of whom were children, and more than 75,000 had been infected (WHO, 2011).

In 2002, Pfizer was sued by a group of Nigerian Trovan affected, alleging that “they suffered grave injuries from an experimental antibiotic administered by Pfizer without their informed consent”.

Firdausi, one of the affected by Trovan with her mother. El País.

Plaintiffs alleged that those administered with Trovan that didn’t die, suffered from impairing side effects. After 4 judicial opinions from different courts, in 2009, Pfizer settled the case out of court with a $75 million settlement that was subject to a confidentiality clause.


The Kano Case had not only consequences in terms of those directly affected by the clinical research, but also related to following health initiatives. The 2005 program of the WHO to eradicate poliomyelitis clashed with the resistance of Kano’s radical Islamist authorities, opposing to the vaccination and spreading the mistrust to the surrounding areas.

The big picture

This case shows the important role that pharmaceutical companies play in development. This importance is more obvious considering the fact that 3 of the 8 Millennium Development Goals for 2015 are related to health: reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

The global pharmaceuticals market is worth US$300 billion a year, a figure expected to rise to US$400 billion within three years (WHO). North America, Europe and Japan account for the 74% of the market.

World pharmaceutical market. IMS Health Market Prognosis, June 2013.

This means that approximately 5.7 billion people (80% of the world population) share only the 26% of the global pharmaceutical market. Although low-income countries spend higher percentage of their budgets in pharmaceutical products than high-income countries, in absolute figures, the expenditure is so small that many drug developers don’t even bother to take out patents in poor countries.


Moreover, the low people’s purchasing power in developing countries not only limits their access to drugs but also determines the development of new ones. The research and development (R&D) of new drugs is mostly controlled by the private sector, which spend billions of dollars each year in the search of new products for the mass market. Though developing countries have been benefited with the development of new drugs, the main focus of private sector’s R&D is in the drugs that are more likely to provide a high return on the company’s investment. Consequently, the development of drugs for treating diseases common in high-income countries is prioritized over those that affect low-income countries.

“Pecoul et al. (1999) report that of the 1.233 drugs licensed worldwide between 1975 and 1997, only 13 were for tropical diseases. Of these, five came from veterinary research, two were modifications of existing medicines, and two were produced for the U.S. military. Only four were developed by commercial pharmaceutical firms specifically for tropical diseases of humans.” Michel Kremer, 2002

As a consequence of the disregard to the highly spread diseases in tropical areas, the term neglected tropical diseases (NTD) was coined. The WHO acknowledges 17 NTD at the moment, ranging from leprosy to rabies. The relation between NTD and poverty is so tight that the first can be use as an indicator of extreme poverty, associated with the lack of fresh water and sanitation.

But not only is the lack of specific medication for certain diseases the cause of mortality. Most of the low-income countries have very weak or non-existing at all health systems. Qualified personnel are scarce and have a huge workload, resulting in wrong prognosis. Furthermore, subjective perception influences in the prescription of inappropriate treatment. Such is the case in Africa, where injections are often prescribed rather than pills, as many patients see these as more powerful (Kremer, 2002).

In addition, self-prescription and self-medication are more extended the poorer is the country. Patients purchase and consume medication without the supervision of a physician, and in most of the cases, the treatment is not completed in its entire course. This leads to the development of drug-resistant forms of diseases, which increase the threat also to high-income countries.

Top 10 causes of death in low and high-income countries. WHO.

Breaking the circle

Disease is not a cause of poverty, but an outcome of it that contributes to impoverish even more. It affects people undernourished, dwelling in slums and without pure water or sanitation. It impairs their capacity to work, turning them incapable to provide for themselves. This is the vicious circle of poverty-disease.

In order to break the circle, the access to medicines is the key factor. Although a simple concept, it is a very complex issue to achieve. Taking in consideration that expenditure on pharmaceutical products accounts for the major proportion of health cost in low-income countries (WHO); then, access to treatment is heavily dependent on the availability of affordable medicines. In terms of affordability, the WHO proposes different solution, such as differential pricing or equity pricing. But low pricing alone does not secure access to treatment. Efficient health care systems, well provisioned and with qualified professional, are key.

The primary role of the pharmaceutical industry is to develop pharmacological products that can be sold in markets at a profit. In most of the cases, a drug or vaccine has high fixed costs in the R&D process, while the marginal costs of production are, comparatively, very low. The willingness to pay in low-income countries borders this marginal cost, meaning that the research on neglected diseases (with no presence in high-income market) would not pay off. This may imply that in order to tackle the issue of the NTD, a new paradigm of how to allocate the resources is needed, both from national governments and aid agencies. From governments, reallocating the budget to the most cost-effective measures in terms of health care. Development aid agencies should consider diverting resources from tangible goods (such as infrastructure projects) to R&D projects.

Public and private sectors' role in R&D. PhRMA.

Main sources

  1. Cózar, A (2009) “Un tormento llamado Trovan” in El País, retrieved from
  2. Kremer, M (2002) “Pharmaceuticals and the Developing World” in The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 16,  Number 4, pp. 67-90.
  3. Lassen, L C and Thomsen, M K (2007) “Global health: the ethical responsibility of the pharmaceutical industry” in Danish Medical Bulletin, Volume 54, Number 1, pp. 35-36.
  4. Leisinger, K M (2012) “Meeting the global health challenge: the role of the pharmaceutical industry” in Making It Magazine, retrieved from
  5. Loue, S (2013) ‘Forensic Epidemiology in the Global Context: A Case Study of Pfizer and the Trovafloxacin Trial’ in Loue, S (Ed.) Forensic Epidemiology in the Global Context, Springer.

I want to ride my bicycle


Pozuelo de Alarcón, with a GDP per capita of € 51,634, is the richest municipality in the Autonomous Region of Madrid. It would be logic to think that the most basic needs in terms of infrastructure and services are covered; hence the major’s office should implement policies that go further and achieve more ambitious goals. The starting point can be the adhesion to the Covenant of Mayors, signed by Pozuelo’s Mayor on March 21st 2013.

The main challenge of Pozuelo de Alarcón is transportation. There is an absolute dependence on private transportation, not only in terms of the lack of alternatives, but also a strong private car transportation culture. Because of its quality of dormitory community, most of its inhabitant’s trips are pendulous. People use their own cars in order to travel to the work place, either directly, or towards a public transportation hub (underground, light train, train). The problem worsens due to the low occupancy per vehicle, almost one person per vehicle. All these, result in high traffic congestion as well as in a lack of parking space; beside the high amount of CO2 emissions per person. Therefore, it is required the implementation of new measures that tackle the aforementioned challenge.

Reinforce the public transportation system

Public transport lines

Currently, Pozuelo de Alarcón has 30 daytime and 4 nighttime bus lines; 10 kilometres with 13 stops of light train; and one train station. The municipality has, in general, a good coverage of public transportation. However, the services are poor in terms of frequency, above all in the bus, having a mean of 30 minutes between buses. Thus, the improvement effort should be directed to increase the frequency of the transports, chiefly during the rush hours. Together with this improvement, the integration of IT in the public transportation system in the line’s stops and in smartphones would provide the users with real-time information, such as timetables, time to next departure, line maps… that would enhance substantially the quality of the service.

Promote carpooling

As mentioned before, the occupancy of private vehicles is just about 1 person per vehicle.  Sharing the car in the way to work means less cars in the road, hence less traffic congestion and less parking problems. At the same time, the cost of transportation per person is lower, as well as the amount of pollution. It is also, a more social way of transportation, since there is interpersonal communication. A digital platform that works as a meeting point and bulletin board, would allow car owners to share their daily routes and let people with the same route to get in touch with each other.

Create an alternative: the bicycle as a mean of transport

The ideal solution for the transportation problem from, not only the environmental point of view, but also in terms of health and costs, would be the use of the bicycle as a mean of transport. Nowadays, Pozuelo de Alarcón has 17 kilometres of bicycle lanes, although scattered through the locality in short paths no longer than 2.5 kilometres. The municipality claims that the goal for the next years is to build up to a total of 50 kilometres bicycle lane network with the aim of turning the bicycle into a feasible mean of transport. However, no tangible plan has been presented to date, with the exception of a 1.5 km lane that will connect 3 different green areas.

Current bicycle lanes

This mentioned project and the already existing lanes show a clear intention of recreational use, despite the claims of the municipality. Many of the lanes are circular routes with neither connection between each other nor to public transportation hubs. Due to the fact that the bulk of the motorized movements are bound to outside-the-locality work places, if the bicycle is to become a real mean of transport, then a different approach to the lane’s layout is required.


The lane network has to be a web that connects the different neighbourhoods to the main transportation hubs, namely, Colonia Jardín metro station and Pozuelo train station, as well as certain key light train stops. This would allow the so called mixed-mode commuting, a scenario where the passenger would be able to ride from his home to the public transport station and either park his bicycle there and take the communal transport or bring it with him and ride from the destination station to the workplace. To do so, it is also require an adequate parking infrastructure that guarantees the safety of the bicycles.



Warsaw Loss and Damage Mechanism

19th Climate Change Conference held in Warsaw was closed one day after scheduled. Described as “a disappointment” by some and as “not a total failure” by others, the Conference was closed after reaching a very unambitious agreement. Most of it is just a loose statement of intentions that would be settled on the 2015 Paris Conference.  But among it, stands out an interesting proposal: the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage Associated with Climate Change Impacts.

According to the decision statement, the Warsaw Loss and Damage Mechanism will address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to its adverse effects, including extreme events and slow onset events, that cannot be reduced by adaptation.

This mechanism could be seen as a response to extreme weather catastrophes, such as the typhoon Haiyan. This typhoon has killed almost 6,000 people only in the Philippines just a few days before the opening of the Conference, and probably has played an important role in the birth of the mechanism.

Over the last 30 years, the world has lost more than 2.5 million people and almost $4 trillion to natural disasters. Economic losses are rising – from $50 billion each year in the 1980s, to just under $200 billion each year in the last decade. And about three quarters of those losses are a result of extreme weather”, said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice-President for Sustainable Development. “While you cannot connect any single weather event to climate change, scientists have warned that extreme weather events will increase in intensity if climate change is left unchecked.”

The aim of the Warsaw Mechanism will be to create common knowledge base, to provide technological support and, the most controversial point, to give financial support to those countries damaged by climate change weather effects. It will be constituted by an executive committee that will have its initial meeting by March 2014.

It remains to be know how this new institution will be found, how  it will valuate the damages caused by the climate change and, the biggest concern for the EU members, how it will  discriminate between the natural phenomena caused by the climate change and those that are entirely natural caused.

Imagen de previsualización de YouTube



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