The Pachamama Alliance

By:Jody Berger Issue: Conscious Capitalism Section: Collaborator Profile

Cross Cultural, Multi-Continent, Multi-Faceted Collaboration

The Pachamama Alliance

Any organization calling itself the Pachamama Alliance would have to dream big. There could be no other way.

With a name like that, a grand plan is more than implied; it’s an imperative embedded in the ancient syllables. Pachamama translates to “the earth, the sky, the universe and all time,” in the pre-Incan language of Quechua.

No question, the name is grand. And the mission? Grander, still.

“We are committed to generating a huge social profit that benefits all children of all species for all time,” said Lynne Twist, one of the founders and architects of the Pachamama Alliance.

Clearly, if you set out to serve every child that exists now and forever into the future, you better not go it alone. Collaboration is key—especially if you are a non-profit operating on a shoestring budget.

And the Pachamama Alliance is a case study in collaboration—cross-cultural, multi-continent, multi-faceted collaboration, and expansion on the same scale.

Initially, the Alliance focused on one swatch of green, deep in the Amazon. In 1994, Twist, her husband Bill and ten other Americans partnered with the Achuar (pronounced osh-wahr) tribe in Ecuador to preserve that tribe’s territory and way of life.

Over the years, as the Twists listened to the Achuar and learned more about their worldview, the Alliance grew beyond Ecuador and San Francisco, where the Twists live, to include an untold number of people in 40 countries.

The mission also grew from saving the rainforest to saving the planet and all life. Twist understands the enormity of the task and the necessity of working in partnership.

“We work with anybody and everybody,” she said.

“We’re open to strange bedfellows because there are no real villains. There are misguided actions and misunderstandings but we don’t think we’re flawed as a species.”

“We’re open to strange bedfellows because there are no real villains. There are misguided actions and misunderstandings but we don’t think we’re flawed as a species.”

“We’re willing to work with governments and oil companies that are seen as predators by some of the tribes of the Amazon,” Twist added. “We’re willing to work with anybody where we all come together in a way that will support and nurture and liberate all of us from a way of life that’s destroying the very fabric of life.”


If the whole thing—a husband and wife team visiting the Amazon and creating an alliance to save the planet—sounds like a dream, it’s because it is. Or at least, that’s where the Pachamama Alliance began.

In 1994, Twist was 17 years into a life-long quest to end world hunger. As the chief fundraiser for the Hunger Project, she took a two week leave to lead a group of people to Guatemala with her and a colleague, the author John Perkins.

In Guatemala, Perkins introduced the group to a spiritual leader who offered to take thirteen people on a Shamanic journey.

That night, sitting around a fire, the Shaman began chanting and drumming. From there, he led the Americans into a trance-like state where they could explore through their own dreamscape. After hours or minutes—none of the participants could say for sure how much time had passed—each of the 13 reported back what they had seen. Some said they had fallen into a deep sleep. Others experienced themselves as animals roaming the natural world.

Twist told of growing powerful wings and a long, curved beak. She had become a large bird, soaring over a vast expanse of green. As she flew, she saw disembodied faces floating up out of the forest. They were men with orange geometric designs painted on their faces and crowns of red and yellow feathers on their heads.

The Shaman suggested that all the visions could be communications. To Twist and Perkins, he said the men in their shared vision were reaching out to them. “You need to go to them,” the Shaman said.

First things first. Twist had a job and a life and a family to return to so she wrapped up the trip and left Guatemala. The only problem was the dream didn’t leave her.

“I started seeing the same faces, with their orange geometric markings and the red and yellow feather crowns, in board meetings,” Twist said. “I was driving over the Golden Gate Bridge and saw the faces floating towards me.”

She saw the faces when she was asleep and when she was awake. She saw them when she was trying to think about what happened in Guatemala and when she was trying not to.

The faces became a distraction until finally, Twist gave in. She called Perkins and planned a trip to visit the Achuar.

The Achuar are an ancient culture living deep in the Amazon. Over centuries, they’d had little or no connection to modern cultures. Perkins and Twist believe that the Achuar knew that changes were coming and that outsiders would come into their community. The Achuar feared contact with the outside world so instead of waiting for the inevitable, they chose to initiate it.

The Achuar sent a message through the dreamscape asking for people from the modern world to contact them. “They sent it out into the world,” Twist said. “I was one who received it.”

Perkins, the Twists and nine others traveled south through Quito and boarded a small plane that took them in groups of four to a dirt landing strip deep in the rainforest. When all 12 assembled in the clearing, the Achuar people stepped out of the forest.

The Achuar seemed grateful for their guests although they immediately laid down the ground rules. “If you’re coming to help us, don’t waste your time,” they said. “If you’re coming because you know that your liberation is bound up with ours, then let’s work together.”


The Pachamama Alliance began as the union of indigenous tribes of the Amazon and conscious committed people of the modern world, by necessity.

The two groups, the rainforest tribes and residents of first-world cities, are inextricably linked and yet fundamentally opposed.

The two groups, the rainforest tribes and residents of first-world cities, are inextricably linked and yet fundamentally opposed.

The Achuar dreamed a future much like their past—where they survived by taking only what they needed at the time they needed it from a plentiful rainforest. To them, people of the modern world dream something different. Modern worlders dream of a future that offers more—more money, more cars, more factories and more reasons to deplete natural resources.

The Achuar and other Alliance members believe the world is as you dream it. They also saw that these two dreams would create worlds that could not co-exist.

The architects of the Alliance could see why the modern worlders wanted the rainforest. They knew there was monetary value in the trees and minerals beneath in the soil. They understood that clear-cutting forests and drilling for oil made sense within a specific vision of the future.

At the same time, the founders of the Alliance understood that the world they wanted to dream into existence depended on saving the rainforest.

And the choice had to be made quickly. If the rainforest disappeared, one future became impossible. To prevent that, there was no time to go through tree by tree or acre by acre, explaining why each pixel of the panorama needed to be preserved. The Alliance members needed to reframe the entire picture.

The Pachamama Alliance decided to change the dream of the modern world. To do this, the Alliance set up a website and began taking donations to fund their work.

Alliance member also began plotting to spread the word. Back in California, Twist began talking up this idea with like-minded souls and together they created the Symposium, a half-day seminar that asks people to examine their relationship to the earth and the possibilities for changing the future. From there, Twist took the show on the road.

“She did a fundraiser at the Star House in Boulder,” Kit Tennis remembers. “And we got so enthused we cancelled our entire next day and went to the Symposium.”

Tennis and his wife, Anita Sanchez, were community activists at heart who had built a career consulting with Fortune 100 corporations on issues of organizational development and cultural change. They had two children, a beautiful home and a thriving business, yet there was something else, something that remained out of reach.

“In the Symposium, there was a moment when the shades flew up on the windows and the doors blew open and I could see a way to bring my strengths and skills into the community,” Tennis said.

The Symposium included a multimedia presentation that highlighted groups all over the globe that were striving to save the planet and erase the notion of scarcity. There were organizations in Africa and Asia, in the United States and throughout Europe that were working for an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling future.

“At that moment, the disappointment and pessimism that I’d been carrying for 25 years fell away,” Tennis said.

That was in June of 2007. Within six months, Tennis and Sanchez trained to become Symposium facilitators, traveled to Ecuador with their sons and the Pachamama Alliance. The following Spring, they facilitated their first Symposium to a large group at Sun Microsystems Colorado campus.

Now, the couple facilitates Symposiums all over the country and spends as much as 70 percent of their workweek volunteering to change the dream of the modern world. They are not alone. More than 2,000 men, women, and teens have learned to facilitate the Symposium, allowing the message to be spread in 40 countries this year.


Activity is everywhere and still, Ecuador remains ground zero for the Pachamama Alliance.

Roughly the size of Nevada with only 14.5 million people, this country remains below the radar for many Americans. Not many Westerners took note when Rafael Correa Delgado, an American-trained economist, ran for president on a platform aimed at helping the 38 percent of Ecuadorians who live below the poverty line. Few beyond the Pachamama Alliance noticed that he also incorporated the Alliance’s greenplan for environmental reform into his platform.In November 2006, Correa handily defeated the billionaire businessman Alvaro Noboa for the country’s highest office. Within months, Correa presented his country with a referendum asking to scrap the entire constitution and start all over, from scratch. Nearly 80 percent said yes to drafting a new constitution and hundreds of thousands turned out to help.

Correa convened a 130-member constitutional assembly and arranged as many as 30,000 town hall meetings throughout the country over an 18-month period. Indigenous people, including the Achuar and other Amazonian tribes, showed up and contributed their ideas. The Pachamama Alliance, with its international connections, was able to bring in South Africans who had just written that country’s constitution and other experts to help.

In the end, the assembly produced a 444-article document that prohibits discrimination, respects private property, increases spending on health care and the poor and enshrines more rights for indigenous people. Even more exotic, the constitution protects ecosystems and species other than humans.

“This is absolutely a game changer for our species,” Twist said. “There is now on this planet a constitution that grants legal rights to nature. Trees, the forest, rivers, animals—they all have rights.”

“It was an astounding democratic process,” she added.

Nearly two-thirds of the Ecuadoran people voted to approve the new constitution in September 2008. Six months later, in a field of seven presidential candidates, Correa won 52 percent of the vote, nearly twice the number of votes of his nearest rival.

The work of the Pachamama Alliance did not go unnoticed by the Ecuadorans or their neighbors.

“This is the first of many countries, we hope, to recognize rights of the natural world,” Twist said. “It’s the first country living in this new context.”

It’s a new context and a new dream.

Jody Berger is a writer and communications consultant living in Denver. She can be reached at

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