He opened Posada Amazonas to tourists in 1996. By 2016, Peru's indigenous Eseeja community will operate the business by itself.
Tambopata National Reserve, Peru
For someone who's changing the way business is done in the Amazon, Kurt Holle is remarkably low key. Raised in Peru's capital, Lima, he seems happiest in knee-high rubber boots, walking jungle trails while the indigenous co-owners of his ecolodge help guests spot saddleback tamarin monkeys and scarlet macaws.
The Posadas Amazonas lodge he launched 13 years ago in a ground-breaking venture with a native Amazon community now is studied by business schools at Stanford and Harvard universities. It's won multiple awards. And it's seen worldwide as a model for protecting the rain forest while providing jobs – and careers – for indigenous people who would otherwise join the swelling ranks of illegal gold miners or loggers tearing up the jungle to strike it rich.
"This is a pioneer effort, not only in Peru, but in the whole region," says environmental activist Enrique Ortiz. "People are always talking about working with the Indians, but no one is actually doing it. We all talk about community-based approaches, but there are no other examples that have worked and lasted. [Mr. Holle's success] is extremely rare."
Holle might be forgiven for puffing out his chest while the accolades roll in, but that's not his style. He prefers to speak about the details of his business, and he likes to remind people he's not there for charity. "The market is giving us an opportunity to give value to the forest," he says matter-of-factly. "We've always been frank that this is a moneymaking operation."
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