Meet the Founder, Douglas McMeekin
Originally from the US state of Kentucky, Douglas moved to Ecuador in 1986. After working for six years as an environmental and cultural consultant for the oil industry, he realized that something had to be done to help the people living in the Amazon region. In 1991 he founded the Yachana Foundation to develop community-based solutions to poverty and environmental conservation in the rainforest. Over the years the Foundation has created many opportunities through its work in education, conservation, ecotourism and health care along with its countless community development initiatives.
In 1995 Douglas opened Yachana Lodge which has developed over the years into a world-class ecotourism destination hosting thousands of visitors from around the world each year. In 2008 the lodge was the winner of the National Geographic Ashoka Changemakers Geotourism Challenge after being chosen as the best example of Geotourism in the world.
In 1997, he initiated the beginning of the Mondaña Medical Clinic to provide the only medical attention in the area at that time. The foundation ran the clinic until 2005 when it was turned over to the Ministry of Health to ensure its sustainability.
In 2005, one of Douglas’s many development projects led him to found the Yachana Technical High School, which is located 1.5 km from the lodge near the Kichwa community of Mondaña. The school integrated academic and hands-on learning, and was designed to incorporate students’ and community input into the model. Because students came to Yachana's school from remote locations, Douglas designed a rotational 21-day boarding school structure so in the beginning students alternated between spending three weeks at home and three weeks at school. The curriculum focused on environmental conservation and student management of various micro-enterprises. Ultimately, YachanaTechnical High School prepared many young people to become entrepreneurial leaders in their communities.
Douglas breaks down the barrier between textbook learning and real-life experience. For example, students participate in all aspects of the operation of Yachana Lodge and are encouraged to teach their communities about conservation, improved agricultural methods and antipoverty techniques they learn in school. Students are also encouraged to manage franchises of student-run businesses so that they can make a difference in their communities while gaining valuable management experience. Douglas’s work subverts traditional classroom learning which is often disconnected from student’s experience.
In 2008, the Ashoka Foundation, an organization that recognizes true change makers for their accomplishments as social entrepreneurs, honored Douglas by making him an Ahoka Fellow. Most recently, in late 2009, Douglas was honored yet again by the same organization when he was named an Ashoka-Lemelson Fellow, high recognition for his development and use of technology to help raise the standard of living for people living at the base of the economic pyramid.