Gaia Amazonas Foundation founder Martin von Hildebrand was voted as one of Colombia’s most influential leaders for his work in strengthening indigenous rights and safeguarding the rich culture and ecological diversity of the Amazon.
Chosen by a prestigious panel, La Semana magazine’s Top 10 Leaders were recognized as the top public leaders of the country who have helped to advance Colombian society through positive change.
For four decades Martin has been working with indigenous people on the ground, helping to empower ethnic communities through stronger leadership and greater autonomy.
In 1989 as the National Director of Indigenous Affairs, Martin spearheaded policy to declare some 25 million hectares of land as collectively-owned indigenous territories, known as resguardos. In 1991 Martin’s work paved the way for the official recognition of indigenous rights in the Colombian constitution.
Since founding Gaia Amazonas in 1990, Martin has helped improve critical services in indigenous communities such as healthcare and education, as well as providing legal, technical and financial support, helping to indigenous communities develop their own local and regional initiatives. He has generated a greater representation for indigenous people by fostering cross-insitutional cooperation and dialogue between indigenous communties and local and regional governments.
Other accomplishments include the establishment of the COAMA program, a network of NGOs set up to support indigenous communities in exercising their rights, governing their territories and conserving their habitats. Martin was also instrumental in the establishment of the Cooperation and Alliance in the Northwest Amazon (CANOA), a transnational group of Colombian, Brazilian and Venezuelan organizations, united in the cause to protect the Amazon and its people.
Martin has received international accolades for his work including the Order of the Golden Ark from the Netherlands, The Right to Livelihood Award from Sweden (awarded to COAMA) and was named a Latin American Social Entrepreneur at the World Economic Forum.