Saturday Series: An Interview with Katie Martin

By Molly Redfield

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone?  E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Katie Martin of M•CAM/Heritable Innovation Trust (Photo Credit: Heritable Innovation Trust)

Name: Katie Martin

Affiliation: M·CAM/Heritable Innovation Trust

Bio: Katie Martin graduated in 2011 from Christopher Newport University with a BA in history. Many of her classes not only documented world history, but also analyzed oral history and other oral traditions. In 2008, Katie interned for M·CAM’s Heritable Innovation Trust (HIT). Now she is a program coordinator with HIT and travels with the organization documenting traditional practices and processes of communities across Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, and Ecuador.

Can you tell me about the “Heritable Knowledge Framework and the Development of Communal Innovation Trusts” document and how it contributed to the founding of the Heritable Innovation Trust?

The Heritable Knowledge Framework sets out the specific methods for engaging groups that want to work with us. The document states how we should approach communities (they invite us), what artifacts or processes constitute heritable knowledge, and how we should present this knowledge. The document defines heritable knowledge as relating to a continually used item or process that is adapted to an environment or circumstance. Furthermore, heritable knowledge is culturally present through mediums like dance or painting, is valuable to the community, and belongs to not one individual, but the group as a whole. The Heritable Knowledge Framework then tells us what we can do with the knowledge we acquire. With all of our documents we want to respect those who have provided us with their knowledge, honor their traditions, and adjust our actions to their expressed needs.

HIT works around the world in places like Mexico, Papua New Guinea, and Mongolia. Can you describe where exactly HIT has expanded into and why HIT works in these countries? 

We started off in Papua New Guinea. The idea for HIT came through a partnership with Theresa Arek in 2008. She is a very dedicated woman with a passion for preserving heritable knowledge. The communities we come to work with don’t use traditional property based system. We offer a way for them to be able to engage the global community. Much of our interactions are through information sharing. We want to find a way for people living in more remote areas to participate in a global community. After our initial trip in Papua New Guinea lots of different communities started asking us to come. Papua New Guinea, now in its 4th iteration, is our most expansive and developed program. In 2010, we expanded and made partners and contacts in Mongolia and Ecuador. We want to continue to go to many places and build up HIT. In the very near future, we’ll be starting to send groups to Nepal, Mexico, and Peru with partnerships we have already formed.

What kind of groups and communities does HIT work with and why? 

We only go to places we have been invited. We don’t seek out communities. They get in contact with us. Typically we work in some of the most remote communities. They hear of us just through word of mouth. We have so many contacts in the countries we work in. We also have a number of people who work with us as part of our internship program. Thus far, we have worked with an incredible group of university interns, between three and five each year. Working with us gives these students rich experiences with engaging others, especially in situations that are new and perhaps uncomfortable to them. For the communities that we work with, on the other hand, we adapt business strategies that adhere to their values. We work closely with them and increase their connection to the global world. In Mongolia, for example, we provide resources about nomadic communities to the Mongolian government. That way the government can be more familiar with the lives of some of their more remote constituencies.

HIT’s goals are to encourage economic empowerment and community engagement. How does the organization do this?

The heritable knowledge we collect enters into a trust document. Each entry describes the object or process and suggests possible areas of utilization. Many times items and processes have a lot of characteristics that could be adapted for use in other technological arenas. These suggested aligned (similar market) or non-aligned (different market) areas of utilization are presented in a section of the document we refer to as Global Market Consequence. The list of possible markets is endless. The suggestions found in this section are merely a cross-section of possible partnerships. With HIT all information is held under contract law. There’s a set of agreements that people using the information we post subscribe to in order to use it. We have an open flow of values. And people who use HIT have to contribute back to those who shared their heritable knowledge, whether through economic engagements, acknowledgements of credit, or some other forms of reciprocity. HIT works to show that this knowledge is valuable.

What kind of success has HIT had in communities around the world, particularly relevant to food and agriculture?

Our main successes are in regards to food and agriculture. The majority of places that we go are agricultural communities. We have brought a lot of awareness to how communities grow and sustain themselves on various corps and agricultural methods. Different places do agriculture in different ways and our program brings to light these different manifestations. Each community that we go to or spend time in gets a copy of our report afterwards. It is interesting for them to see how other communities do agriculture and this creates a huge database of information sharing. They can then use this knowledge and apply it to problems that they may face.

What future do you imagine for HIT. Additionally, how can governments and other large decision making bodies include heritable knowledge and support (as well as involve!) the indigenous groups that are upholding it?

HIT is relatively new and not that well known. I would like to see it grow. I want to see it expand as a program framework that can be adopted by people anywhere in the world. HIT can also be used to address world issues in ways that people haven’t thought about before. It sheds so much light into areas that are not well known. I see HIT being this huge network that assists communities in helping themselves solve their own problems. So far Mongolia is the best example of a government using HIT. Our work with heritable knowledge helps the Mongolian government see how certain communities have their own unique set of problems and, furthermore, the ways these communities address them. HIT also allows governments to see where communities may need a little bit of extra help and support.

Molly Redfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

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