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Ecosystem Restoration in the Negev Desert

With Bedouin community partners, we will restore 3,000 acres of degraded dryland to productivity for economic gain in Israel's Negev Desert.

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

This User Experience Map was created through discussions with current members of the project's Design Team, including local Bedouin herders, civic leaders and others. It is important to keep in mind that for this UEM we have chosen to model the experience of only one type of community member—a male herder—but that there are roles for many others in the community, especially women and youth: cheese-makers, beekeepers, traditional healers, tourist guides, administrative professionals, and more.

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

We will return 3,000 acres of desertified Negev lands to productivity in partnership with the Bedouin community, providing them with tools to develop enterprises tied to the land restoration.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

The Sustainability Laboratory. We prototype and demonstrate innovative approaches to sustainability.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

We launched Project Wadi Attir on 100 acres in 2008. Everything we discuss in our proposal has been successfully prototyped on the project site—the eco-restoration, enterprise development, & community education & training—but at a fraction of the size necessary for this 3,000 acre scale up.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

The Bedouin, an indigenous group numbering 200,000, are trapped between the ancient and modern world and marginalized from Israeli life. The land they rely on is degraded. They have few skills to participate in the economy, and they have poor relations with the Israeli government & civil society.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Year 1: Planning Form Design Team Define site selection criteria & identify location Define project scope & budget Determine obstacles & success metrics Draft implementation plan Year 2: Eco-Restoration & Capacity Building Install low-impact anti-erosion earth mounds Transfer trees from greenhouse to project site Begin community professional development trainings Expand educational programs Year 3: Business Dev Form economic co-op Develop business plans Launch enterprises

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

The project will be managed by a Design Team, formed from members of the community, both Bedouin and Jewish, reps from The Sustainability Laboratory and the Hura Municipal Council (a Bedouin township), civic leaders from business and government, and researchers from Ben-Gurion University.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Program/Product/Service Design

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Iterate or improve on my product/service

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

We collect scores of metrics for everything from soil quality & # of trees planted, to # & diversity of visitors, to hours of education & training delivered, to earned revenues & # of products created & sold. While these metrics provide a reliable snapshot of our progress, we'd like to strengthen our ability to measure results by moving beyond numbers–engaging in frequent interviews with beneficiaries to measure qualitative, not just quantitative, success in all our initiatives.

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

We realized that because of the multi-year gap between engaging herder stakeholders & being able to provide restored grazing land, we have to create a sense of value & belonging in the project in the intervening years by providing training, education & coop membership. This insures that the herders profits, expertise, & relationships improve & they don't disappear during the land's transformation.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

Because this is experimental, we do not yet know the sustainable carrying capacity of the restored land, not just in terms of grazing land for herds, but more generally. We will have to ensure that we are not promising opportunity for more of the community than the land itself can sustain. As discussed below, we'll have to ensure that our impacts ripple outwards beyond the most direct participants in the project, creating value for the broader community in a variety of far-reaching ways.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

You have posed excellent questions which we believe understand the challenges of our initiative. Luckily, we believe we have addressed many of these issues in the design of Project Wadi Attir. The feedback noted a concern that the project will privilege some members of the community while excluding others, and also that members of the community will be only “stewards” of the land, excluded from its direction and management. We recognize that the Bedouin community is very complex, made up of many different tribes that are not always in harmony, and also that we cannot engage every individual directly. We have tried to address this complexity on a small scale through the creation of a representational Design Team: the group of stakeholders responsible for directing the project, made up primarily of Bedouin community members—men and women, representing different tribes and different segments of the community—as well as academics and researchers, members of local and national government, and others. A similar body, spearheaded by The Lab, will be responsible for all aspects of the proposed project’s design and implementation, including the procurement of the land. The team will be dedicated expressly to this scale-up and will involve new stakeholders than those at PWA. As such, it will have the ability to adapt the management structure to fulfill its needs, while taking pressure off of PWA. Through our experience with PWA, we believe that this body can create a protected environment, akin to a greenhouse, that reflects the diversity of the community, and wherein members are building together towards a common goal, outlined in a dedicated Declaration of Principles. Though many details regarding land procurement are still to be defined, two things are certain: the Land Authority is amenable, and the community, in the form of the representational Design Team, will be the body responsible for all aspects of land negotiations and governance. As with PWA, we assume that the land itself will remain under public ownership and will be leased to the project for the long-term (50 years or more). Due to the continually shifting political circumstances in the Negev and the dwindling availability of contiguous land areas, it is very important to secure a commitment from the Land Authority for the total 3,000 acres at the outset. That said, your observation is correct that both the community and the land need time to develop, and that the process will necessarily be modular! The project plan, as defined by the Design Team, will define major development steps accordingly, in a way that’s sensitive to the needs of the community and realistic about scale-up processes. Ultimately, Bedouin communities that have the closest proximity to the land that is procured will have the greatest direct involvement with it. That said, we’ve learned from PWA that the project has rings of positive impact. Even though PWA only directly employs 30 community members, tens of thousands of students from nearly every school in the area use the project as a living laboratory, supplementing their underserved school system’s science curricula. Similarly, hundreds of community members have attended training sessions on the project site, supplementing traditional knowledge of dairy production and herding with modern advancements. The impact at the broadest level has been undeniable: the improved relationship of government to the community as a whole allows for more development projects in the Bedouin sector. The sense of pride that comes from having local Bedouin products in stores, and the value of role modeling, especially for girls who look up to the female leadership in the project, will have immeasurable affects in the years to come. We believe this scale up will create an anchor institution in the Bedouin community, directly engaging a much wider swath of the community and having an even greater rippling impact on the community as a whole. Having worked in the community for nearly a decade, we intend to be deliberate about both representation and broad value-creation. We want to reiterate that female empowerment is a touchstone of our approach. Bedouin culture is highly segregated and hierarchical, and our project is one of the few places in the Bedouin sector where women serve in leadership roles alongside men. Of 30 on the project team, half are Bedouin women and we intend to continue this trend when we form our Design Team. We are fully aware that this is a long-term project with many complex factors. We believe that much of the obstacles will be surmounted through our approach itself. We are agile, not afraid to take risks and fail, as we know that experimentation is the only way to make real change. We are flexible, of the community, and responsive to its broader needs. And our signature approach is based in principles of sustainability and systems thinking (

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

The main changes have to do with a more detailed delineation of the planning process and approach, as well as the management of the project itself. We are underlining the process of creating the Design Team, a stakeholder body made up primarily of Bedouin community members—men and women, representing different tribes and different segments of the community—as well as academics and researchers, members of local and national government, and others. This body, spearheaded by The Lab, will be responsible for all aspects of the project’s design and implementation, including the procurement of the land. Wherever possible, we have also added videos, links to further information about our overall approach, as well as evidence of our community-building process, like our Declaration of Principles (

Most areas of Israel's Negev Desert are profoundly degraded, characterized by poor soil quality, high soil erosion, lack of perennial plants and trees, and ongoing deterioration due to continuous soil tilling and overgrazing. Meanwhile, the Bedouin community who makes up a significant population in the Negev, have suffered profoundly from transition to modern life, the degradation of the surrounding ecosystem, and marginalization from Israeli society and government. The community has a high rate of unemployment, lack of access to service and infrastructure, and a tense relationship with authorities over land rights.

In 2008, we launched a model sustainable development project in the Negev called Project Wadi Attir, in partnership with the Hura Municipal Council, a local Bedouin township, and members of the community, wherein a new generation of Bedouin leaders from different tribes, men and women working side-by-side, committed themselves to a shared vision and a powerful set of guiding sustainability principles, intending to focus on systemic change as opposed to addressing the symptoms with issue-specific initiatives. The resulting project, an experimental, sustainable farm and education hub, was launched on 100-acres of severely degraded drylands. It implemented a strategy for expanding collaboration, employment, and economic opportunity that leverages Bedouin entrepreneurial spirit, cultural traditions and agricultural experience with modern science and cutting edge green technologies. 

The core of the project includes an organic farming enterprise involving animal husbandry and the production of dairy products; cultivation of medicinal plants and the development of a related line of health products; and the reintroduction of nutritious, indigenous vegetables to common use. The project also includes a Visitor, Training and Education Center with a focus on ecology, sustainability innovation, and entrepreneurship. The project site will soon be completely supported by an integrated infrastructure of green technologies, including solar energy and bio-gas production; the production of compost from organic waste; advanced irrigation management; wastewater treatment and recycling; and a soil enhancement and ecosystem restoration program.

It is for the latter initiative, the Ecosystem Restoration Initiaitve, that we now seek funding for a significant scale-up of activities, though this expansion will also involve many of the other economic, educational and social activities described above. Based on the results of multi-year, interdisciplinary research led by our close associate, Dr. Stefan Leu, a researcher at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, our Ecosystem Restoration Initiative has also demonstrated rapid and effective rehabilitation methods onsite. (Methods and results are outlined on the project’s dedicated Ecosystem Restoration educational website.) 

We now plan to replicate and modularly scale up our ecosystem restoration approach on an area of approximately 3,000 acres, applying similar methods and technologies, specifically rangeland restoration and sustainable agroforestry techniques using local and native plant species; low interference watershed protection measures; and rain harvesting. 

Through the creation of a representational Design Team, the group of stakeholders responsible for directing the project, Bedouin community members—men and women, representing different tribes and different segments of the community—as well as academics and researchers, members of local and national government, and others will be responsible for all aspects of the project’s design and implementation, including the procurement of the land. As with Project Wadi Attir, the local Bedouin community will also be the primary stewards of this land, and the rehabilitation of the land itself will provide major benefits to the community in the form of enhanced agricultural productivity, a framework for cultural preservation, and opportunities for economic development and entrepreneurship in the form of high-quality, organic product development and ecotourism programming. The scale-up will be significant enough to create the opportunity for other communities in the Negev to actively participate in the process. This will improve relations with Israeli society as well as with the outside world by creating myriad opportunities for encounter and shared education, by bringing resources to the Bedouin community itself and reducing social and economic societal stressors, and by putting the Bedouin community at the forefront of sustainability innovation in the Negev. Parallel to these community benefits are also restored biodiversity and a significant contribution to the mitigation of issues related to climate change by restoring soil quality and carbon, and enhancing biomass cover to provide for significant carbon sequestration.

We believe that Project Wadi Attir has demonstrated valuable proof-of-concept, and that scaling up from 100 acres to 3,000 will have an untold multiplier effect. Not only have we demonstrated a very effective approach to reversing desertification and restoring productivity to drylands, but the process of developing the project has already completely redefined what can be achieved in the Bedouin sector, dissolving long held stereotypes by achieving results. It has grown to represent a sizable investment in the Bedouin sector, bringing together members of the Bedouin community, local NGOs, kibbutzim, academic institutions, professional organizations, government ministries and private sector companies to forge an unusually pluralistic partnership.

In record time, the project team navigated government bureaucracy to secure 100 acres of land from the Israeli Land Authority, as well as upwards of $3million in matching funds, effectively covering half the project's capital costs. After recent meetings with the Israeli Land Authority, we have received an enthusiastic commitment from them to help us secure access to 3,000 acres for our ecosystem restoration scale-up. This in itself is almost unheard of, particularly in light of the economically dire and politically polarized atmosphere in the Bedouin sector, and the conventional wisdom that said a project like this was simply impossible. Though we plan to approach this land and the accompanying community development process modularly, the opportunity to seize this large parcel of land all at once is one that cannot be overlooked.

Thank you for considering our proposal. A summation of the objectives of our scaled-up Ecosystem Restoration Initiative in terms of planet, prosperity and peace are offered below:


  • Restoring degraded land to productive farmland for sustainable, largely rain-fed farming, grazing and agroforestry
  • Implementing soil conservation and restoration, erosion control, and watershed protection
  • Improving rangeland through silvipasture and agroforestry
  • Restoring and maintaining nutrient and soil organic matter (SOM) pools and biological productivity
  • Restoring natural ecosystems on part of the Negev’s remaining marginal lands
  • Reintroducing locally extinct plant and animal species
  • Protecting natural habitats and biodiversity hotspots for overall enhancement of flora and fauna
  • Contributing to the mitigation of climate change-related issues by achieving carbon sequestration into soil and biomass of 3 – 6 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare, per year
  • Providing a model for an effective low-cost, low-impact approach to combatting desertification that will be applicable in the region as well as in desertified drylands worldwide


  • Establishing the conditions for the production of honey, medicinal plants, oils and resins, biomaterials, and renewable fuels 
  • Building capacity in the Bedouin community to produce and sell high-quality, organic products produced onsite, many of them based on traditional methods and recipes, thereby providing large-scale opportunities for employment, especially for women and youth
  • Developing infrastructure for recreation, ecotourism, camping, hiking, and naturalism and building capacity in the Bedouin community to serve as eco-tourism rangers and guides


  • Changing the community’s marginalized image in the eyes of Israeli society and cultivating and strengthening fruitful partnerships with Israeli Government and civil society
  • Easing the impoverished conditions of the community, thereby reducing crime and government reliance, and improving relations with other members of Israeli society
  • Becoming a hub for "shared society" encounters, using educational programming and workshops to bring together Jewish and Bedouin students and professionals
  • Strengthening the foundations for coexistence between Arab and Jewish citizens of the country

Explain your idea

Most areas of Israel's Negev Desert are profoundly degraded, characterized by poor soil quality, high soil erosion, lack of perennial plants and trees, and ongoing deterioration due to continuous soil tilling and overgrazing. Meanwhile, the Bedouin community who makes up a significant population in the Negev, have suffered profoundly from transition to modern life, the degradation of the surrounding ecosystem, and marginalization from Israeli society. Based on a wildly successful pilot on roughly 100 acres called Project Wadi Attir (, we are now looking to gradually scale up our ecosystem restoration and anti-desertification efforts to 3,000 acres, using proven, low-cost, low-intervention techniques to restore soil fertility, capture rainwater, prevent erosion, and enhance biodiversity. As in Project Wadi Attir, which would serve as a headquarters for this scale-up, the Bedouin community would manage this land and would be the beneficiaries of its return to productivity. The community holds a great deal of wisdom about living sustainably in the desert--including healing with medicinal herbs; natural farming methods with heirloom, desert-hardy vegetables; beekeeping; herding and dairy production; and more--and this wisdom is currently in danger of being lost. The project empowers a new generation of Bedouin leaders to preserve and share this knowledge, through education and socially-responsible entrepreneurship. When we designed Project Wadi Attir with the Hura Municipal Council and members of the Bedouin community, we relied on our signature approach to sustainability, including the integration of what we consider the five core principles of sustainability: material, economic, social, ecological and spiritual. This insured that we were not undertaking issue-specific solutions to problems, but designing a holistic response that would address the underlying systemic problems as opposed to its symptoms. Project Wadi Attir has provided proof-of-concept in demonstrating our innovative approach to reversing desertification & restoring severely degraded dryland. This has opened the door for other innovations: building capacity in the Bedouin community, pioneering desert-specific "green" technologies, hiring Bedouin women in leadership roles, promoting social entrepreneurship, becoming a key educational resource for local underserved schools, improving relations between the Bedouin community and Israeli society, and much more. Modularly scaling up from 100 acres to 3,000 will have a multiplier affect on these impacts, with the potential to be a game-changer in the ecological, economic and social health of the region, while also exporting our proven, low-cost process and tools to similar desert regions worldwide. This helps us address three vexing issues at once: desertification regionally and worldwide; poverty and cultural erasure in modernizing indigenous societies; and Arab-Jewish relations in Israel.

Who Benefits?

The main beneficiaries of our project are members of the Bedouin community, who number approximately 230,000 in the Negev & who have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country (70%-80%). This scale-up would provide employment opportunities in the community, specifically to women, in agriculture as well as in product production & sales, education & ecotourism, & more. Community members not employed directly by the project can also benefit from trainings related to nutrition, home gardens, modern herding, leadership development, herbal healing, etc. The site will be a key resource for local underserved schools & perhaps the only place local students will receive a comprehensive, hands-on sustainability education. Other beneficiaries include researchers who use the site as a living laboratory, dryland researchers worldwide who benefit from documentation of our innovations, Israeli society who benefit from the wellbeing of some of its most vulnerable, & animals living onsite.

How is your idea unique?

We recognize that many are working on combatting desertification, but we believe that our project offers unique advantages: - It has already effectively demonstrated an unusually low-cost, low-impact approach to dryland ecosystem restoration with measurable impacts on soil fertility, rain harvesting, and biodiversity. The approach has been recognized by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification: - It has demonstrated a framework for the combination of the ecological piece with community development, coexistence and social cohesion, economic development, and education, benefiting a particularly vulnerable community in a volatile part of the world. - We have already built the necessary relationship with the Israeli Land Authority, who has agreed to help us procure the 3,000 acres of land--something that would otherwise be a major hurdle. We are poised for success; we just need some support!

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Tell us more about you

The project will be steered by a representational Design Team, the group of stakeholders responsible for directing the project, made up primarily of Bedouin community members—men and women, representing different tribes and different segments of the community—as well as academics and researchers, members of local and national government, and others. This body will be responsible for all aspects of the project’s design and implementation, including the procurement of the land. The formation of the Design Team will be spearheaded by The Sustainability Laboratory (, a US-based non-profit dedicated to addressing urgent sustainability challenges facing the planet by creating and demonstrating effective tools for catalyzing radical change. As aforementioned, this proposal represents a full scale-up of the Ecosystem Restoration Initiative at The Lab's flagship project in the Negev, Project Wadi Attir. Project Wadi Attir is a partnership between The Lab and the Hura Municipal Council, a local Bedouin township, as well as members of the community. The Ecosystem Restoration Initiative itself, which has thus-far been located within the project, has been led by Dr. Stefan Leu, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. While Project Wadi Attir will not be the site of this new iteration of the Ecosystem Restoration Initiative, the project will still serve as a kind of "project headquarters," and will likely host educational and community events, workshops and conferences related to the initiative. Dr. Stefan Leu and his team, from the Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University, will continue to work on combatting desertification and restoring productivity to the degraded site through innovative interventions. Members of the Bedouin community, in collaboration with other local communities, will be the main custodians and beneficiaries of this improvements to this area. They will farm and herd on the land and spearhead any associated enterprises. Though PWA will act as "headquarters," the Design Team will be dedicated expressly to this scale-up and will involve new stakeholders than those at PWA. As such, it will have the ability to adapt the management structure to fulfill its needs, it will have an independent financial and organizational structure, and will set independent goals and milestones. We have already begun conversations with the Israeli Land Authority to procure a space of nearly 3,000 acres of highly degraded drylands for our scale-up. The Land Authority and other agencies in the Israeli government will be key partners in securing access to the land.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

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Hi Arielle and Team! We’re excited to share with you feedback and questions from the BridgeBuilder team and an external set of experts. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your idea. Your idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

Based on expert career, work and experience, is this a new approach or bold way of answering the challenge question:
• It's exciting to think of a significant area of degraded desert being revived and stewarded by a community with deep connections to the place, whose way of life can flourish once again. However, transforming a successful community initiative into a much larger process with significant natural resource carries many risks, as evidenced by initiatives among indigenous communities in other parts of the world. Difficulties may include privileging some members of the community while excluding others, which can lead to conflict; increasing income for men that can increase greater inequity; and pressure on the main institution to deliver results that creates an imbalanced management structure. My hope is that this awesome proposal takes into account these risks.

Desirability and Viability of proposal:
• Given the size of the scale up from 100 to 3,000 acres, the Bedouin community's contribution and sense of ownership will be essential to the sustainability of the effort.
• It is not clear what the legal status of the 3000 acres will be. Who will own it, lease it, use it, for how many years, for what purpose, at what cost. It's also not clear whether and how the Hura Municipal Council and members of the Bedouin community will be involved in negotiations for the land, in formulating the plans for restoration, in costing the design, and implementing the project. Reference is made to 'stewardship', which implies an assigned role of taking care of resources that are owned by others. Would love more granular details on this piece.

Feasibility of proposal (is this an idea that could be brought to life?):
• This is an important initiative with great potential and significant risks in an ecologically and politically sensitive area. I am wondering if it would work better to scale up more gradually, say 300 acres at a time, in order to ensure the integrity of the restoration and the sense of ownership by the community as a whole. Just as the land needs care and attention, and a certain amount of time to restore itself, so people and communities need time and care to restore themselves.

Other questions or suggestions our experts felt would support the assessment or success of your idea:
• Implementation and continued growth will likely be difficult, given the political context, the impact of climate change, the pressures of globalization, and the demands of change, particularly for women and young people. My question is whether it's too ambitious to go from 100 to 3000 acres in one leap, and whether it would be more effective to grow more steadily to allow for organic processes of restoration for both land and community. Ensuring long-term buy-in and a sense of ownership by the community are essential, not just as stewards. How can they be involved in the negotiations for the land, in the design of the initiative, and in its ongoing management?

In case you missed it, check out this Storytelling Toolkit for inspiration for crafting strong and compelling stories: Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - June 16 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your idea on the OpenIDEO platform.
Have questions? Email us at
Looking forward to reading more!

Photo of Arielle

Thank you! These are fabulous questions and we look forward to answering them in the next round!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Arielle,

The deadline for updates is the 16 June. If you have any questions feel free to reach out.

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