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Leveraging Catholic-Affiliate Landholdings for Positive Global Environmental and Social Change

We are providing the technical and social foundation to activate the largest nongovernmental network of landholdings on the planet for good.

Photo of Molly Burhans
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Climate change and its accompanying environmental and social problems, such as environmental degradation, mass human migration, famine, poverty and disease impact communities of all political and religious persuasions and economic status throughout the world.  The effective mitigation of these problems requires innovative approaches to land-use that can rapidly scale. GoodLands was created to provide ecological master-planning information, insights and services to Catholic organizations, which comprise the largest nongovernmental network of land in the world. We equip the Catholic community to lead in the implementation of Laudato Si' by providing geospatial analysis and targeted environmental and social stewardship programs at every scale of Catholic land management. 

We realize that the scope of what needs to be achieved in the next decade to reverse the worst climate change scenarios and help Catholic communities make regenerative real estate decisions and adaptive design plans is beyond the means of any single entity -- we need a platform that can help multiple stakeholders communicate and thoughtfully plan how their land can promote environmental and social wellbeing while increasing fiscal sustainability. Our work has already generated massive amounts of location data about the global Catholic network. We are proposing to develop a GeoHub platform that will enable partnering organizations to leverage our data and communicate, plan, and exchange their own data with Catholic entities to greatly enhance each other’s critical mission-driven work around the world.

Our GeoHub provides the necessary framework to enable Catholic community users to share geographic information and collaborate on data development, which can avoid the costly, error-prone duplication of datasets across organizations and make their programs more effective and efficient. Allowing our partners to leverage the data we collect and share their own data will potentially save the global Catholic community billions of dollars each year. To make this possible, we will develop the second phase of our GeoHub. The first phase of this was a Geoportal, internally developed for GoodLands’ operations (see demo in video below).

At the heart of the GeoHub is cloud-based geographic information systems technology that provides organizations with secure systems of records for storing their location information that they can update and share as they see fit. What makes the platform work for communities are systems of engagement that provide context for platform users for intra-organization applications and for inter-organization use as a way to promote collaboration and smarter planning decisions. The GeoHub allows organizations to focus less on analysis and more on their mission-oriented goals, and it allows GoodLands to multiply the positive impact of its land-based data. Combined with community-driven design, the land-based data drives our land-use planning efforts.

The Catholic Church and its affiliated organizations comprise the largest nongovernmental network of landholdings and facilities in the world. Consequently, the potential impact of our solution to problems related to ecosystems degradation and threats to community health from poverty, disease and other factors is profound. We are driven by Pope Francis’ vision in Ladato Si' calling for efforts to promote conservation and sustainability, and avoid participation in the "throw-away culture." The scale and scope of Church affiliated properties would enable our efforts to make a major contribution to combating the effects of environmental degradation. A Church network focused on sustainable environmental practices could become one of the largest global networks of its kind, on par with Catholic healthcare, aid, and education networks. The geographic perspective provided by mapping technology is necessary to make this a reality.

We have laid the foundation for our GeoHub with a world-class team of collaborators that includes systems architects and engineers who have developed major spatial data infrastructures (SDI), including the City of Los Angeles’ GeoHub, the European Union’s INSPIRE SDI, and the GeoSUR SDI for the Latin American Development Bank. During our Phase 1 development we established a partnership with Esri, the global leader in geospatial technology, to launch the Catholic Geographic System (TechCrunch, Nov. 2016). As part of this effort, we discussed our work with leadership in the Holy See and received approval to map ecclesiastical jurisdictions globally.  To date, we have developed the first comprehensive global maps of Catholic Latin-rite ecclesiastical jurisdictions in history.  

We established contributing data partnerships with major Catholic NGOs and research centers, including the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Directory, and Catholic Hierarchy to work with their data as part of our prototype. We mapped over 33,000 Catholic-affiliated properties in the United States and collaborated with a team that oversees nation-wide green-infrastructure mapping to analyze how Catholic properties in the USCCB contribute to green infrastructure. We also tested our mapping infrastructure with a variety of other datasets relevant to operations in Catholic communities to ensure that our architecture and platform design would work for programs from a wide variety of sectors.

During Phase 1 we carefully curated what is likely the largest geodatabase of Catholic information in the world. Our maps were displayed in Casina Pio IV at the Vatican and our mapping has received expressions of interest from various groups in the Roman Curia, from Catholic NGOs, and from multi-national organizations around the world. We have laid the technical foundation and established the social connections needed to move our efforts forward. with sufficient financial support, we can build the front-end of our technology to meet existing demand for these services and connect even more platform partners to each other to accomplish measurable progress in improving the state of the planet and prosperity around the world.

Explain your idea

Organizations and programs are characterized by their end goals and outputs - for example, environmental stewardship, healthcare, and housing are sectors defined by their purpose. These organizations are not defined by their locations, although the problems they seek to ameliorate are spatially related. Often, decisions made by organizations in separate sectors lose sight of the interconnected nature of the problems they address. The key concept underlying GoodLands’ GeoHub is that by bringing organizations from all sectors together, we can help these organizations to better understand complex, multi-faceted problems in a given geographic area and to collaborate on effective systemic solutions.

GoodLand’s GeoHub enables participating organizations to design and model the social, economic and environmental impacts of their programs in a way that balances the different priories of stakeholders in a given geographic area. With the support of the GHR Foundation, our partners at Esri, Amazon, and Weil, we plan to take our work to the next stage of development and make the front-end components of the GeoHub operational for a select group of Catholic organizations, so that they may begin to use our data and to share their data with others. This will initially involve designing and developing the public-facing components of the platform and implementing our previously developed plans for back-end infrastructure, which will take approximately seven months and $218,000. Subsequently, we plan to complete a high-profile demonstration project over five months that uses GIS mapping to help Catholic leadership leverage geographic information for positive change. We are currently exploring a partnership with the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. We have spent the past year and a half carefully cultivating relationships with Catholic clerical and NGO leaders and working with an initiative connected to the Vincentian religious family. We are also affiliated with the recently established Vatican Arts and Technology Council. This provides us with multiple potential opportunities for a demonstration project, all of which have detailed plans, budgets ($210,000 max.) and social support.

The GeoHub uses a secure cloud-based GIS platform built on existing technologies, including the Esri ecosystem of products, Amazon services, open-source mapping, and an easy to use platform website that ties together people, processes, communication, and technology.

Our GeoHub system is fiscally feasible. Esri donated to us at negligible cost a mapping system comparable to the mapping system they provide to the entire United Nations. Critical datasets will be openly available to pre-screened organizations on the platform for a sliding subscription fee. Partner organizations will be able to make their data freely available or through lease, thus creating incentives to join and share information while providing a revenue stream to cover operational costs.

Who Benefits?

The GeoHub will help participating Catholic organizations to realize enormous cost savings and to increase program effectiveness and efficiency. Around the world, 1.28 billion Catholics stand to benefit from pastoral planning that makes basic operations relevant to their location. More than 700,000 sisters could benefit from a system that helps them to make real estate decisions aligned with their mission and fiscal needs. Catholic parishes, missions, schools, hospitals, and orphanages stand to benefit from more effectively directed resources and programs.

In addition to reducing data collection redundancy and promoting interoperability across sectors, the GeoHub has the potential to transform land management for the largest nongovernmental network of landholdings in the world, which will be critical to effectively address climate change. The GeoHub will benefit all people by supporting programs that foster stronger communities and a healthier environment for the entire planet.

How is your idea unique?

Our GeoHub provides a simple, actionable way for Catholic organizations to communicate and collaborate on programs. We are not familiar with any similar initiatives in the Catholic community. Our proposed infrastructure closely resembles the Los Angeles GeoHub, which brings city departments together to more effectively plan and address thematic issues, such crime, road conditions, and neighborhood cleanliness. A unique advantage of the GoodLands GeoHub is the technology and staff resources donated to us by Esri and other organizations. Having worked with Esri for over half a year means that we are familiar with their team, and that they are familiar with this project and are ready to help us move forward. We have very strong networks within Catholic leadership, which might be almost impossible for other groups to duplicate. A number of Catholic organizations are interested in becoming a part of our beta GeoHub. Advantageously, our bold vision is grounded by a sustainable revenue model.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Tell us more about you

GoodLands is currently directed by Molly Burhans, who is the only full time staff member. She manages a large network of enthusiastic, talented part-time volunteers and donated staff around the world along with several part-time paid consultants. Molly’s first foray into business development was as a co-founder of Gro-Op, a worker-owned cooperative that sells fresh, organic, microgreens and fish in Western New York. She holds a Masters of Science in Ecological Design from the Conway School and an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Canisius College.

GoodLands has an active advisory board that includes Fr. Robert Maloney, the 23rd Superior General of the Congregation of Mission; Dr. Stephen Ervin, Associate Dean of Technology at the Harvard School of Design; Rosanne Haggerty, MacArthur Foundation Fellow, NPO CEO and global leader in using design-thinking to address homelessness; Dana Tomlin, GIS expert, Adjunct Professor Yale University School of Forestry and Professor of Landscape Architecture UPenn, where he founded the school’s cartography lab; Paul Hellmund, sustainability expert and former Director of the Conway School; Stephen Johnston, Vice President of the North American Land Trust.

GoodLands is affiliated with the Vatican Arts and Technology Council, has provided a map to the Holy See’s Secretariat of Communications and has exhibited maps at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. It has contributing data partnership and informal partnership agreements with Catholic Relief Services, Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Catholic Climate Covenant, Global Catholic Climate Movement, St. Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center, Catholic Directory,, Sustainable Endowments Institute and Esri. GoodLands legal support is provided by Weil and we are in the process of exploring a partnership with Amazon. We are also exploring a partnership with the Leadership Roundtable for Church Management, among other groups. Before mapping and environmental planning efforts were undertaken by GoodLands, Molly sought approval for global mapping from ecclesiastical leadership, particularly from individuals in the office of the Holy See Secretary of State. Individuals in the Roman Curia and Catholic NGOs around the world have expressed interest in the mapping services we can offer once we reach our initial operating capacity.

GoodLands fiscal funding (as opposed to in-kind donations) has come from the Dangermonds (owners of Esri; $25,000), WRG Foundation ($20,000), MRG Foundation (also affiliated with the Rauenhorst family, $5,000), Rosanne Haggerty ($6,000), Jill Ker Conway ($3,000), and Yale St. Thomas More Center ($2,000). Housing for Molly has been donated.

Molly is working with to release Catholic Jurisdiction maps in the summer of 2017 as well as an atlas. An executive administrator and project manager are entering a trial phase at Goodlands later this month.

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we are a formal initiative through an accelerator, hub, or other entity.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

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From my standpoint as a person with a moderate scientific background and education, I believe if you are going to address global problems you need an understanding of the global environment. Often ideas that have specific impact on one geographic area have a different or even opposite effect on another. As I understand it, GoodLands GeoHub is based on a current, running project which would allow stakeholders to obtain answers and information about proposed solutions and their effect on specific and global geographic areas in real time, from a unique source and at a financially beneficial rate. To be able to transfer difficult to obtain funding from researching/planning a project to actual implementation of the project is critical to organizations who are often laden with good ideas yet burdened with underfunding or minimal funding. GoodLand GeoHub seems like a perfect partner for these organizations with its ready built technology and global database.