The Word Forest Organisation is a project I came across recently that I rather like. It’s a tree planting charity with a neat funding premise behind it: a writing competition.
Writers pay a £5 fee to enter the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize, with winners sharing a prize pool of £3,000. But entrants also get a tree – one for every entry, with a certificate showing its GPS location in Bore, Kenya. The competition entry fees also paid for a new classroom at a nearby primary school.
The competition first ran in 2014, and it’s been growing. It’s now built five classrooms and planted a forest of 10,000 trees over 71 acres. The trees will in time provide food and timber, lock away CO2, and help to fight drought and erosion as the forest expands.
One of the clever things about the project is that weaves together environmental and social action. Often tree planting schemes hatched on the other side of the world fail because there’s no provision for nurturing and caring for the trees, and they just die. In this case the trees are planted and cared for by the school. The students take real pride in their forestry skills, and the school has suggested a nearby area of scrubland for a second word forest.
The competition has now generated enough work to evolve into a charity in its own right, which is where the Word Forest Organisation comes in. With the broader organisation come a host of other ways to get involved besides the literary prize. Among my favourites is the idea of a ‘wedding forest‘, pioneered by the founders of the organisation, Tracey and Simon West. When they got married they asked their guests to give them a forest instead of presents. It’s in Bore too, next to the Word Forest.