Naku was born of the dreams of the Sápara people, as a way to maintain their cultural and ecological heritage by sharing their wisdom with the global community.

They seek to establish a community-based enterprise to preserve and strengthen their ancestral knowledge as a basis for sustainable economic development. By showing the world the immense healing power held by the Sápara and their way of life, they will demonstrate the importance of preserving the many cultures within the Amazon basin and the priceless ecosystems they inhabit.

The Naku Vision

The vision of the Sápara is to create a spiritual retreat and healing center where people from all over the world can come to experience and learn about the rainforest, its plants, and its people. This unique business model is based upon the non-extractive use of their biological and cultural resources to provide opportunities for relaxation, traditional healing, and an opportunity to connect with the ancient Sápara people. 

Primary Goals & Objectives

The primary goal of Naku is to establish a sustainable community-based enterprise that enables Sápara communities to create new livelihood opportunities that preserve and strengthen their ecological and cultural heritage. In order to be a sustainable endeavor, it has been a guiding principle that the goals and priorities of Naku are determined explicitly by the Sápara themselves, and that planning and execution are carried out in a participatory and inclusive manner.

  • Goal 1: Strengthen and share Sápara culture and ancestral knowledge
  • Goal 2: Protect the biodiversity and the natural resources of the rainforest
  • Goal 3: Generate a new, sustainable source of income for their community
  • Goal 4: Strengthen the community's governance and management capacity on behalf of the people and their ancestral spirits 
  • Goal 5: Provide for their children, and for future generations

Project Background

With only 575 Sápara left on Earth, the threat of cultural assimilation and environmental destruction from extractive industries weighs heavily upon the population.  To date, the Sápara have been successful in organizing themselves and drawing the support of national and international businesses and NGOs. The Sápara have already begun the process of delineating and establishing the Kamunkui Ecological Reserve and have hosted over 40 visitors in 2014. As one of the NGOs working on the project, Runa Foundation is supporting the work of the community by acting as the fiscal sponsor. Runa Foundation is a US-based 501c3 organization, and all donations are tax deductible in the US.

Community-Based Enterprise Model

The Naku business model, developed by the Sápara people in collaboration with Runa Foundation’s team of development experts, is based upon the idea of mobilizing existing community resources to develop sustainable economic activities. In this development model, the initial goals are to embed the project within a network of support while building local capacity to manage the business. Traditional healing, in a community-based tourism framework, will be the primary economic activities during the initial phases, providing a dynamic and sustainable funding mechanism while logistical and physical infrastructure is developed for business expansion.

Market Placement

Naku is looking to capitalize on a number of different trends in the international market. A growing number of travelers are looking for a more meaningful experience that enables a deeper, more personal and spiritual journey than traditional tourism. Globally, there is a rapidly increasing demand for products and services based on the ethos of holistic living. This trend is evident in the medical tourism industry, with healing centers and spiritual retreats becoming a quickly growing segment in the tourism market.  Likewise, with increasing urban pressures and ailments, people are turning to new approaches for finding inner harmony and holistic health in the modern world. The growth of complementary and holistic medicine in recent years demonstrates how consumers are looking to ancient & exotic products, practices, and lifestyles to provide solutions to modern health problems. The Amazon is the single largest living pharmacy left in the world, yet it is estimated that only 5-15% of approximately 750,000 species of plants have been screened for compounds that have the potential to become therapeutic drugs. Clearly there is vast healing potential and knowledge within this unique ecosystem and the Sápara people, which can provide solutions and healing to the external world.

Market Research & Competition

Naku will capitalize on these trends by offering a unique combination of cultural and forest immersion, with alternative healing practices, based upon the Sápara’s traditional knowledge and livelihoods. Currently, no other enterprise exists which combines these two unique elements. This allows Naku to provide a one of a kind experience, and be well-placed to discover new treatments and medicines that showcase the value of the Amazon Rainforest and the knowledge of its people about how to use its resources sustainably.

Organizational Structure & Project Management

Naku’s organizational structure is based primarily within the Sápara community, with community members as the sole business owners. To ensure quality, the Naku management structure will initially be a hybrid including skilled professionals and talented local professionals, with strong skills transfer goals. Due to lack of existing start-up capital in this remote region in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Sápara have enlisted the help of Runa Foundation and other public and non-profit organizations to obtain the investments needed for business development. Through providing financial support, expertise, and capacity building in the early stages, the business management activities will gradually be transferred into the hands of community members. This model requires high levels of initial support and external investments, which will be phased out over time as the business expands and becomes financially sustainable. 


Deep in the Amazon rainforest, the Sápara people have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years. Over the course of centuries, they have developed extensive knowledge of this precious ecosystem and its vast flora and fauna. With the expansion of modern society, these communities are increasingly under threat from development and extractive industries, bringing accelerated rates of deforestation and contamination into the ancestral lands on which these people depend for their survival. 

The Sápara Nation, declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, is one of the Amazon’s few remaining peoples who retain this rapidly disappearing knowledge. There are only approximately 575 Sápara people found in the Amazon and their tremendous knowledge is threatened by cultural assimilation and deforestation. As holders of vast ancestral wisdom, Sápara leaders have come forward with a vision of sharing this knowledge with the world at a time when it is desperately needed. From this vision, the Naku project was born.

  • Objective 1: Create a retreat and healing center for people from all over the world to come and engage with the Sápara, their incredible healing power, and connection to nature and community.

The Naku Center will provide a beautiful setting for people seeking alternative forms of holistic healing based in the Sápara’s millennia old ancestral practices. Naku will integrate indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants and healing, dream work, and nature immersion to harmonize the mind, body, and spirit

  • Objective 2: Develop alternative pathways to sustainable development for the Sápara people.

Through the establishment of a community based enterprise and the Naku healing center, the Sápara will have an alternative to extractive activities for income generation. Utilizing the healing center as a dynamic funding mechanism, the Sápara will be able to use their resources sustainably and simultaneously demonstrate the myriad uses and real value of Amazonian biodiversity. By showing the world the value of the Amazon and the vast indigenous knowledge held there, we hope to provide the global community the impetus to protect and preserve the greater Amazon basin and the people that live there.  

  • Objective 3: Preserve one million acres of pristine rainforest habitat

The Naku retreat will be nestled into the pristine Ecuadorian rainforest, providing visitors the opportunity to live in isolated harmony with their natural surroundings as the Sápara have done for centuries. In order to maintain the Rainforest for the survival of the Sápara, their way of life, and the long term success of the Naku healing center, an ecological reserve will be established. The sustainable management of the Sápara territory will enable the protection of valuable medicinal species as well as provide a buffer against encroaching extractive pressures and maintain the authentic rainforest experience for guests and local communities alike.