Skip to content

Creating the Right Incentives for Sustainability

Archeologist and entrepreneur Larry Coben describes how he was able to spend very little money, enhance preservation and create an enormous community benefit in a Bolivian village.  

What’s the Big Idea?

Larry Coben, Executive Director of the Sustainable Preservation Initiative, recognized an opportunity for the local population that lived around an archeological site called Inca Yocta–located in the mountains about 100 miles east of Cochabamba, Bolivia, at an altitude of about 10,000 feet. Not only would foreign tourists travel to the middle of nowhere to see the Incan ruins, Coben figured, but they would pay for the privilege. The hard part was convincing the villagers his plan would work.

In order to preserve the site, Coben urged the community not to grow crops, graze cattle or play soccer there. He had a difficult time convincing them. If given enough money, Coben knew he could have preserved the archeological site without much of a problem. He would simply build “Fort Knox around it and make sure that no one gets in.” And yet, as Coben tells Big Think, “that’s hardly a good risk-reward calculus. I’d be spending a ridiculous amount of money for very little preservation and no community benefit.”

Ultimately Coben convinced the community to put up a gate at the cost $50. In the first week four tourists visited, and each payed the $10 price of admission. By the following week they had a complete return on their investment.

What’s the Significance?

As Coben muses, “I wish I could do that with all of the transactions in which I enter.” As a result, Coben formed the Sustainable Preservation Initiative to try to “change the paradigm of the way archeologists deal with communities and preserve their sites.”

Watch here:


Up Next