Dr. Yacin Bahi, Terraformation’s VP of Research and Development (R&D) and Technology, has always had his eye on the future. The longtime entrepreneur has spent his 25-year career leveraging technology to solve problems across a diversity of fields, from genetic diagnostics to chip design. Now he’s using his experience to address the most urgent issue yet: climate change.
Yacin joined Terraformation in June of 2020 to define the company’s technology strategy. Following the core principles of scalable tech, Yacin’s R&D roadmap centers on developing open-source solutions to drive collaboration across forestry organizations around the globe. “We’re not going to be planting a trillion trees by ourselves,” he says. “We need to enable and empower other people to do it, and to do it in a sustainable way.”
The biggest challenge isn’t the tech itself, but rather bridging the gap between two fields that sometimes consider themselves at odds: forestry and technology.
Prior to joining Terraformation, Yacin developed tech solutions to improve accuracy and speed in a number of fields. As Chief Technology Officer at SAIFE, he used AI tools to make work environments safer. Prior to that, Yacin founded a consulting company and developed software for leading Silicon Valley companies like Apple, as well as technologies in industries like solar, entertainment, and genetics. He holds several US patents for other software tools, including an interactive venue map system used in Microsoft's Bing search engine.
His appreciation for the value of natural resources developed early. Growing up in Tunisia, he often worked on his family’s farm, where he learned to plant trees. He would rely on tanks filled with groundwater and barrels bought from the back of donkey carriages to irrigate the plants. “Being in a country where desertification was already an issue made me very aware of the importance and scarcity of water,” he says. With ecosystems threatened worldwide, the stakes feel higher than ever: “I have three daughters, and living in a world where they can enjoy the beauty of the world, as we did, is on my mind.”
Bahi received his PhD in Applied Mathematics and Parallel Computing from Université Pierre et Marie Curie and École Polytechnique in Paris. He specializes in scalable technology systems, which are key to Terraformation’s work. “The main challenge remains the scaling up: scaling up existing technology, existing processes, and finding ways to parallelize and distribute the reforestation effort worldwide,” he says. “A centralized approach won’t work. We have to actually enable and empower organizations and individuals all over the world.”
From his experience founding multiple startups, Yacin is familiar with the complexities of growing a new company and launching products. Yet at Terraformation, “what makes our job more difficult is the urgency and the pressure,” he says. “It’s not just a product that won’t get on the market. It’s much more important than that.”
Yacin says the most difficult challenge on the tech side is identifying the diverse needs of restoration projects on the ground. In the Sahara, he observed agroforestry projects based on strong expertise and good business models, yet restorationists are inhibited by water shortages. “They’re fighting the advance of the Sahara every day,” he notes. “They’re very resourceful. Anything we do to help them there would have a huge impact, and they’re very open to optimizing.”
Yacin describes Terraformation’s approach by drawing an analogy to the Linux operating system. In a landscape previously limited to proprietary operating systems, “it really created and enabled new models,” he says. “It was free, it was available, and people could work with it and adapt it to their own needs.” By adopting a similar open-source model for forest restoration, Terraformation can “open up a whole ecosystem and allow us and everybody else to move faster.”
As Terraformation continues its mission to support and scale forest restoration projects worldwide, Yacin feels energized about the work ahead. “I think the challenge of our daily job is to keep this north star in mind and deliver every day.”
Dr. Yacin Bahi joined Terraformation in June 2020, and is Vice President of R&D and Tech.