“A charity dollar only has one life. A social business dollar can be invested over and over again.” – Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate
Why I Believe in Social Entrepreneurship
Thank you for giving me the chance to tell you why I think social entrepreneurship is the best option for development and sustainability in Nepal. Many people over the years have encouraged me to create a 501.C3 or Nepal incorporate NGO out of TREKT Himalaya due to the popularity of Medical Trek Nepal Volunteer Adventure and its later volunteer program Teaching Trek Nepal. Sometimes I take criticism for not changing these tax classifications. However, the immediate question should be: what benefit would that create? It would just give my company a tax break, but would in no way make the program and structure any different.
Why We Do NOT Take Cash Donations
Some have said, “Well, you could take cash donations if you were an incorporated as a charity.” No thank you. Donations do not foster growth. In Nepal, the goal should be to create businesses that can scale, and provide jobs – that’s growth. Except for during the emergency of the Nepal earthquake, we have never accepted monetary donations, nor do we need them to remain sustainable. In my opinion, donation based charities are less effective and when scrutinized, not sustainable. We are coming into an age, when people want what is known in business as “the triple bottom line.” That means, the company provides value for the client, value for employee, and value for the firm. I would add another value – that of social good. And that is what we are trying to do at TREKT Himalaya.
Tourism and Volunteering Should be Immersive and Participatory
We believe in providing tourists with an immersive, participation experience that is not only fun and adventurous, but also gives them a chance to directly benefit the people of Nepal.
One industry competitor in tourism once said to me that she did not really believe in “voluntourism.” I politely agreed to disagree. My question was: Why not? Everybody wins! Tourist get to see and enjoy a place in the world the have never been (like Nepal, Peru, Ghana), and the indigenous people of that region benefit from the presence of these tourists, not just in cash or employment, but it whatever the benefits of the volunteer program are. In the case of Medical Trek Nepal, we provide healthcare and a free pharmacy to about 1000 villagers on each trek. Those are results I certainly believe in.
Having said that, we do not believe in exploitative practices such as orphanages, or poverty viewing simply for the sake of entertaining curious tourists. However, I believe in most cases, that true “voluntourism,” done as ethical, responsible participation in a culture is a benefit to the country.
Volunteer Trekking in Nepal has Unique Responsibilities
And it’s not easy… Especially not in Nepal. On each trek we have to get special permission for the district we are trekking in. And we cannot go to the same district each month. So, our trekking manager heads out about 30 days prior and not only spreads the word that Medical Trek will be in the villages (word of mouth is sometimes the only type of advertising we have in these regions), but also he has to get a medical certificate from the district. If you have ever dealt with low level government officials in a developing country, you can imagine the challenge. It is a delicate dance we must do to convince them that we will not pay bribes to government people, but we would like to help villagers in need. We have even been pressured for bribes my village elders at the last minute. So, our team works extremely hard to make this all happen.
I mention this to explain the dedication and perseverance that goes into maintaining a program like Medical Trek Nepal. Unlike sending people up the mountain for the touristy Everest Base Camp Trek, we constantly jump through hoops to make sure that our medical teams get to the remote villages we serve, and treat the people who need help. It’s a lot of “red tape,” but we do it because we love it. We do it because consistently, doctors and nurses from USA, Australia, and other places around the globe tell us, “this trek changed my life.” We do it because for the people in the villages, it DOES change their life.
As we begin a new year, I have renewed energy in TREKT Himalaya and our volunteer and social trek. For the autumn season we will add cultural heritage treks in Tanahun and Gorkha to our roster. It inspires me to see the prosperity and growth of small businesses in these regions that come with a thriving tourism economy. Of course sustainability and responsibility for the indigenous people of the region must be the highest priority. But through responsible tourism initiatives, and the goodness of world travellers, I believe we will make a positive impact in Nepal.
I will spend summer 2017 – 2018 researching sustainable tourism frameworks for UNESCO World Heritage site. Please follow me here at TREKT Himalaya for updates. Thank you to all of our trekking volunteers who help us help Nepal.
“We believe in giving people a hand ‘up’ not a hand out!” – Scott McClennen, Founder of The Mountain Fund.