Co-authored by Katie Innes
The Himalayas is mountain region with breath-taking natural splendour and vibrant local culture. It is also a region that faces many societal, economic and environmental challenges. This event raised awareness of the outstanding social innovation taking place in the Himalayas.
Launched in 2016, UTSAAH is a charity dedicated to supporting grassroots organisations and furthering social innovation. UTSAAH involves the hard work of volunteers, fundraising activities and most importantly imparting knowledge and changing attitudes both worldwide, and in the Himalayan terrain in India and Nepal.
The event took place in the Merchsiton campus of Edinburgh Napier University and was a collaboration between Changing Perceptions and UTSAAH (Uniting to Sustain and Assist the Himalayan Communities). During this masterclass, attendees had the opportunity to interact with researchers and social entrepreneurs who shared their experiences working in the Himalayas. The event kick-started with Nick Fannin, Head of Bright Red Triangle at Edinburgh Napier University. Nick introduced the work that the BRT does to support students on their entrepreneurial journey and on their pursuit of active citizenship. Followong this, the core team of UTSAAH outlined the pillars of their work: supporting entrepreneurship, education, healthcare and conservation.
Rosalyn O’Brien, Head of Communications and Marketing, shared her experiences of working with UTSAAH in the summer of 2017. She travelled all the way from London to Spiti Valley, where the Spiti Ecosphere hub is located. The hub focus lies in the triple bottom line of conservation, livelihoods and sustainable development. Any revenue output generated by Spiti hub goes back to the region and local people.
Rosalyn’s exciting travels in the region involved a five-day trek called ‘Live like a Local’, a great example of the flourishing and very innovative ecotourism industry in the Himalayan terrain. As part of the experiential learning, Rosalyn also got involved in the construction of an ‘artificial glacier’ dam to provide more consistent water supply to the villages and involved in traditional handicraft and cooking with locals.
After a short interlude, the second part of the event started with a Skype conference straight from the beautiful city of Nainital in the Himalayas. The speaker was Sheeba Sen, founder of Alaap Foundation, an organisation working to bring back the native Himalayan forests. Her recent project the ‘Youth Eco Leadership’ fellowship, currently still in the design phase aims to work directly with young local people to develop their eco-leadership and self-leadership among other goals. After all, who better to ensure future conservation efforts than local young community leaders?
Effecting lasting change within communities is a story best told by Anand Sankar, Founder of Kalap Trust. Founded in 2013, Kalap Trust is an NGO working in the remote Tons Valley and the first to pioneer development work in an inaccessible and neglected region. Their approach involves workshops and education to develop livelihood opportunities and provide schooling via KalapafterSchool project. His presentation brought into sharp focus the need for support, particularly within the healthcare sector. According to Anand, this sector in India is underfunded and undermanned, with challenging access to GP’s and diagnostic services, the nearest hospital being a day’s travel. However, there is a small free clinic currently available and plans in motion for a hospital to be completed in December 2018.
The basis for the livelihoods of local people include organic agricultural produce, woven wool products and ethical meat butchery. A beautiful example of the woven wool was the jacket Anan was wearing.
The event concluded with a presentation from Andrei Gurca, Assistant Professor of Strategy at NEOMA Business School in France. His research was titled ‘Institutional Challenges and Opportunities faced by social enterprises in emerging markets’. Andrei highlighted the ways that positive change can be facilitated in the Himalayas which included provision of employment for marginalised groups. One of the examples mentioned was the work of Cloud Factory, a tech start-up that fills a gap in the Nepalese labour market by providing online work such as digitisation of documents. Another example with a female focus is the SABAH Nepal initiative that helps marginalised Nepalese women to produce their own food and textile products for sale in Nepal. Investing in people and simple collaboration are clearly crucial factors in making the work of UTSAAH and the organisations they support possible.
Whether you seek international experiences or prefer something more local, there is something for you! UTSAAH welcomes voluntary support in all areas, from fundraising and social media management to expeditions in villages encompassing teaching, healthcare and conservation projects. Get in touch with them here!
The feedback we received can be summarised as one of the most inspiring and eye-opening event that really broadened awareness about international entrepreneurship and social innovation opportunities available in the university through examples like the fantastic work taking place by UTSAAH to tackle issues affecting local communities.