‘Super-Human’ ‘Sherpas’?

OK first off, before we get started, a matter of definition that grates every time a newscaster reading their script gets it wrong…. The word ‘Sherpa’ (big ‘S’) does not actually mean someone who carries stuff or any Nepali who happens to be up a mountain.

Just to clear up any confusion, the name ‘Sherpa’ refers to an ethnic group, hence the capital ‘S’. It is derived from “sher-wa” meaning “people from the East”, because the Sherpa ethnic group originally crossed from Tibet which is East of their now traditional homeland of the Khumbu area of Nepal. The Sherpa also have their own language, culture, and they are slotted into the mainly Hindu-Nepali caste system, en-mass. Almost all Sherpas have the last name “Sherpa” too. So if a Nepali, up a mountain, introduces themselves as Pasang Rai or Nima Tamang, they will be from the Rai or Tamang ethnic group rather than Sherpa. There are many Nepali mountaineers, guides and high altitude porters who are not Sherpas.

So, next time you hear someone say ‘Sherpa’, you can ask them if that is what they mean, or if they actually mean Nepali porter or Nepali mountain guide. When they stare at you blankly, you can educate them!

So, that’s the ‘Sherpa’ bit dealt with, now on to the ‘Super-Human’ bit.

For anyone who has been trekking in Nepal, the most immediately obvious example  of this notion will have been seening local Nepali porters (not necessarily Sherpas!) achieving apparently unbelievable feats of strength and endurance by carrying extremely heavy, and sometimes extremely awkward, loads up steep and rough terrain. All of this at altitudes of up to perhaps five thousand metres, where the available oxygen in the air is down to 50% of that at sea level.

When stopping to catch their breath, half way up a moderate slope, weighed down by the grand total of a few kilos of camera, water and a few spare clothes, many a trekker can be heard to exclaim….

“Wow, look at that, that is really impressive, they are superhuman”

….or words to that effect. Perhaps taking a photo to preserve the moment and jovially applauding the feat.

This is a common reaction and made innocently enough. But let’s look a bit closer….

Fundamentally; No, that porter is not super-human – he or she is very much human.

This may seem like semantics, but it is an important distinction. They are often very highly conditioned through a lifetime of being physically active and probably many years of carrying heavy loads. Plus, most of the people from communities who have lived at altitude for many generations have physiologically adapted to altitude, and of course they are probably well acclimitised in any case.

But they are made of the same stuff as you or I.

There is a limit to what force a muscle of a given size can produce. There is a limit to what stress a bone or ligament can sustain. Pain and injury are universal. By labeling them as super-human, perhaps we are creating that ‘otherness’ that excuses us the empathy of imagining ourselves in their position. Instead of marveling, maybe we should be asking ourselves:

  • What damage is being done to their body by carrying such huge loads?
  • What pain are they in after a day of carrying that load?
  • What pain will they be in every day as they age?
  • What is the average life expectancy of a porter?

These are the same questions that would almost certainly have come to mind more readily had it been a mule or a yak carrying an apparently unreasonable load. Perhaps under the argument that an animal had no choice in the matter.

In the same vein, on one level it is impressive that they are moving that huge load over such difficult terrain, and usually with such tight-lipped resolve and lack of drama. But on another level, perhaps we should be asking why they are doing so:

  • To what extent was porter-ing actually a decision of their own wider free will?
  • What are their other employment options?
  • What level of education did they have access to them as a child?
  • How much are they being paid to carrying those two full sized sheets of half inch, 8 by 4 foot plywood weighing up to 35kg up a mountainside? How much would I expect to be paid for that?
  • Why aren’t they carrying one 17kg sheet instead of two?
  • Why are they wearing flip-flops?
  • Do they have spare clothing? – What happens if the weather changes?
  • Where are they going to sleep tonight? – Do they have a sleeping bag or blanket?
  • Do they get enough calories and nutrition to sustain and repair their bodies?

Super Human Sherpas?

Maybe next time we see a porter struggling under an unreasonable load, instead of remarking….

“wow, look at that, that is really impressive, they are superhuman”

Perhaps we should instead be asking ourselves all the questions above and saying….

“wow, look at that, why are they having to carry such an unreasonable load, I wonder what pain they are in and what damage it is doing”

Then instead of applauding and congratulating what you are seeing, find out about them and take an interest (perhaps through your guide) and make it clear that it you are interested in their well-being. And if it is a porter carrying excessive luggage or gear for a trekking or climbing group, ask them who they are working for then get in contact, ask some difficult questions and let them know that their organization appears to be working in an unethical and irresponsible manner.

As a paying client, you have the power to influence this.

To find out more about Adventure Alternative‘s policies on porters’ rights please see – http://www.adventurealternative.com/trips/page/940/porters_rights – and please do speak to us directly for any other information.

Trekking and Big Society in Morocco

The following is re-produced from an article in the Peterlee Star on September 25th 2013. The author, David Taylor-Gooby, and his brother Peter, joined Adventure Alternative for a summer trek in the Moroccan High Atlas, including an ascent to its highest point, Jebel Toubkal.

As you may know from the Star I have been in Morocco most of last week, so this article is an attempt to make some observations about health as a result of the expedition.  I am not sure about the effects on my health, but I did manage to climb Mount Toubkal, and I want to thank all those who sponsored me.

 When I go on an expedition like this, I feel like the lines of Keats recently popularised by the BBC, “Much have I travelled in the realms of gold…… silent upon a peak in Darien”.  But when I come back down to earth, several points relating to health stand out when visiting a country less well developed than our own.

Average life expectancy in Morocco is 72, according to the World Health Organisation.  That compares with 80 for the UK and 79 for America.  It is well ahead of central and southern Africa.  You notice that public health in terms of plumbing, toilets and clean water is much worse than in this country. You see fresh meat being carried through the streets on a warm day. But on the other hand you notice that most Moroccans, including the elderly, are thinner than we are.  They eat far less processed food.  Fresh products are sold in markets, and fresh bread is baked every day. And, of course, most of them do not drink alcohol.

So should we sit back on our laurels and think that the answer for Morocco’s health to improve is to become like us?  I saw another piece of literature about health last week, Professor Lieberman’s book “The Story of the human Body, Evolution, Health and Disease” in which he argues that our modern lifestyles and food consumption are becoming more likely to cause cancer. He argues  that the body will naturally put on excess weight if it can so that it has a reserve for leaner times.  Unfortunately we never encounter those leaner times nowadays , so the fat stays with us.  The answer as we all know, is a healthier diet and more exercise. So we may not stay ahead of the game in terms of life expectancy for ever.

Progress is not one-sided.  We can teach countries like Morocco much about hygiene and preventing disease, but in terms of lifestyles we could learn from them. If we ate more locally produced fresh food we would probably be healthier.

Incidentally, if you want to improve your own health, I would recommend a trekking holiday.  There are all sorts of varieties of expeditions, and it is a unique experience.  Look at organisations like “Adventure Alternative” which I can certainly recommend.

David Taylor-Gooby is a Lay Member of the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Commissioning Group. He writes in a personal capacity.

David and Peter have between them published a number of books dealing with social policy. You can see some of them on Amazon.

What Responsible Tourism is Not

The word Sustainable is now everywhere, it has grown beyond its literal, grammatical meaning and is tagged onto a huge number of entities, some deserving, some not.

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In the world of travel and tourism we also find the word sustainable. Though often it is expanded and perhaps made more specific by use of the word ‘Responsible’.

Again, the word ‘Responsible’ is tagged onto many things. It is now an established term in the industry but is, in our opinion, often mis-used as a pure marketing ploy. We are genuinely passionate about acting Responsibly as an organisation. This is not an add-on for us, it is an all-permeating ethos.

Perhaps you will therefore grant us leave to express, in fairly blunt terms, what we feel about certain schemes that are used by certain organisations in order to claim use of the word ‘Responsible’ in association with their services.

Responsible Tourism is many things, but it is not….

  • Simply throwing a lump of money at a community with no background research, establishment of a working relationship or long-term plan and goal.
  • An outside organisation, company or group telling the local community what it is that needs to be done. It should be listening.
  • Setting up a ‘fund’ from which local individuals may or may not be able to apply for a pay-out from.
  • Swamping an area with volunteer labour, displacing local jobs.
  • Constructing a building or facility with no provision for the costs of its ongoing use.
  • Offering cheap deals by squeezing local people on their wages.
  • Using a ‘volunteering project’ simply as another box to tick on an adventure travel itinerary.
  • Inventing a white-elephant project to tick the box above.
  • Paying too much or too little for anything.
  • Reaping the benefits of what a country has to offer without sharing the rewards fairly with it.
  • Hiding possible negative or difficult aspects of a trip from prospective clients.
  • Just using the cheapest provider when you outsource certain services

Slum Tours : The Human Zoo?

Over the past decade ‘slum tourism’ has sky-rocketed to popularity, seen as a new way to branch outside the more conventional tourist activities. This form of tourism can actually be dated back to Victorian times, when the curiosity of the upper-classes drove them to London’s East End to witness the living conditions of the poor. A century or so later and slum tours were being offered in India, Africa and Brazil. Now the idea has spread all over the world.

Rocinha camaras

UN-Habitat define slums as urban areas that lack one or more of the following: durable housing; sufficient living space; easy access to safe water; access to adequate sanitation; and security of tenure that prevents forced evictions.

Many become uncomfortable with the idea of a group of wealthy tourists visiting a slum to look at the poor; these experiences have been likened to a museum visit – the detached visitor sauntering around whilst critically looking at what’s on offer. But surely these trips have so much more potential, if orchestrated properly? First of all, visitors will experience the whole infrastructure of the slum and if they’re lucky, might even interact with its inhabitants. This experience begs the privileged tourist to open their eyes to deprivation, appreciate their comfortable lifestyle and may even lead a few people to offer themselves up for charitable work, or at least a donation.

Moving Mountains Kenya Chair, Gilbert Njeru, offers his first-hand account of the effects of slum tourism in Shauli Moyo and Grogon slums, both in Embu, Kenya:

Slum tourism in Kenya can have both positive and negative impacts on communities.There is a great feeling amongst the slum dwellers that most people will visit the slums and take photos, through which the locals get no benefit or assistance, whilst the tour operator benefits financially from their exploitation. It is hard to tell which organisations are genuine out there and which are there to make profits and benefit from the people who live in the slums. Most of the people are turning hostile towards visiting tourists; they are sick of having their photos taken as people use them for fund-raising and personal benefit. The slums are turning into a museum.

Moving Mountains is helping the communities in the slum areas by improving the infrastructure and learning facilities in schools whilst trying to lift the education standards With a couple of programmes running like the social welfare programme, we offer on-going support to children through funding school fees and uniforms. We also have a feeding programme that helps to maintain children in school, taking the big boys to polytechnics to learn skills that will help them get employed. Moving Mountains also offers grants to some of the families to start up small businesses that help them support their family’s needs.

Kenya slum 2

My experience with on a tour in Rio de Janeiro’s largest slum, Rocinha:                   

To be honest, I found the most unethical part of the experience took place before the tour even began – each of us boarded a moped taxi. This was both thrilling and slightly petrifying as we wound our way uphill through the busy streets of the slum to reach the starting point of the tour. Drivers there are daredevils by Western standards and we narrowly missed passers-by and the odd chicken; it was an interesting start.

Rocinha signOther than being fed facts about Rocinha, the tour was a chance to purchase locally-crafted items, including artwork and baked goods – I purchased a painting by 13 year-old Edu who lives in the slum; I couldn’t say no. We didn’t make fly-through visits; we got a chance to chat to the inhabitants in broken English or our tour guide would ask questions about slum life and translate the story back to us. We were assured that the slum community were welcoming of tourists, mainly due to the donations and aid work offered by the tour company that partners with the slum’s orphanage and school. The company also helps inhabitants into employment. The main objective of the organisation is to “dispel a myth that Rocinha is simply a place of drug dealers and extreme poverty” and it does this by creating a relationship with the local community.

Interesting cables…

Many competing organisations failed to create such a symbiotic relationship and their connection with the slum community wasn’t as positive, which can mean that the tourist’s safety is somewhat questionable.

Adventure Alternative’s view:

One of the success stories is the Africamp Street Kid Rehabilitation Programme. The background to this whole programme begins with an idea to take street children off the streets and try to give them a life, an identity and some hope in their future. They are given clothes, a school uniform, a place in which to meet safely, regular food and an opportunity for education. Mostly we give them company and friendship and a sort of surrogate family which is a big security for them.

This was the vision of Gavin Bate since 1991. Now it is a highly successful, well managed and fulfilling programme which incorporates many aspects of corporate strategy promoting pro-poor tourism, and charity being supported by commerce. This is now seen as a main tenet to aid in Africa by the Commission for Africa report in 2005.

A taste of what Adventure Alternative clients can experience:

Clients have a full afternoon to visit and experience life in the slums where Moving Mountains works on a daily basis; Muthurwa slum is where everything started, the original street kids that helped shape MM and AA all came from this area and we have spent a number of years re-building the local Primary School and developing our ‘Black Cats’ Street Children Sports Program. After this, clients head over to Sub Saharan Africa’s largest slum, home to an estimated one million people; Kibera. MM and AA has been involved with projects in Kibera since 1991. Ushirika Community Clinic, which was developed by MM is also the base for our HIV/Aids Community Outreach program with a team ofhealth workers and volunteers working daily in the slum to provide medical and nutritional assistance and counselling to families and individuals affected with HIV/Aids.

 It’s not a case of quick entry and exit – this is where Moving Mountains Trust – Adventure Alternative’s partner charity – conducts a lot of its work and we want our clients to take part in the development of these areas and to meet the wonderful people that reside here.

Supporting the Indiginous Penan people of Malaysian Borneo

Adventure Alternative has spent recent years working to support the indigenous Penan people who live in the rainforests of the Sarawak region of Malaysian Borneo.

A number of villages are represented as a whole, by a central community co-operative, the total number of people represented is estimated at approximately 1000 and will grow as the program slowly expands. The initiative involves providing a sustained source of income for the Penan that compliments their traditional way of life and actively incentivises protection of the natural environment and of their cultural heritage. This income is provided firstly through sensitive and controlled access by small groups of carefully selected paying expedition groups and secondly through funded direct payment of local people for activities associated with active reforestation measures.

Through careful planning, selection and briefing of the expedition groups, the initiative also seeks to instil and reinforce, within the Penan people, that their efforts to maintain their land and culture are of international relevance and importance. This includes aspects in support of the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Purpose of the project

The objective of the initiative is to support the Penan tribe in achieving a long term situation where their traditional way of life is allowed to continue in a sustainable and viable way for ongoing generations. At present, their native lands continue to be under considerable pressure by commercial and agricultural activities in the jungle, on their traditional ancestral lands.

Tree planting with a vistor

Tree planting with a vistor

These commercial and environmental pressures have considerable negative effects on their ability to sustain their lifestyle and effectively threatens their future existence as a self-sufficient native population.

These effects include loss of sufficient forest-area to allow sustainable hunting ground for provision of food and for sustainable provision of traditional building materials. The reduction in forest from vast areas of ancient primary forest to secondary forest and plantation zoning has also led to difficulties in locating specific flora for traditional medicinal purposes, as well as affecting basic needs such as clean drinking water. These pressures in turn lead to the potential loss of native skills and knowledge, as these methods become less and less possible or practical to practice.  This represents a considerable loss to both the native Penan culture and also to the wider international knowledge of the forests.

The subtle change from internal self-sufficiency to cash-economy also means that communities are forced to seek paid employment. In a region where the biggest local employers are often those applying pressure to the maintenance of the native forest, this has many additional effects. For example, where local people take employment with a logging company, this can be interpreted as implying tacit consent to logging in their home area. In a region where land-ownership law and administration is very indistinct, this can have devastating results and lead to a continued cycle of destruction.

From the brief details above it can be seen how the value of a carefully administered route to monetary income for the native people can be of huge value. One of the main objectives of the initiative is to provide an alternative source of income over low paid migratory jobs in the city, or closer to the villages in logging camps. The villages now have their own community elected body called the Koperasi Pelancongan Penan Selungo (KOPPES) cooperative. It was the villages themselves that originally asked for help as they realised the potential of community adventure tourism but had no knowledge of how to facilitate this.

The second way that monetary income is provided is by helping to fund a tree nursery and re-forestation project. This project pays local people for collecting seeds, nurturing the saplings in a nursery and then re-planting the saplings in de-forested areas. This has the multiple effect of providing monetary income, providing alternative to employment with commercial companies, nurturing natural knowledge and connection with the forest and of course actively re-planting areas of forest that had previously been damaged or destroyed.

Tree Nursery Full

Tree Nursery

The monetary income for the project is provided through a number of channels: The trip costs of the expedition are paid by participants, some of which goes to local guides, businesses and hosts of home-stays. The expedition members are set a fundraising target which is administered through our partner NGO. Additionally, we now operate our own carbon offset initiative with donations again administered through our partner NGO. Clients are given the option to offset the carbon dioxide associated with their flights via a carbon calculator hosted on the NGO website.

The second main part of the initiative’s objective, perhaps less concrete and tangible, but actually just as important. This is one of a more social and educational bias, one toward universal human rights. The Penan have a naturally very respectful and some ways shy culture. This makes for a wonderful society for its members and for visitors but unfortunately it can lead to a situation where their rights are not fully safe-guarded in the face of strong economic powers such as the palm-oil industry.

In recent times, there have been a few figures within the Penan community who have seen the relevance and need for the Penan to have a voice on the larger national and international stage. Through these individuals and their supporters the Penan are beginning to form this voice. The initiative therefore seeks to nurture and promote this movement in a subtle way that does not change the gentle and respectful nature of Penan culture.

This is achieved by carefully selecting and briefing the groups who take part in the expeditions to interact with the villages. The expedition members would usually split into small groups or pairs and be accommodated in local home-stays. In this way there is natural interaction and social exchange. The expeditioners are briefed in appropriate methods and then actively encouraged to;

  • Reinforce Penan’s confidence that they are relevant to the outside world.
  • Reinforce/Emphasise the Penan’s equal rights in law and society, independent of any lack of literacy.
  • Reinforce to the Penan that their native skills and knowledge are important to retain and nurture.
  • Reinforce that the rainforest is of interest, relevance and importance to the world as a whole.

This can all be achieved by fairly simple methods. In one sense it is conveyed simply through active participation and interest in native Penan culture, beliefs and language. It can also be helped through directed conversation, and then recording the thoughts, feelings and history from local people with regard to logging and deforestation. This point of view can currently be under-represented due to illiteracy and lack of communications. Another method is via a directed ethno-botany project where expeditioners learn the native names and possible uses of the local flora from the villagers. This can then be actively photographed and recorded.

Young Penan boy with tree sapling

One huge advantage of the methods above is that additionally, it does not displace any potential jobs or activities that the local people may draw income from. It also allows the distinct skills and resources of clients to be best used as well as their hosts’. Many of the Penan villagers are illiterate and clearly wouldn’t have access to cameras or methods of storing large amounts of information easily. So the initiative works to a collaborative action where-by all those involved contribute the aspects that are best suited to their skills.

Parties involved in the initiative

Clients are involved in the initiative, initially by fund-raising for any specific group-identified targets. They also then contribute financially by the fact that they are providing income to the local guides and families who they stay with as well as by supporting our own in-country company offices and staff. The clients then actively contribute via volunteering activities and the social interaction exercises outlined above.

Expedition leaders work not only to provide the trip logistics but to pass on their own knowledge and experience of interaction with the Penan. This will include guidance and assistance with the social interaction side of the initiative.

Many other volunteers also provide additional time and resources for the administration and monitoring of the initiative. This includes, in some instances, pursuing possible direct donors and ever-elusive development grants to help support the initiative.

Local Penan village committees and the Koperasi cooperative provide invaluable information, guidance and feedback as to the effectiveness of the various aspects of the initiative.

Individual Penan villagers obviously not only benefit from the initiative but actively engage with it. Many of the villagers collect the seeds and plant the saplings. A number of the villagers also work within the tree nursery looking after the saplings and maintaining the protective netting and nursery area.

Achievements of the initiative to-date

  •  25,000 trees in total from the Shorea genus of trees.
  • Providing members of the community with a small income meaning that fewer are leaving the villages to seek work in the city. Culturally this is significant as it means that more of the younger generations are remaining in the village and an increased population in the villages gives them more leverage when justifying their land rights.
  • Once these planted trees become an appropriate size, they can be used as building materials so that villagers do not need to cut down the larger and more ancient trees.
  • It is hoped that the forests will recover quickly and communities will no longer have to travel so far to hunt, gather or search for medicinal plants.
  • A number of small expeditions have now visited the area and have provided positive feedback on their experiences both as an expedition and in cultural interaction, global awareness and the positive outlook of the local people.
  • In winning the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) Sustainable Tourism, Roger Diski Community Project Award, we will receive a bursary that will be used to further the aims of the project.

The bursary will be used to begin work on a ‘pondok’ building, at one of the Penan villages, in which visiting clients, volunteers and visitors would stay. This would be a community administered venture where the locals would build, staff and maintain the pondok as a source of revenue by charging visitors for their accommodation. This is an income-generating venture that the community has previously identified but has not had the capital investment available so far to start it up.

Penan elder making a blow pipe for hunting

Penan elder making a blow pipe for hunting

Once built the ongoing costs of maintenance would be very low, but the initial outlay of money is currently prohibitive to the largely subsistence nature of the local economy. It is hoped that construction of the accommodation pondok would greatly advance progress in the local community’s aspirations toward a sustainable and self-led route to long-term financial stability and independence.

You can read more about the work of Moving Mountains at http://www.movingmountainstrust.com/

And about Adventure Alternative trips to visit the Penan people here

Excursions Without Excuses at the World Travel Market

The World Travel Market 2012 kicked off on Monday. It’s a leading global event in the tourist sector and a place for folk in the travel sector to meet, network, negotiate and conduct business.

Tomorrow the spotlight is on Responsible Tourism and Gavin Bate, MD of Adventure Alternative and founder of Moving Mountains Trust, will be joining a host of industry experts on a panel to discuss what makes a responsible excursion; from developing products that give back to developing new trips and auditing. The seminar, named ‘Excursions without excuses – improving the quality of excursions through sustainability’ will see Gavin join Jean-Marc Flambert of St. Lucia’s Tourist office, Andreas Moniakis – the head of Operations Greece, TUI Hellas S.A. and Grete Howard – a tourist who has travelled to over 135 countries. The discussion will start at 15:30 and will be chaired by Salli Fenton of The Travel Foundation.

The seminar will also include a look at The Travel Foundation’s new Greener Excursions tool and give delegates a chance to put their own excursion-related questions to the expert panel. The Greener Excursions tool will offer guidance on auditing current excursions to try and make current trips more sustainable and to help try and develop new and sustainable excursions. You can find the Green Business Tools here.

Adventure Alternative is delighted to have been chosen by The Travel Foundation to represent best practice. During the panel, some of our excursions and projects will be featured as best practice case studies to try to highlight that it is possible to maintain a profitable and healthy organisation whilst being ‘responsible’ – environmentally, socially and financially.

The Travel Foundation will also be hosting an interactive art installation that will celebrate sustainable tourism practices. The aim is to inspire exhibitors and visitors to share their sustainable success stories and ambitions. An artist will be on-hand to convert these suggestions into visual form to make a mural that will hopefully inspire change in the tourism industry.

A representation of the mural

You can contribute your sustainable tourism story, inspiration or ambition to the piece in one of three ways:

Via Twitter: send your suggestion using the hashtag #WTMscribbles, and follow @TravelTF for daily news and pictures

In person: pop along to stand No NA383 throughout WTM to see the artwork, meet the artist and submit your suggestion face to face

Via email: send your suggestion to graeme.jackson@thetravelfoundation.org.uk before  9am on Thursday 8 November (the final day of WTM)

It’s not too late to attend the World Travel Market. You can register for free here. All that is required of you is to print off the confirmation e-mail and ‘badge’.  If you aren’t able to register, you can turn up at the ExCel London (closest tube line Custom House on the DLR) event but it will cost you £50.

Are we on track for 2015?

How are we doing in the run up to the post 2015 world?

On Tuesday I attended an event to discuss what will happen when the date for completion of the Millennium Development Goals expires. This week the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, co-chaired by the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron is meeting to discuss the new global framework of development and in particular the role of private business.

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So how does Moving Mountains and Adventure Alternative, two tiny players on the stage, stand up to the assessment of how progressive developmental aid should be carried out?

At the event we met Michael Anderson, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on the Post-2015 Framework, who commented that in developing the new goals we must stay focused on the fact that a vibrant private sector is the exit strategy from aid.

Funnily enough I have always thought that Adventure Alternative should play its role as a partner to development, mainly because our ‘products’ are mostly based in developing countries and it seems only right that the onus for upholding equitable employment standards should be on me. The spoils of tourism can and should be ploughed back into the destination rather than on expensive UK overheads, and that has been a principle of mine ever since I started AA in 1991.

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NGOs are beefing up their private sector teams, to engage with businesses and implement “inclusive” business models. Funnily enough that’s what Moving Mountains has been doing for a long time. I have always felt that if the charity can provide the capital investment for improving infrastructure (like we have done in the Nepalese villages for many years now) then the company can provide revenue and a route to market through tourism.

For example all of our youth trips, gap trips and international development trips contribute financially to communities where previously there was no market, while at the same time promoting the long term development aims of the charity. Our medical camps in Nepal bring important medical aid, but they also bring visitors to the villages, which in turn promotes jobs and income.

The fact is that development happens because people have access to economic opportunities and greater choice.  The exit strategy from aid is a vibrant domestic and international private sector – one that will create the vast number of jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities needed (two things prioritised by poor people themselves). That is exactly what I have tried to establish in Adventure Alternative.

For example, Kevin Onyango  is our book keeper in the Nairobi office, but he came from a very poor background in the town slums around Muthurwa where I started the work of MM. Having put him through school and college, he then got a job with the company. But most importantly his son Cliff will never suffer the same privation that he did, and I am fortunate to see that cyclical effect of combined aid and economic opportunity in the new generation.

Ang Chhongba Sherpa is my oldest friend in Nepal, a one-time porter who now helps to manage AA Nepal and MM Nepal. His own self-determination took him to school but with the opportunity offered by the charity and the company he was able to put all his children into school. Now his family lives in America and his sons Norbu and Sonam study business and engineering at college, and his daughter Tashi studies medicine.

 To my mind this is poverty eradication and sustainable development on a small scale, but reflects the global agenda of the post 2015 discussions.

As a businessman I see my role as teaching and promoting good business practises within the AA family of companies – an equitable gender environment, transparent trading and accounting, fair employment contracts and accountable supply chains to name a few. I can achieve this by investing in communications, staff training and development, and an ethical approach to the product itself. We don’t plant thousands of trees in Sarawak for nothing; the sense of responsibility for causing damage from flights has to be borne by all of us in the tourism sector.

Around the world the conversation has moved beyond “do no harm” and “doing good”, to companies “doing good by doing good business”.  The post 2015 development goals need to be underpinned by a clear recognition of the role of the private sector in driving long-term development, and therefore the factors that are needed to help it grow.

In the tourism sector there is a cynicism and boredom with words like ‘sustainable tourism’, a fatigue borne of over-exposure to confusing semantics and underwhelming action. For many people, it’s still about using low energy light bulbs. I sit on the sustainable tourism committee at the Association of Independent Tour Operators and our biggest problem is that the majority of the membership think that sustainable tourism is not an integral feature of the association.

 ‘Sustainable tourism’ is out of step with how far the general business and development discussion has come.  We have moved onto the question of “how”, while many people are still at the “why?” stage. The cutting edge of global developmental policy is already onto granular issues, but many people are still navel-gazing on whether it’s something they want to do. And the “Why” is vital because people generally follow a vision and a cause, and at the moment sustainable tourism has no visionary to take it forwards.

I am very happy that in its own small way Adventure Alternative and Moving Mountains reflects a joint business model that is progressive and accountable; it requires a dynamic approach to business management, especially nowadays in the current climate. Flexibility, adaptability and knowledge of online technology and marketing is a big part of my ‘toolkit’.

But when I look at Kevin Onyango and Ang Chhongba and how far they have come, and how far their children will go, I know it is all worthwhile. I keep in mind the essential vision of the company which is this:

We believe in combining good business sense with concern for the social inequities we have created on this planet, and we do this by providing authentic holidays and amazing adventures to far flung corners of the world.