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Lizzy Scully interviews The Mountain Fund

Lizzy Scully interviews The Mountain Fund

Scott MacLennan in Nepal
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1 February 2009

The Mountain Fund: A year of change

By Lizzy Scully

Ever imagined visiting Nepal? How about working as a volunteer in a health clinic in Peru? Or, have you dreamed about trekking through some of the biggest mountains of the world while at the same time giving back to the world community through volunteer work? With the new and improved mission it implemented this year, The Mountain Fund is making dreams a reality for hundreds of people around the globe. I recently sat down with TMF’s Founder and Executive Director Scott MacLennan to discuss the latest and greatest TMF programs and the new direction his organization took this past year.

LS: What is your new and improved mission?

SM: Our primary mission now is to run small, affordable projects on our own. We still have a lot of "partners,” but our role with them is more limited now in scope to being what the IRS calls a "fiscal agent." This means we will still accept donations on behalf of our "partners" and afford them our tax-free umbrella. However, rather than jump from thing to thing all over the globe, we are still supporting other organizations to do that, while maintaining a tighter focus for ourselves.

LS: What does this change mean?

SM: We are now focused more geographically and are working with individual villages on many projects at the same time. Plus, we've taken the approach like a three-legged stool—first basic healthcare, next make the schools stronger, and then work with women to establish micro-lending and create new economic opportunities. For example, in Thulo
Syabru we have a health clinic, we are working with a women's group, we are supporting the school, and we are rebuilding a monastery.

LS: How does this improve the success of your programs?

SM: We have active village committees guiding and managing the process, so we can be more confident that the village’s biggest needs will be met. Plus, we have in this way a very direct and immediate form of feedback from the stakeholders.

LS: Why the change?

SM: We are always asking ourselves what's working and how can we do a better job. It's important to be accountable to donors and be able to produce the maximum results with
the money they entrust to us. Out of that self-examination we determined that we needed to narrow our focus a little in order to be able to produce the kind of results we wanted to see.

LS: How are you funding your projects?

SM: Ordinary people fund our projects by contributing their money and time to causes they feel some ownership of. Our donors want that experience of feeling connected and
knowing that their donation, no matter how small or large, really had impact.

LS: What are some of the positive outcomes
you’ve seen?

SM: The most positive outcome I have seen from our longer running projects is that people in neighboring villages are coming to us and asking for our help. They've seen the benefit of our work, and they want the same thing for their village. Given the really remote and rural places we are working, that's a huge breakthrough.

LS: What do you consider one of your more successful projects and why?

SM: One of our newest projects, the Kathmandu Women's Safe House Project, is having a huge impact for a low cost. Nepal is one of the top five worst places for women, according to a 2008 Foreign Policy Report. Twenty-nine percent of Nepali women feel that a husband was justified in beating his wife for going out without asking permission or
“neglecting” the children, among other things. On top of that 21 percent of the women aged 15-19 are pregnant or have children, while only 35 percent are able to read and write. Put it all together and you have child-brides, who cannot read, raising children and believing their husbands should beat them at times. Working with The Women's Foundation
of Kathmandu and the Tessa Horan Fund, we are now housing women who are victims of abuse, and The Women's Foundation is providing counseling, job training, and childcare.
While the cost to Mountain Fund supporters is only the housing and food for these women, the overall impact created by the combined forces of Mountain Fund and The Women's
Foundation is really extraordinary in helping abused women and in addressing the problem as a whole in the country.

LS: What’s new with your volunteer program?

SM: We have significantly upped our activity for volunteers in Nepal and Peru — we now have a three-story place in Nepal where we have our volunteer coordination staff and a volunteer home stay program. We have hosted more than 60 volunteers this year who collectively provided thousands of hours of volunteer labor in Nepal this year! We hope this experience plants a seed in the minds of our volunteers and opens their eyes to the sort of crushing poverty they'd never see and perhaps could never believe exists. If they take that idea back to school or their communities, they may move on to careers in which they remain sensitive to the harsh conditions the world's poor live in. Perhaps one of them will become a real social entrepreneur and change the world.

Lizzy Scully, writer/editor and climber, lives in Lyons,Colorado. She’s a senior contributing editor for Rock and Ice magazine and a columnist for Rocky Mountain Sports. She also works with a variety of companies: Skirtsports, Evolv, Trango, Montbell and others. Lizzy is one of the founders of Girl’s Education International and a true social entrepreneur.

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