ESSEX, England — Scott Maclennan is an inspiring figure leading the conservation and development of mountain communities in Nepal and across the world. His developing work in mountainous regions includes the rehabilitation of two monasteries, the staffing of a public school, the foundation of school for HIV-affected children, two clinics and a training hospital. He has set up volunteer programs and mentored new NGOs around the world and is the founder and executive director of the Mountain Fund which supports poor communities in Nepal and particularly focuses on bringing stability to women and children.
By devoting his life to charity, Maclennan embodies the spirit of Sir Edmund Hillary, the famous philanthropist and conservationist and first man to summit Everest. The Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal, was awarded to Maclennan in 2010 in recognition for his tireless work and dedication.
The Borgen Project spoke to Maclennan, who told us about the beginnings of the Mountain Fund.
“It started as my own personal thing to teach my children lessons about being good global citizens. I started with some small things in Peru where I could donate and also be personally involved and see the results directly.”
Maclennan began in Nepal in the area of health care. He donated some money to a small health clinic in a remote area and went over to see what had been achieved taking pictures while he was there which he brought back to show others on his return. When friends in the U.S. saw the images of people living in extreme poverty, they immediately wanted to help realising how little it would cost per person to keep the clinic in operation
“My trips to Nepal became more frequent and a few years later we opened another clinic, then another, and then a whole hospital,” said Maclennan.
Supporting women and children has become Maclennan’s focus over the past years. In Nepal domestic violence is a serious issue, which his organization tries to combat. The project called Her Farm was inspired by Maclennan’s wife’s life experiences and is a place of refuge for abused women, as well as young women who wish to avoid, or at least delay, family pressure to marry.
“The women live and work at the farm and are able to be self-sufficient from their work. We host hundreds of volunteers in Nepal each year to raise awareness of the conditions in the country and to garner support for our work, especially for Her Farm. We also aim to give westerners a real experience of everyday life in a developing country.”
Her Farm is more than that, however. Around 40 children from nearby villages also come daily to the farm anxious to learn English, which is not taught at the village school.
“Some walk over an hour to come to classes,” said Maclennan. “We give them a good breakfast and then get on with classes.”
In the afternoon, older children come to the farm to learn how to use computers. The children in the village understand that for a better future they need to know English and how to use a computer. Being from poorer, rural families they would not usually have access to this.
Maclennan believes that the Farm is having a tangible impact on life in the rural countryside. “It’s brought education, the internet, increased commerce for locals who we buy goods and services from and is slowly increasing awareness of approaching agriculture as a business, not mere subsistence farming. Only time will tell if we can create a lasting impact in this village and it will be some years before we know.”
Along the way Maclennan and his organisation have learned some key lessons in bringing wealth to deprived areas. “We’ve learned that being a landowner, actually having a serious stake in the community is very important. There’s a huge difference between being an “outsider” who comes to help and being a member of the community. There’s much more of a sense that we really are all in this together. “
Many Americans over-estimate the amount of money the U.S. government allocates to foreign aid, believing it wrongly to be around 20%. Shockingly, the true number is less than 1% of the budget. MacLennan believes all this money should be spent on infrastructure projects and is sceptical that the foreign aid given to Nepal has been well invested.
“I look at our country’s 50 year history of pumping money into Nepal and wonder where it went? There’s no infrastructure; no roads (or very bad ones), Kathmandu is without power for 18 or more hours a day in the winter, there’s not enough drinking water and that huge city with millions of residents has no sewage treatment system. So I wonder why after so many years of aid the most basic things needed to build an economy aren’t there?
“The economy can’t grow without infrastructure to support it and this is what will drive Nepal forward. Official development aid should be 100 percent spent on roads, power plants, and the basic infrastructure needed to create an atmosphere where business can take hold and succeed. It’s hard to run a business when the power is off so much and hard to get anything you did manage to make to market when you have no roads.”
Maclennan would also like to see U.S. tax laws change to encourage more individuals to be direct donors and for time-off-work policies to adapt so that more people from the U.S can have the time to travel to developing countries and get to know these places and the challenges firsthand.
“It’s very hard to sit in the U.S. and have any understanding of a place like Nepal. You have to go there, spend time there to gain understanding. I think if people could be more involved we’d see huge changes not only in how aid works but in the effectiveness of that aid.”
– Charles Bell