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Responsible Tourism Award

Social enterprise model

A cooperative-based social enterprise in the Himalayas

How the “GHNP Community-Based Ecotourism Cooperative” and Himalayan Ecotourism were formed

The early 2000’s saw a huge boom in the tourism industry and many sensitive Himalayan regions were caught in the grasp of this unplanned, unexpected upsurge.
Another unfortunate outcome of this was the exploitation of the native communities by powerful market forces. The social, environmental and economic life in the valley was threatened.

A small group of sustainability and industry experts came together to reform this situation, starting with the Tirthan Valley, and encouraged the local villagers to organize under a cooperative to be able to reassess their power and hold the right to make decisions regarding a sustainable income source, their natural environment and social causes.

These were the conditions under which, in 2014, the GHNP Community-Based Ecotourism Cooperative, operating in the periphery of the amazing Great Himalayan National Park was formed. The intention was to provide employment opportunities through sustainable ecotourism to all the 65 registered members of the cooperative and support their families.

Soon after there was a need to register a sister organization, Himalayan Ecotourism, to assist the cooperative with marketing their venture, setting up a truly sustainable enterprise and building a strong clientele.

Himalayan Ecotourism Cooperative initiators

From left: Stephan Marchal, Payson R. Stevens and Sanjeeva Pandey at Rolla, GHNP.

A sustainable working model

Cooperative Society of Himalayan Ecotourism

At the core of Himalayan Ecotourism are the 65 members of our local cooperative. that is an effort to counter the adverse effects of the present economic paradigm.

We believe that the only reason we are able to practice a business, make use of the many diverse resources & earn a living is because our abundant environment allows us to do so. In that sense, when we ask something from the environment, we are creating a debt towards it, and it in turn becomes our responsibility to repay that debt in the best way possible.
That is the philosophy behind our social enterprise and all our efforts are in that direction.

We realize that humans share a symbiotic relationship with their natural environment and so neither can prosper without the help and stability of the other.
Our social enterprise and cooperative model focuses on this relation and provides our cooperative members diverse avenues to help them achieve economic stability. These mainly include ecotourism, micro-enterprise management and the reforestation program.

All members of the cooperative are shareholders of the society. Not only they are owner of their organization, but they have been encouraged to think within a broader picture that includes their community and the natural environment. So, they are taking important decisions that affect not only their lives but also the environment and the well-being of all. This promotes a community spirit instead of a competitive attitude.

We have experienced that over the years, economically stable local communities have become the best and most effective advocates of conservation in their regions.

Why we Succeed

Transparency in doing business

Every member of the cooperative has an equal right to attend meetings, decide the pricing based on the market trends, understand finances and to vote on any decision, thus eliminating the hierarchy in business and maintaining transparency. This is what it means to have cooperative members, villagers from the Tirthan Valley be the real stakeholders in a business they co-own and co-run. This has also helped them develop accountability, responsibility and honesty in doing business.

Furthermore, we respect the labour and work put in by the members and ensure respectable working conditions to everyone. A small example is, every trekking guide carries no more than the 21kg limit on their back. We have ensured this to the extent that there is a weighing scale to measure the same. We understand these are small things, but it is these small things, simple principles worked on and strengthened day after day that lead to a successful, ethical business.

Himalayan Ecotourism also follows a roster system to provide equal opportunity to all the members and distribute business fairly. However, based on the client feedback we receive, certain guides are ranked higher than others. Every experience, good and bad, is discussed and closely reviewed in the cooperative meetings so everyone can learn from them.

This helps in two ways – one, it encourages a healthy competition and incentive for doing business and not a disruptive, negative competition. And two, as a social enterprise, it ensures we deliver nothing short of the best standard and experience for our clients. We believe this is one of the main reasons we have been awarded and recognized by some of the most credible names in the tourism industry.

Business transparency in Himalayan Ecotourism

Before each trek that we organize, the financial break-up of the trek is shared with the staff and with our clients.

Newsletters of Himalayan Ecotourism

Newsletters are sent regularly to the cooperative members to keep them informed and to preserve the social cohesion.

Collective Growth

When the locals work together within one organization with the same rules and regulations for everyone, the unhealthy competition between neighbors evaporates. Moreover, a substantial part of our income goes directly to the capital of the cooperative, and hence, all the members who are shareholders in the business, grow in a collective way.


Providing a Workable Solution

For close to a decade now, we have been able to develop a workable solution that communities and organizations across the country can adopt to run a sustainable social entrepreneurship in diverse areas. We wanted to demonstrate how social and economic development does not have to come at the cost of environmental degradation and that an ethical business can be established that can ensure growth and prosperity for all.

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