How we reached beyond philanthropy to help the Nepalese community get back on its feet post the 2015 quake.
The Nepal quake struck at 11:56am on 25 April 2015, rippling out from the Ghorka district, northwest of Kathmandu. On Everest, an avalanche tore down the slopes and swept into Basecamp, killing 21 climbers and guides. Bridges snapped. Paths collapsed. Along the trails outside Namche Bazaar, house-sized boulders smashed through walls. The buildings and temples in Kathmandu started to buckle, sliding into one another and toppling onto the street.
When the dust settled, 9,000 people had lost their lives, and more than 22,000 were injured, displaced or missing. It was Nepal’s worst natural disaster since 1934.
At the time of the quake, Intrepid had nearly 200 staff and 200 travellers on the ground; many of them trekking in the Everest region. Thankfully, no-one was injured. While the on-ground team’s immediate concern was keeping everyone safe and organising emergency accommodation, our global communications team started working on a plan. Within 24-hours we’d launched our worldwide emergency appeal: Namaste Nepal.
Phase one: Philanthropy
Raising relief funds was the first step. The logistical crisis facing Nepal was massive. Thousands of injured people needed emergency treatment, climbers had to be choppered down from the mountains, debris and rubble covered the streets, aid organisations were flooding into the country while Red Cross tent cities scrambled to provide fresh water, food, medicine and sanitation.
The day after the quake, we launched our emergency fundraising appeal, committing to match every donation dollar-for-dollar through The Intrepid Foundation. We chose Plan International, one of our long-time partners, as the beneficiary. They were already busy setting up temporary housing, medical aid and food for those affected by the quake.
Our initial target was $20,000 (matched with another $20,000 from Intrepid). Within 48-hours, we’d already doubled that, raising $40,000 through targeted EDMs, social media and PR coverage. Intrepid’s founders, Darrel Wade and Geoff Manchester, extended the matching budget to $100,000.
The media campaign was the most successful fundraising effort in the company’s history. One month later, we’d raised over $400,000.
Phase two: Recovery
By June, the television news crews and global media had moved on, but the people of Nepal couldn’t move on with their lives so easily. It was clear the country needed more than just donations. There were two big issues: immediate aid work and long-term recovery. Philanthropy could help with the first, but if we couldn’t get travellers back to the Himalayas, the country would suffer all over again.
It’s hard to overstate just how important tourism is to Nepal. It’s the country’s major export, and the largest source of foreign currency – 800,000 people fly into the mountains each year, and over 40% of those are trekkers. The rupees they spend trickle out to every village, rural teahouse, Kathmandu hotel and gear shop. Over 5% of the population works in the travel industry.
We’ve been running tours in Nepal for over 20 years, and as the country’s largest trekking operator, we felt obligated to help long-term. So while Namaste Nepal was raising much-needed funds, we turned our attention back to the mountains.
Our on-ground team helped facilitate the first engineering survey of the two main trekking routes (Everest and the Annapurna Circuit) working closely with IMF and experts from Miyamoto International. Were the trails safe? And what repair work needed to be done before trekkers could return?
The assessment came back, and it was relatively positive: 97% of the trails and hotels were given the green light. We produced PR materials for the Nepal Tourism Board and assisted with spreading the word. The story became world news. Soon local and international trekking companies were using the report to convince travelers that yes, it was safe to return to the Himalayas.
Phase three: Return
We’d done the ground work, now it was about changing travellers’ opinions. The news coverage had focused on the most devastated areas of Nepal, and the June booking figures were gloomy reading. Trekking numbers were down 90% in the wake of the quake. Most local tour operators had already started laying off staff, anticipating a massive downturn.
We didn’t do that. We wanted to keep our local ground team in-tact. Instead we did everything possible to convince travellers to return. The first step was letting people know that the trails were safe (and we had the engineering report to prove it). The second was a targeted marketing and PR campaign. We knew we needed to give travellers a reason to go back as quickly as possible, so we announced we’d be donating all profits from the 15/16 trekking season back to Nepal. Not only would that keep money flowing into The Intrepid Foundation’s five local and international NGO partners in Nepal, it would also generate good press for the country. The story was picked up in Forbes and other media.
To change the global conversation, Intrepid hosted a Nepal press trip in September 2015. Our co-founder Geoff Manchester hosted journalists from all over the world. We even sent along a video crew to produce content for our own channels. Slowly but surely, the headlines started to turn.
Phase four: Rebuild
Lastly, we teamed up with two international NGOs to help spread the message: the best way to help Nepal right now? Visit.
We signed MOUs with both Plan International and WWF, committing a minimum donation of $100,000 if they promoted our Nepal trips to their audience. It worked. Travellers started booking again, and WWF was able to channel funds on the ground, particularly into Langtang National Park, an area devastated by the quake.
More than 80 heating stoves were installed in teahouses around Langtang, along with three water purification plants. Lodges and guesthouses were repaired. Trails were secured. And Intrepid even launched a new expedition tour, the Tamang Heritage & Langtang Valley Trek, which made headlines in the New York Times and Vogue.
What did we learn?
Namaste Nepal went on to become the most successful and influential purpose-led campaign in Intrepid’s history. To date we’ve donated over $750,000 for organisations like Plan International and WWF.
More importantly, we helped to get travellers back to the Himalayas, and actually grew our own trekking figures year on year. In 2014, the year before the quake, we had 1,398 travellers visit Nepal. In 2018, we’re projecting 2,037.
The big thing we learned was the value of working with partners to find solutions that make real, long-term change. By considering the stakeholders involved, we found a competitive advantage. That’s the real difference between philanthropy and creating shared value. One’s a shoulder to lean on; the other, two feet to stand on.