Our StoryThe Mountain Institute (TMI) was founded on the slopes of Spruce Knob Mountain—the highest point in West Virginia—in 1972. TMI has grown significantly since then and is now known for its innovative programs in the world’s highest and longest mountain chains: the Himalayas and Andes.
We developed our signature approach to protecting mountain ecosystems and improving the lives of mountain people during our original focus in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. From the Appalachians, TMI expanded to work in the Himalayas and Andes, establishing regional programs in each.
For over four decades, TMI has partnered with mountain communities in on-the-ground collaborations to help them develop greater self-reliance and a broader understanding of their resource-rich, mountain environments. Together we identify their most critical challenges, developing local solutions that help communities adapt and become more resilient, especially in the context of climate change. As a trusted partner with local communities, we advance programs focused on sustainable livelihoods for farmers, women, and remote villages. These improved livelihoods, in turn, help protect fragile mountain ecosystems.
Our Institute’s headquarters are in Washington D.C. with locally-staffed offices in Nepal and Peru. Our educational work in the Appalachians evolved into a new non-profit, Experience Learning.
The Mountain Institute is the only organization focused solely on mountains worldwide and actively dedicated to mountain communities and their unique resources.
MissionThe Mountain Institute’s mission is to help mountain people adapt and thrive in the face of rapid environmental, social and economic change. We partner with mountain communities to transform their livelihoods, protect their cultures and conserve mountain environments as vital natural resources for the planet.
PhilosophyWe Approach our Mission Using Five Fundamental Principles:
1. Integrating environmental conservation, sustainable economic development and cultural preservation.
2. Forging long-term commitments to the people and regions we serve.
3. Teamwork and collaboration within The Mountain Institute and with our partners.
4. Cultural sensitivity and fluency in the regions where we work.
5. Measurable accountability and concrete results in all of our projects.
VisionThe Mountain Institute envisions a world in which mountain people, especially women and families, are strong and resilient in the face of climate change. They and their communities thrive economically, socially, and culturally. In this way, mountain people conserve the mountain resources that are essential to our planet. In particular, they manage mountain water resources for the long term, protecting the supply for local communities and vast populations downstream.
StrengthsWe bring experience and in-depth understanding of mountains to the challenges of improving livelihoods and protecting vital natural resources. The community-based approach we pioneered supports mountain communities as a whole–including women, families, the elderly and marginalized groups. We help mountain people adapt to a rapidly changing climate and become more resilient to future threats. Our collaborative actions aim to improve biodiversity and cultural richness.
Our key strengths include:
-Collaborating with communities to bolster their capacity to protect and manage their water sources and fragile mountain environments.
-Assisting mountain communities in making traditional livelihoods more sustainable and develping new enterprises.
-Working with mountain communities to adapt to climate change.
-Mobilizing collaborative actions between mountain communities and those downstream who depend on the same ecosystems.
-Fostering ties between mountain communities, scientists and government officials to integrate their perspectives.
-Championing the needs of mountain communities in policy and scientific arenas.
-Enabling exchanges between mountain peoples to share experiences and solutions across the world.
Why Mountains Matter
Mountains serve as the essential “water towers” on every continent. Every day, over half of humanity relies on mountains for freshwater. All major rivers of the world begin in mountains. Billions of people downstream rely on mountain water for drinking, sanitation, irrigation and energy production. Rivers in Asia’s Hindu Kush-Himalayan mountain region alone supply freshwater to more than 200 million people living in the region and 1.3 billion people living downstream. These clean water sources and the people who depend upon them are now at risk. Melting glaciers, changing precipitation patterns and increasing tourism and development are some of the threats to mountain water.
An amazing variety of wild animals and plants depend on mountains to survive. Mountain ranges are havens for snow leopards, red panda, Andean cat, guanacos, vicuña, Andean bear, condors and hellbender salamanders, to name just a few. Mountain ecosystems sustain innumerable plant varieties that range from orchids to apples, quinoa to Himalayan yew and Quenual trees. 45,000 plant species have been found in the tropical Andes alone. Nearly a quarter of global forest cover is in mountain regions. Of the planet’s 34 terrestrial biodiversity “hotspots,” 25 are in mountains.
Mountains are home to many ancient, indigenous cultures that maintain a wealth of traditional knowledge and practices. Mountains harbor unique cultural traditions that have been shaped by their natural environments for thousands of years. These traditions and local knowledge, however, are at risk from the diluting influences of globalization and tourism. Outmigration of local people to urban areas is also a threat to ancient cultures. The exodus of young people, especially young men, is decimating some mountain villages leaving only children and the elderly behind to carry on as best they can.
Mountains collect, channel and store freshwater and are essential to the Earth’s water cycle. They are also key to regulating the global climate and vital to other ecological cycles of the planet. For example, the Hindu Kush-Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau are widely known as the “Third Pole” because their ice fields contain the largest reserve of fresh water outside the polar regions. But rising temperatures are disturbing the balance of snow, ice and water in mountainous areas threatening millions of mountain people and billions downstream. Precipitation amounts and seasonality are changing worldwide and exreme weather events are increasing in intensity. Climate change models predict greater relative rises in temperature as altitude increases.
Mountains are frequently at the nexus of international borderlands, poor and marginalized ethnic minorities and invaluable natural resources. At any given time a large proportion of international and internal conflicts are in mountains. Conflicts over water have increased four-fold in the last decade. This global trend will likely continue with mountain water sources front and center. Risks of conflict are high both internationally and within countries.
Major religions worldwide regard some mountains as sacred. Mount Kailas in Tibet – near the sources of the Indus, Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers–is considered sacred by five religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Bon. Mountains are home to many ancient, indigenous cultures that maintain a wealth of traditional knowledge and practices. Over 1,000 languages are spoken in mountain communities.
Threats to Mountains and Our Response
Not enough is being done today to protect mountain environments and support mountain communities. Perhaps due to their remoteness and seemingly immutable nature, mountains do not receive the level of attention they deserve for the services they provide to humankind. The threats to mountain people and ecosystems are growing:
Climate Change ** Cultural Erosion ** Environmental Degradation ** Out-migration
Natural Disasters ** Political Insecurity ** Poverty ** Food Insecurity ** Water Scarcity