What We Do
Partners with Mountain CommunitiesFor 44 years, The Mountain Institute has focused exclusively on the challenges faced by remote mountain communities and the fragile environments that surround them. In fact, we are the only international, non-governmental organization with this focus. We design solutions in partnership with local mountain communities to meet their unique needs. We’re making a real difference in people’s lives in some of the most remote and threatened places on the planet. Our Medicinal and Aromatic Plants project helps impoverished high-mountain farmers in Nepal support their families. In the Andes of Peru we work closely with remote communities to help them become more resilient in the face of climate change. In the Appalachian mountains of the USA we’re teaching children about science in the context of mountain ecology. And in the American West, our Institute supports indigenous peoples’ efforts to preserve their tribal lands and heritage. Our global initiatives rely on an alliance of partners who work together to keep mountain issues on the international agenda.
Traditional mountain peoples are proud and innately resilient–accustomed to dealing with the harsh environmental conditions that surround them. But government services and policies (typically designed by and for lowlanders) do not adequately address the needs of these isolated, and often marginalized, communities. Mountain environments are often rich in natural resources but mountain communities are some of the poorest on Earth. Our work is to partner with mountain peoples to create more diverse and sustainable livelihoods that, combined with wise investments and government policies, can make mountain communities culturally vibrant and economically prosperous.
Mountains are essential to the Earth’s water cycle and key to regulating the global climate. Every day, over half of humanity relies on mountains for freshwater. Mountains are home to nearly a quarter of global forest cover and 25 of the planet’s 34 terrestrial biodiversity “hotspots”. But these vast natural resources are severely threatened by changing climate and increasing human demands. We partner with mountain communities to steward mountain environments, conserving resources for local survival and for billions of people downstream.
Mountain communities harbor unique cultural traditions that have been shaped by their natural environments for thousands of years. Many of these cultures are made up of marginalized ethnic minorities. The traditional knowledge of these ancient cultures is of immense importance and value as we look for ways to adapt to a rapidly changing world. Preserving and empowering the extraordinary cultural heritages of mountain communities has been a focus of The Mountain Institute since our founding. We believe that for mountain communities to be fully healthy, they need to be not only ecologically, economically and socially healthy, but spiritually healthy as well.
Since our founding in 1972, we have worked to inspire the next generation of mountain stewards through experiential learning and specialized training. In the Appalachian mountains we offer educational courses that take students and their teachers outside the classroom to explore rugged mountain environments. In the Andes and Himalayas we collaborate with local universities to train young students in mountain ecology and climate change adaptation.
On a global scale, efforts to protect mountain environments and support mountain communities are grossly insufficient. To help push mountain issues higher on the global agenda, The Mountain Institute takes advantage of international forums such as the United Nations’ Climate Summits (Lima, Paris and Marrakech). We also use our close relationships in countries where we’ve worked for decades to influence government policies and advocate for mountain people and environments. As chair of the United Nation’s Mountain Partnership steering committee, TMI has led this alliance at other important global meetings including World Parks Congress, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, World Conservation Congress and the World Mountain Forum.
Mountain Institute staff and partners have developed a community-driven approach to understanding changes in the world’s glaciers, including the threat from glacial lake outburst flooding. Our inclusive approach brings scientists, mountain villagers and local governments together. The resulting blend of scientific and traditional knowledge serves as a solid foundation for community-driven action plans for adapting to climate change. Lessons learned in the Himalayas of Nepal have been shared with mountain communities in the Andes through applied research materials, workshops and exchanges. TMI plans to continue fostering exchanges between mountain villagers and scientists around the globe.