This profile was prepared when Manoj Bhatt was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
RACHNA’s model integrates business, community, public policy, and government programs to provide incentives to local communities to protect the Himalayan ecology. It is trying to achieve lasting conservation of these important ecosystems in a way that generates jobs and income for local people. Manoj realized that without cash incentives, it is difficult to sustain and improve peoples’ interest in conservation. His idea, therefore, revolves around the concept of “consensual tourism”: Communities decide if they want to launch initiatives and how to use the profits. Venues are small and the impact of tourists is kept low. But despite being locally-scaled, this model is challenging the governments more aggressive, prescriptive, and less sensitive approach while also ensuring long-term viability.The first step toward ensuring local control is developing nature-based tourism enterprises owned and managed by local communities. Specifically, “Community Guest Houses” will be owned by a group of rural families interested in rural tourism. The structure of the enterprise is such that 60 percent of the profits will go back to the local people. The rural population will be trained in tourism-related activities which will lead to an enhancement of their skills. The guest houses can be used as a destination for tourists, a source of funding for the community, and a symbol of the culture of that community.Manoj realized that the natural next step toward conserving the local environment while generating income for the locals was to educate and engage the community on conservation plans and encourage tourists’ involvement in these plans. Ecotourism alone would not be enough if tourist visits were not used productively; instead, they could potentially destroy the region. Additionally, the arrival of tourists and the growth of the local industry could create more job opportunities for women. As the industry grows, women are playing the role of local supplier and raising and selling produce to local restaurants. RACHNA works to ensure that no child labor is used and helps restaurant owners to be business savvy and more environmentally friendly in their use of products. All these efforts together represent the plan Manoj has to use for the tourism industry and its employees and customers to become a force for protecting the Himalayas, one of the most important but fragile mountain ecosystems in the world.