On the eve of Women’s Day we are glad to have a word with one another the pride of Womenhood, Ishita Khanna, founder of Ecosphere. Ecosphere, is the name that has changed the lives of the people in Spiti after 2002. In 2002 Parikshit, Ishita and Sunil decided to form NGO Muse to develop Spiti but in an eco-friendly way. It initiate work on establishing linkages of livelihoods to conservation as a means to address the development issues in Spiti and to proactively involve the local population in the same. Unfortunately, in 2003 they lost Parikshat in a car accident.
Still the work moved on, Ecosphere represents the sum of experiential and operational synergy that exists between three NGO’s MUSE, SSS & STAG that have been facilitating sustainable development and eco livelihoods in the Spiti Valley for over five years.
Though, early days were pretty problematic but their dedication and hard work proved fruitful to them and today, they are here as the winner of 2008 Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Award.
Ishita is also one of the eight winners of Pepsi MTV Youth Icons for 2008.
To know her and their work better, please read the following interview with Ishita Khanna.
Disha Singh: Congratulations Ishita, how does it feel to win Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Award – 2008 under the category of Community-based Homestays?
Ishita Khanna: It is a great honour for Ecosphere to be part of Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Award as they follow a very detailed and rigorous selection process. We were also very glad to be representing India and showcasing its strengths in promoting responsible travel in the Himalayan region.
Disha Singh: Talking about Ecosphere, my first question is what made you all interested in social working?
Ishita Khanna: Our team is primarily all local people from Spiti. For them to be able to work towards a sustainable development of the region has been their main motivation. For others the main motivation to work in this sector has been the interest in the environment and its conservation and we feel by linking livelihoods to the environment and economics is one of the ways to ensure its conservation.
Disha Singh: How did Ecopshere’s rendezvous begun in Spiti?
Ishita Khanna: Ecosphere started its journey as Muse, an organisation that was founded by a group of individuals that shared a passion for the mountains, its environment and people and their mutual co-existence. Ecosphere has grown from the work Muse initiated in the Spiti valley in 2002 and is now a collaborative of Muse and the local community of Spiti.
Disha: Why you people chose Spiti only?
Ishita: We think that Spiti choose us rather than we choosing Spiti. It just happened over the course of our travels to the region and the long lasting relationship that the founders shared with Spiti. Most of us have been travelling to Spiti since 1995 and over the years have established a strong bond with its people and environment.
Disha: “Our attempt is to further consolidate our efforts towards conservation, livelihoods and sustainable development.” Please can you throw light separately on these three words for those who don’t know Ecosphere’s efforts that well?
Ishita: Our efforts have been to work on a sustainable development of the Spiti valley. For us that includes working on economic empowerment, conservation of nature and culture and a holistic development of the region. We are working to enable this by generating and linking local livelihoods to conservation and working on various development issues in the region.
Disha: What big hurdles have you faced to reach at this point and where do you see Ecosphere after five years to come?
Ishita: In the initial phase one of the biggest hurdles was the poor communication and infrastructure network in Spiti that made minor contingencies into major hurdles. However, over the years this has greatly improved and is not so much of a hurdle now. Other hurdles have been primarily in linking the markets with the region for some of its products.
Secondly, we strongly feel that one of the biggest issues in Spiti is the huge subsidisation of this area by the Government. Over the years this has slowly made the Spiti people extremely dependent on Government subsidies. The very nature of subsidies is unsustainable and we feel serious efforts need to be made by the Government towards making the Spiti people self-reliant as there is no dearth of opportunities in the region if harnessed properly and sustainably.
In five years we see Ecosphere run and managed completely by the local community and a thoroughly self sustaining social enterprise that is able to generate enough revenues to undertake development and conservation work in the region besides contributing significantly to the local economy.
Disha: How far has government been helpful to you people in your innovative cause?
Ishita: The Government has been helpful in the Seabuckthorn endeavours.
Disha: How have the life standards of the Locals changed with your help?
Ishita: We work on various initiatives from economic empowerment to developing green houses and solar passive houses. Overall we are trying to make the local community’s life standards more conducive and adaptive to a changing economy and changing climate.
Disha: Are all locals being benefited under your project or only some associates/members?
Ishita: Ecosphere is working in over 40 villages of the 66 villages of spiti valley
Disha: What does your typical workday involves?
Ishita: There are no typical workdays really in spiti.
Disha: How can somebody who wishes to help Ecosphere in its great cause makes their contribution?
Ishita: Please feel free to get in touch with us. We always welcome contributions be they in the form of ideas, suggestions, volunteering or monetary.
Disha: Finally, what message do you have to send to the masses or government?
Ishita: We need to inculcate more reverence for life and live more amicably with the earth that provides for all our needs. The government needs to develop more area-specific contextual policies so that all their good intentions can bear healthier fruits.