Developing Nepal’s Poorest and Most Remote Villages Into Thriving Communities — With Dan Maurer
In this Listen To Learn Episode on the Share Life podcast, I'm speaking with nonprofit founder, Dan Maurer. Dan, the president and founder of Elevate Nepal, shares his experience in developing Nepal's poorest and most remote villages into thriving communities.
The conversation covers topics such as the impact of the earthquake in 2015, the challenges in rebuilding after a disaster, the importance of listening to local communities, the history and geography of Nepal, the caste system and language diversity, the challenges in infrastructure and education, the response to the earthquake, the establishment of Elevate Nepal, the focus on poor and remote villages, and the creation of self-sustaining communities.
In this conversation, Dan also discusses the challenges of commerce and tourism in Nepal, particularly the high cost of transportation and the difficulties of reaching remote areas. Dan highlights the presence of other nonprofits in Nepal and emphasizes the importance of transparency and compliance when working in the country. He shares the complexities of operating an international nonprofit, including the need for a strong team and understanding the rules and regulations of both the United States and Nepal.
Dan reflects on the personal growth and lessons learned from his work in Nepal, emphasizing the importance of patience and humility.
This conversation follows the following four threads of thought.
- Dan's founding Elevate Nepal, an international nonprofit, in 2015 in response to the earthquake (2017 formally)
- The background and history of Nepal as a nation
- The mission of Elevate Nepal
- And the unique dynamics of international nonprofit work
More specifically, here are some of the ideas that came to the surface in our conversation.
How the 2015 earthquake affected Nepal
How Dan's naivety energized him to make a difference
Working with the locals and their ways, versus bringing in his own way
The diversity of Nepal; its beauty and the challenges
Nepal was never colonized: The good and the bad
Working with the Nepal government and how that works
The difference in expectations of how they'd be helping and the reality of what they want and need
Simple and small problems for Americans can be big problems for people in Nepal
The challenges of being landlocked, as a country
Learning another culture, through their eyes
Getting into the difficulty of helping others
How Dan has grown as a person and leader through the experience
What makes Elevate Nepal unique to other nonprofit organizations
Connect With Dan Maurer
- Connect with Dan | LinkedIn - Instagram
- Elevate Nepal | Website - Instagram - YouTube - Facebook - X (Twitter)
- Donate to Elevate Nepal Here
Listen To This Discussion
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You can also find this discussion on Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Itunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and wherever you listen to podcasts under the name, Share Life: Systems and Stories to Live Better & Work Smarter or Jason Scott Montoya.
Watch This Conversation
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- Watch: The Better Question To Ask for Finding Purpose: What Breaks Your Heart?
Episode Unedited Transcript
Jason Scott Montoya (00:01)
Welcome to an episode of the Share Life podcast. I'm Jason Scott Montoya and today we have a Listen to Learn episode. We're gonna be diving into developing Nepal's poorest and most remote villages into thriving communities. Today we're here with Dan Maurer. Dan, say hello.
Dan Maurer (00:19)
Ho, harry ho.
Jason Scott Montoya (00:22)
Dan was connected to me by Denise Stilley, who we had on the podcast recently. So definitely be sure to go check that out. Dan is the president and founder of Elevate Nepal. His background is in business. He got a degree in business management and ended up doing a lot of construction work throughout his life and decided.
to take the plunge and go down the entrepreneurial route of starting a nonprofit, and not just any nonprofit, but an international nonprofit. So he wanted to go at it hard and take the most difficult challenge, and so he has done it. So he's gonna tell us what he's learned and the experience he's had. So Dan, tell us about, you know, how did this all begin? I think it was 2015, there was an earthquake in Nepal. You had been involved at some point and decided to sort of shift gears. So tell us about that origin story.
Dan Maurer (01:15)
Yep, you got it, Jason. So my first trip to Nepal was actually in 2011. I went over there mostly out of curiosity with a couple buddies. We ended up hiking to Mount Everest Base Camp, which took us a month. And then we ended up volunteering on farms for another two months, which was a great immersion into the country. But.
I always wanted to do something with Nepal, thinking of like a cultural immersion or ecotourism type of program, but could never really get it moving. And, you know, life kind of moves like this at times. But 2015, as you mentioned, Nepal got hit by a big earthquake, actually two of them, back to back. They registered over seven on the Richter scale. Yep.
Jason Scott Montoya (02:03)
both of them were seven, and in what period of time would they span between them?
Dan Maurer (02:08)
two weeks apart. So one hit, I believe the first one was a 7-6, and then that ripped kind of center of the country and that went to the east. And kind of when that one stopped two weeks later, a massive aftershock, which was the second earthquake, continued moving to the east and kind of, you know, did more damage. But between...
Jason Scott Montoya (02:09)
And is this an area that gets a lot of earthquakes, or is this rare for them?
Dan Maurer (02:35)
Very common, very, very common. Um, so you have your geography lesson, you have India, which is slamming into that Tibetan plateau, and that's what creates the Himalayas.
Jason Scott Montoya (02:37)
Hmm and how so for people that may not be familiar with Nepal is like We probably know it even if we don't know it so kind of help us understand. What is this place? That's pinned between India and Tibet
Dan Maurer (02:59)
Sure. Most people know Nepal because of Mount Everest, tallest mountain on Earth. It's right between the China and Nepal border. It's a landlocked country. So to the north is China and you have this massive barrier called the tallest mountains on Earth, the Himalayas. And then their other border is India to the south. A very underdeveloped nation. These are always changing. But
believe it was last year Nepal ranked 197 on the human development index of close to 298 countries. So human development index looks at education, health and then the infrastructure that is in the country. So a very underdeveloped, very poor and in the other side of the world.
Jason Scott Montoya (03:46)
Yeah, so what's the state of, the earthquake hits in 2015, what's the state of things and what does the earthquake change?
Dan Maurer (04:05)
So earthquake, yeah, earthquake killed 9,000, injured 22,000, but the biggest number is it destroyed a million structures nationwide. Very rudimentary building techniques where most things are made out of stone and mud. So with all of those structures collapsed, the biggest thing people really needed immediately following the quake was just shelter.
Jason Scott Montoya (04:05)
Dan Maurer (04:35)
Um, so we, that was one of the main things we did. I got into Katmandu a few weeks after the quake and reconnected with an old friend. And he, him and his team had been scouting areas and they were like people, the main thing people need is tin. So we, we ended up distributing, I think it was like 5,000 pieces of that corrugated metal, um, just so they could build some structures to live in as temporary structures. Um,
Jason Scott Montoya (04:35)
Yeah. So were you there when the earthquake happened?
Dan Maurer (05:04)
thinking that, you know.
I was not. No, I was here. I was here in the States.
Jason Scott Montoya (05:09)
Okay. Okay, so you went over there right after then?
Dan Maurer (05:15)
Yeah, sure. Shortly after this was even before we were a nonprofit, I did a private fundraiser on Crowdrise. And I'm looking back how naive I was, I showed up with I think $7,000 in my pocket, like, Whoa, I'm here to rebuild Nepal. So
Jason Scott Montoya (05:22)
But it got you started at least, you know, right?
Dan Maurer (05:36)
Yeah, that was that was the seed that really planted that shifted everything. So, you know, back to what I started with a cultural immersion or ecotourism program. Once we did that and we were quite effective in getting some of the aid out to people, I thought, well, that was good. And, you know, what else can we do? And then that is what really built Elevate Nepal.
Jason Scott Montoya (05:40)
Yeah. So you officially formed the Elevate Nepal in 2017. So what happens between this earthquake and 2017? Are you simply doing what you're describing or were there more to it than that?
Dan Maurer (06:10)
Yeah, you know, getting registered as a nonprofit, figuring out the governance and kind of what needs to be done to do this, staying in touch with people in Nepal and establishing more contacts. But it was very interesting what was happening in Nepal between, you know, the end of 15 and when I returned in early 17, so what is that about a year, 18 months or something, the rebuild efforts were absolutely stagnant.
revisiting those villages that we gave tin to people to build a temporary structure. Two years later, they were still living in those. Just because the aid distribution was so, so slow coming from a variety of sources.
Jason Scott Montoya (06:49)
Yeah. And now your construction background, how did that help or hinder you in terms of this new rebuilding? Ha ha ha.
Dan Maurer (07:06)
Great question. Knowing how to swing a hammer was helpful. Taking any sort of thinking that we have in the West, you really have to go back to the basics just because they don't have the building material or the tools or just even the access to get to these areas. So.
Jason Scott Montoya (07:11)
Dan Maurer (07:29)
thinking something as simple like, oh, we can prefabricate all these pieces in Kathmandu, the city and bring them out to the village. It's just nothing works like that. So you really kind of had to return to the basics. But a big thing I learned too, is we have to listen to the local people. They've been living in these areas for multiple generations. They know what works and what doesn't work. Our main thing was providing the resources with knowledge of
Jason Scott Montoya (07:47)
Dan Maurer (07:59)
you know, can we bring tie beams together to make sure that everything is interlocked if we do have another shake? Can we support with more money so we can buy better building material? So it was it was really, really interesting and kind of moving forward is that's why I always work with Nepali engineers and local builders because they know what's readily available instead of someone coming from the West.
Jason Scott Montoya (08:25)
Was that something you were naturally inclined to do or did you have to learn that the hard way in terms of listening to the locals and not doing it your own way?
Dan Maurer (08:35)
That was definitely a learning thing. But we learned pretty early on, which
Jason Scott Montoya (08:38)
Dan Maurer (08:41)
Jason Scott Montoya (08:41)
Yeah. And were they receptive to the help or how did the sort of cultural and language barriers play a role or did they cause any kind of tension or challenges?
Dan Maurer (08:54)
Yeah, just, you know, there's always challenges with cultures and languages coming together. Things get lost in translation, as I say. But every community that I've worked with has been very receptive to, you know, working with us. I think the most important thing that you need to do as an international nonprofit that I see a disconnect in a lot of different ways there is you have to build that relationship.
with the local community. And as I say, you have to listen to them. This is gonna guarantee the success of whatever project you're doing because it's their communities, they know what they need, they know what they want. Again, we're just helping with knowledge and resources, usually in the financial contributions, but connecting everybody with the population being served, local community, what the government can offer, and then what a nonprofit will.
Jason Scott Montoya (09:26)
Dan Maurer (09:54)
That just takes time, but it's so, so important to build those relationships so everybody, it's all transparent with your donors and the community and that you're just effective. That's the most important.
Jason Scott Montoya (09:56)
Yeah, yeah. So rewind for us a bit, just to help us understand how Nepal kind of ended up in this situation where an earthquake like this would devastate the country. What's the history of Nepal as a nation? Why isn't it part of China or India too, versus it's kind of its own thing. And then how did it become so poor and broken?
Dan Maurer (10:33)
Good question. How much time do we have? It's you know, again, like I said, it was a it's a landlocked country, very, very diverse in terms of ethnicity. So you have 100 and they just upped it. There's 141 different caste systems or tribes in Nepal, all speaking their own tribal language. So if you look at the Himalayas,
Jason Scott Montoya (10:36)
Dan Maurer (11:01)
You know, you have your flatlands, you have your middle belt, then you have the high mountains. You had people moving across there from like Myanmar, also people coming in from like Afghanistan. And then you had Hindu people coming up out of the south out of India, and then other people coming across Mongolia, across that Tibetan Plateau, and then everybody kind of meshing in the middle of the Himalayas.
Jason Scott Montoya (11:23)
Dan Maurer (11:26)
So once borders were, a lot of people were nomadic and would move with the seasons or hunters and gatherers, but once borders were established and land and territories established, people kind of got trapped in their zones. So some of that also stripped people of cultures and identities and their inability to do their nomadic lifestyle. So yeah, that's...
Jason Scott Montoya (11:40)
Dan Maurer (11:52)
But it's such an interesting thing because it's still so rich in culture. You have 142 different castes or tribes. One could sit on one hillside speaking their language and then on the next hillside is complete different language and cultures and food and traditions, but they don't communicate with each other at times. Yeah, it's fascinating.
Jason Scott Montoya (12:08)
Yeah, so how, well, with the caste system, is that religiously driven or is it something else? And then if there are different religious traditions intersecting, how does it play out in that sense?
Dan Maurer (12:27)
So it's my understanding the caste system to kind of form the society of Nepal came from India, came from a Hindu system. You know, there's a caste system in Hinduism. So the Nepal government, which was a monarchy at the time, kind of adopted that system to categorize people. So caste kind of is used interchangeably with tribe.
Jason Scott Montoya (12:38)
Dan Maurer (12:56)
but there is still a bit of a hierarchy that does happen in Nepal. So someone of a certain caste or tribe, let's say, if they're considered a higher caste, they usually reside in the cities where they have access to education and better facilities. A lower caste tribe usually stays out in the villages and has more of a traditional type of lifestyle.
Jason Scott Montoya (12:57)
So they're more rural in that sense. And okay, so you have this diverse mix of people from different countries and different places. I mean, how do they talk to each other if the language is so fragmented?
Dan Maurer (13:22)
So Nepali is the base language. So that's the international language, but you do get to a lot of places, especially in the urban areas, or sorry, rural areas where people won't speak Nepali. But it's not uncommon for a Nepali person to speak four or five different languages. So, you know, Nepali is kind of the base, but they might speak their tribal language amongst their family and their community.
But then when an outsider or a different cast comes, then Nepali is your kind of base. But very, very.
Jason Scott Montoya (14:10)
Hmm. And is Nepali related to another language or is it its own thing?
Dan Maurer (14:17)
It's its own thing, but it's probably closely, most closely associated with Hindu.
Jason Scott Montoya (14:23)
Okay, so its origins are probably from India then, it sounds like.
Dan Maurer (14:29)
Yeah, like some of the words are interchangeable.
Jason Scott Montoya (14:33)
Yeah. So why isn't Nepal not just a state in India then? Why is it it's, how did it get separated? Or how did it become its own thing?
Dan Maurer (14:40)
It once it was established, it was its own kingdom. It was its own anarchy. For for years, the Silk Road, one of the main trade routes was through the Kathmandu Valley, you know, coming up out of India and then to other parts of Asia. I don't know the year, but they found an easier route around the Himalayas through Sikkim or Sikkim, which is which is a territory in India. But that
Jason Scott Montoya (14:45)
Dan Maurer (15:09)
kind of developed the Kathmandu Valley with merchants and trade people. And it was a pass through. But then, a monarchy till early 2000s and then everything kind of changed after that. But Nepal prides itself on, it was never colonized. So, colonization, which however you wanna think about it, whether it be bad or good, it does leave behind.
Jason Scott Montoya (15:11)
Dan Maurer (15:36)
a lot of things in terms of the infrastructure and educational structures. But Nepal never really had that. They did have a lot of influence from the East British Company out of India, but they were never colonized. So it kind of also explains the state of why Nepal is the way it is now, along with, you know, the geography being so dramatic and then all these different tribes.
Jason Scott Montoya (15:39)
Dan Maurer (16:02)
So it's really Jason, it's things like I've been working in and out of there for 12 years and some days I get it and other days I got no idea what's going on. So I've got it. Oh.
Jason Scott Montoya (16:02)
Yeah, well what is the, yeah, well what is it about the local people and culture that doesn't, that they lack something that creates the type of infrastructure that you're talking about? Like what is it that drives that or that they're missing or maybe it's something else altogether? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Dan Maurer (16:34)
Yeah, lack of planning, probably at the government level. I have to be a little bit careful how I say this. But just not having access to those resources and then the knowledge, you know, still very, very isolated these communities. Just for example, most of the places we work in don't have the big six that I talk about. There's no road access. There's no water. There's no electricity.
Jason Scott Montoya (16:38)
Dan Maurer (17:03)
There's no toilets, there's no school, and there's no health post. So, you know, if you look at say we want to build a school, but some places there's no road access where you might be walking two to three days just to access that village. So how are you going to start to build things if you can't even get building material in there that needs to be?
Jason Scott Montoya (17:19)
Dan Maurer (17:26)
flown in by a helicopter, which is kind of a new technology for Nepal, or all carried. So that just limits you in terms of the actual development of a place.
Jason Scott Montoya (17:36)
And so it sounds like a big part of the problem is that people live so far apart and they're in the mountain and it's fragmented in its geography as well as the people being spread out. And there's just the difficulty of the geography, it sounds like is a big part of that.
Dan Maurer (17:55)
Yeah, I remember after the quake, the UN, the director of the UN, he got on in he was talking about how difficult it's going to be to distribute aid in Nepal versus other places just based on that fact that you mentioned the geography. Again, villages that were completely flattened, you know, reduced to rubble and you had a high death count. But these are three days walk from any sort of facilities. It's like how in that's a dime a dozen
You know, it's like, how do we get aid into these places?
Jason Scott Montoya (18:28)
Yeah, and it sounds, I mean, I'd imagine when the earthquake happened, it was months and maybe even years before some of those villages even got any help, right?
Dan Maurer (18:38)
It's true. When I went back to visit those villages, as I said, you know, two years later, people still living in those structures. Twenty eighteen is when things started to really kick off in terms of aid money being distributed for the people, which was good. But, you know, almost three years of no efforts or no plan. It was that it was tough.
Jason Scott Montoya (19:04)
Yeah, so you have the geography challenges, you have the lack of infrastructure and systems. What about the, is any of it related to...
People's choices, as far as it could either be leadership or different groups, these different tribes that you described, in other words, where they do have the resources and information, but they don't necessarily do what is best for everyone involved. Does that make sense?
Dan Maurer (19:38)
Yeah, no, that's another good point to make is, you know, some of these very traditional tribes don't want to be disturbed. You know, you see this all over the world, but we've gone to speak to some communities that they're very happy with their traditional way. So where is it to us to say, well, we need to bring water, we need to build a school. It's if they're happy there, then
Jason Scott Montoya (19:59)
Dan Maurer (20:07)
then namaste, enjoy. But kind of where people are getting forced is as the development, like the encroachment of the roads happen around these communities, they're really getting choked. And then climate change is another big issue of food scarcity starting to pick up. So having to relocate where you live, but then not having any money to be able to do that.
So then you're seeing people come down to the cities and not having any sort of skill to contribute so they'll become a laborer. And then just kind of the problems stem from there. What was the original question? Right, so some people, yeah, don't want to be disturbed, but people are also getting displaced by the government for a variety of reasons, or just because they can't survive in their homeland anymore.
Jason Scott Montoya (20:36)
Yeah, so if the earthquake and its tragedy was destructive, was there also any kind of...
a response from people to maybe be more open-minded to different ways, like, hey, what the way we were building things, or maybe we should have higher standards, or maybe we should do this or that differently. Did you, did the country see any kind of shift in the mindsets of people as a result of their quake in terms of improving things?
Dan Maurer (21:38)
Definitely. So the government formed the Nepal Reconstructive Authority. So that's where all money was filtered through, but they put in different building standards. So, you know, based on the structure, you do have to have like tie beams and there does need to be iron rods to make sure that things, if it were to shake again, it wouldn't collapse. So that's been a huge benefit and they haven't had any big ones since then, but they have consistent shakes.
Jason Scott Montoya (21:50)
Dan Maurer (22:08)
and the new infrastructure has held up. So that's been a huge positive for sure.
Jason Scott Montoya (22:13)
Yeah. Was there any part of the country that was disproportionately harmed by the earthquake? In other words, were the city buildings stronger than rural ones or vice versa? Or was it kind of the same across the board?
Dan Maurer (22:28)
Yeah, the city, Camp Mandu, there was quite a bit of damage, but the urban environments did hold up better than the better than the countryside. But it's kind of yeah right in that middle was where's where the destruction was the most severe.
Jason Scott Montoya (22:38)
Okay. Now, oh.
Yeah, so here you have this monumental tragedy. You're going in with $7,000 to fix the country. You're in over your head. How do you level up yourself and establish this organization to do more than you and your $7,000 could? Ha ha.
Dan Maurer (23:05)
All right. Yeah. So after that, again, made a good connection with a friend, guy named Resham Ball. So he's the he's our in-country coordinator and he's the head. He's director of operations on the Nepal side. He's he's a Nepali native. So once I came back to the states, looked at how to get registered as a 501 C3, you know, what's going to be our mission, how are we going to do it? You know, established all that, went back to Resham.
Um, we also, this is also a very, very important thing to do in international nonprofit is we also became registered with the Nepal government. Um, so it's good. So they help with all permits and they really protect us if, if anything, um, were to happen. So we, so we can legally operate in the country. If there's any, if there's any sort of backlash, if there's anything that could go wrong, if there's an accident, but also
Jason Scott Montoya (23:48)
Protect you from who?
Dan Maurer (24:02)
that allows us to get government money as well. So we can partner with the local government to get subsidies for some of the projects. So yeah, then it came, now we're registered, we're fully compliant, let's go. And then we get our 501C3 in the States and me thinking, oh, now the money will pour in for a distribution, right? I mean, this is, everybody wants a tax write-off. So, it...
Jason Scott Montoya (24:13)
Dan Maurer (24:31)
Kind of grown from there. We did full-time earthquake resistant homes. We ended up building a school for 700 kids. We have a heavy focus on agriculture and helping with employment and income sources, advancing public health in the rural communities. But most of our main focus is on the rural community development.
Jason Scott Montoya (24:53)
Hmm. So, well, two questions there. One is, what is the sort of mindset and money allocation towards education in the country? You know, in America, everyone, you know, it's almost like a right to go to elementary, middle and high school. That's something we probably take for granted, but what is it like in Nepal?
Dan Maurer (25:14)
in terms of percentage of kids who go to school.
Jason Scott Montoya (25:18)
In terms of just even the school being provided by the state to be available to them if they want to go or mandating it like it is in our country at least through high school.
Dan Maurer (25:29)
Yeah, good question. So how the kind of structure set up is you have government schools and then private schools. Most of kind of kind of like we have here public and private, but government school, of course, is quite a bit cheaper. I can't quite remember. It's, I don't know, 10 bucks a month or something to send the kid to school. But the problem is the quality of the education.
and the access to that education, especially in the rural areas. So, for example, some of the places we work in, you have classes that only go up to grade five. So if they want to continue their education beyond grade five, they'll have to go to a neighboring village, which sometimes is a day's walk away. And then maybe that school only goes up to grade eight. And then they have, you know, eventually it's moving into the urban environment like Katmandu if they want to get a higher education.
Jason Scott Montoya (26:08)
Yeah. So do you have like third graders walking a day's thing to go to school by themselves? Is that what happened? Yeah.
Dan Maurer (26:25)
Oh yeah, you'll, you know, if they have to go that far, usually there'll be a hostel or a place they'll stay, but I would say two to three hours each way is not untypical for the mountains. It's pretty wild. Um, but then, then you have, you know, it's such a, um, such a survival this type of lifestyle as we would know it. So a lot of educate, a lot of classroom time is missed when, you know, the annual harvest comes because they have to help with rice or corn or whatever they might be working on.
Jason Scott Montoya (26:44)
Dan Maurer (27:03)
Then you have this horrific monsoon that, you know, douses the country for three months a year. So a lot of it's kind of like hibernation time.
Jason Scott Montoya (27:11)
Yeah, yeah, so last year I went to Honduras on a short-term mission trip with two of my kids and it was in Honduras in a very rural part of the country. And that was one of the things that Honduras prioritize is providing education in. So there was actually multiple schools, they were very small and simple, but they were in these rural villages.
and they were nice for what they were, but the government was at least putting money into that and then placing them in their locations. So.
Dan Maurer (27:51)
That was a good response to the earthquake, actually, Jason. You make a good point of a lot of money went into rebuilding schools from the government level. So you do see nice facilities, new or nicer facilities in the urban area. So the government has made a huge effort to make a platform for education. I think just, again, back to the geography and cultural differences. I think it's not as...
Jason Scott Montoya (28:00)
Dan Maurer (28:18)
good as it could be, but we could say that about America as well.
Jason Scott Montoya (28:23)
Yeah, yeah. So why the poor in the remote villages? So, I mean, there's probably a lot of need there. You could pick a lot of different missions. Is it simply that those are the ones that were being neglected or needed the most help, or was it something else?
Dan Maurer (28:38)
Yeah, you hit it on the head. It was, you know, our board of directors, myself, and then our operations team. It was like, if we're going to do this, let's get to the areas who need it the most. Which is tough to go through because as a Westerner showing up in Kathmandu, you know, they need a ton of help. But once you get even farther out there, it's like, you know, one village that we're working in now to help with our water distribution project of building the infrastructure to bring water to every home.
Jason Scott Montoya (28:58)
Dan Maurer (29:08)
You know, they're still walking a couple hours a day just to collect water. Um, and that's one trip. So if you run out of water, you gotta, you know, you gotta do it a couple more times. Um, you know, so let's, let's help the people that still don't have access to some of the, some of the basics.
Jason Scott Montoya (29:12)
Yeah, so help us understand a little bit more about your mission. You're trying to help them to transform into these thriving, what you've described as thriving communities. So you're not just there to sort of hand them food and keep giving them stuff. It's really to create a self-sustaining community from what I understand. So tell us more about that, what that looks like and why you took that approach.
Dan Maurer (29:52)
Sure, yeah, so, you know, speaking to the rural community development project that we're in, you know, we first went out there thinking we would build another school, but once we got out there, it was like, well, goodness, they don't have the big six that I just mentioned. So back to building that relationship and asking these communities, and we looked at dozens and dozens of just, what do you want and what do you need and can we help?
Jason Scott Montoya (30:04)
Dan Maurer (30:20)
So this one area in particular, it was like the water is our biggest issue. Certain sources have gone dry because actually the earthquake shifted the water table and cut off reliable water sources. But they're like, we need to somehow get water into this village. And then from there, we can, you know, think about other things like public health and education and all that stuff.
Jason Scott Montoya (30:26)
Dan Maurer (30:48)
But let me see, can't remember where I was gonna go. But yeah, you know, starting at that local level, but really, really listening to them in terms of what they want and what they need.
Jason Scott Montoya (30:59)
Yeah, and so the self-sustaining dynamic, tell us more about that.
Dan Maurer (31:03)
Right. So, you know, it nonprofit is a funny business too, because your, your model is to give away money and then also work your way out of a job. I always say it's their communities, it's it's, they're the ones who are doing it. And they're the ones who are going to, you know, implement all these things. But they are relying on elevate Nepal to provide the resources with, you know, skills and
Jason Scott Montoya (31:15)
Dan Maurer (31:33)
of finances. But how do we make sure that these are functional systems after Elevate Nepal leaves? And that's going to, once again, take a lot of time. So what we do is one, it's all a community formed committee who makes all the decisions. So it's run by one person of each household. So they make the decision of what we're going to implement and how we're going to execute it. And they help to get us permits from the government who kind of oversees all this stuff.
Um, but then we do a lot of vocational training. So our engineer and our main builder is out there. So if we're not in the village, um, and a pipe breaks, they have, um, the knowledge to be able to fix that. So this is a common problem that I see all over Nepal that may be simple in our minds, but it's, you see, you see a problem that is so minute, like an elbow, a plastic elbow that broke.
and all that needs to happen is somebody just needs to glue it together. But no one was trained at the local level to do that. And there was no money in a rainy day fund to be able to fix it. So you have these, these entire water systems or plumbing systems that are non-functional because nobody took the time to actually train somebody.
Jason Scott Montoya (32:50)
Yeah, and it's such a small problem that, at least for us, we think, oh, I could just fix that in a few minutes or an hour. And yet they lack whatever they need to be able to do that same thing. Right.
Dan Maurer (32:57)
And you, right. And you can't go to Home Depot and you can't call a plumber. You know, you're a day's walk from, from the road. So it's almost like I describe it as somebody comes into your town in Atlanta and is going to install a solar panel, a solar system on your house. Um, but they have no, uh, they have no service maintenance program to help you. So once, once your solar system breaks, what are you going to do? You might get up there and kind of wiggle some wires around, hoping it starts to function again.
but ultimately you don't have the skills to repair it yourself and there's no repair guy you can call. So the system is a bust. You know, just apply that to some of the infrastructure projects that we're working on.
Jason Scott Montoya (33:35)
Yeah. So does that mean that, which problem do you solve there? Do you build in a simpler way so that they can access and fix things? Or do you have a better supply chain system so that they have the tools they need to be able to do what they need to do? You kind of go two directions. Yeah.
Dan Maurer (34:03)
Yeah, number two. Yeah, you know, using the best material that we can find is important just for the functionality and longevity of the system, but making sure people have the connections that they need, you know, if they can't fix it at that local level, if they don't have the spare part that they can call our main plumber and he can send out a team to diagnose that. But it all comes back to another.
big thing about the sustainable part of it, all comes back to money, right? So even if they do need to buy, you know, buy material to fix something, when they're so poor, it's how are they going to have the money to do it? So there is government funding that'll help with these things, so the government can subsidize with that, and that's all the importance of building these committees and making sure everything is very transparent. Elevate Nepal is helping at the moment to subsidize this, but the other thing is everybody's paying a small
monthly fee for the use of the infrastructure. So it's so small, but it is going into a kitty that they will end up using in the future to repair these things. It's so small right now, but it's like you got to start from somewhere and build on there. Hopefully that if something goes wrong, we're also the government is not dependent or they're not dependent on us.
Jason Scott Montoya (35:17)
Yeah, so that fund is designed to make them self-sustaining from a financial standpoint.
Dan Maurer (35:29)
Yep, exactly. So you have the skills, you have the finances, and then you just have the buy-in and empowerment at that local level. So then, you know, nobody's, we're not needed. So we've worked ourself out of a job, but you know, we're talking years of years of doing this.
Jason Scott Montoya (35:40)
Yeah, so do you focus then on a single community and you get it to that point and then you go to the next one or do you have multiple that you're working with at the same time?
Dan Maurer (35:57)
Kind of the one that I'm speaking about now is, we're in year two or three of this. So this is gonna kind of become our model. This has been one that we've spearheaded ourselves. But other communities we work with, they're a little bit more advanced. So every community, it's a bit...
It's a bit different depending on where you are. And that's just, you know, maybe they've already have this established. They know what they need and all things like that, or they have the committee already, already ready to go. Um, and then we can kind of help in different capacities.
Jason Scott Montoya (36:31)
Yeah, so what are other aspects of your nonprofit that you're doing or working with that you haven't already described or explored?
Or have we done it all?
Dan Maurer (36:43)
Let's see. The two other one of our initiatives. So our initiatives we do employment, education, public health and infrastructure. So I've kind of described that. I guess the other two things we do is another big problem in Nepal is out migration. So a ton of people going to the cities and abroad to seek education and employment.
Jason Scott Montoya (36:56)
Dan Maurer (37:11)
So a third of Nepal's GDP comes from remittance. Another 10% or 12% comes from tourism. So only almost 50% of the money in Nepal is generated by a foreign income source. So a big thing that we try to do is to curb this out migration, which will help preserve cultures and family structures is to help using readily available resources to provide that income source.
So what is Nepal's most valuable resource? Is it's fertile soil? You know, Nepal doesn't manufacture anything like metals and things that we might know in the West, but it's soil and the middle belt is very, very rich. So one of the big things that we've done is working with an agriculture school to teach the next generation about sustainable organic agriculture, but also tying the economics into that. In another...
Jason Scott Montoya (37:57)
Dan Maurer (38:10)
So tying onto that is a big cash crop that we've been working with is coffee. So I've been working with the coffee farmer since my first trip in 2011. And then we import the green beans to America and then a hundred percent of the profits are returned to support those communities. So generating an income source right there to kind of help curb this out migration, but not bringing in foreign materials, like not setting up a factory and kind of all these things, using stuff in-house.
Jason Scott Montoya (38:37)
So what kind of opportunities, I mean what resources does Nepal have, you know, in its own geography in terms of farming lands or even natural resources or trades and so on, like the coffee, in terms of, I assume they also, did they just grow it or did they do steps of the process beyond the growing at all?
Dan Maurer (39:06)
Everything. So, you know, kind of from seed to export of the green bean. And then we import it here and roast it and sell it. But coffee is becoming a lot more popular in Kathmandu. So you're seeing coffee shops pop up where they're selling a lot more of the product in country, which is great. You know, they're generating their own revenue source right there. But in terms of the resources that Nepal has, it's again, that the middle belt, the soil is so rich.
Jason Scott Montoya (39:14)
Dan Maurer (39:36)
Um, most of that coming from water, it's a very water abundant country. So, but it's a little bit like the desert where you have feast or famine with, with the, with the rains. Um, so you're making diversions and having access to water, um, through natural sources, um, also, also helps with that, the agriculture side of it. Um, but, but land and land and water are its two most valuable resources.
Jason Scott Montoya (39:47)
Okay. And being landlocked, how does that limit the country?
Dan Maurer (40:10)
It's everything is expensive. So, you know, airplane tickets at and out and shipping anything is expensive. You know, to do to do commerce, I guess I would say that's what really that's what makes everything expensive. But if you were to get come out with your commerce to get out to a port, your closest one is Calcutta, so would have to move through the.
Jason Scott Montoya (40:14)
Dan Maurer (40:39)
dilapidated roads of Nepal and then down into India and then to a port and kind of out from there which could take Anywhere up to a week or ten days just to move a truck from A to B So yeah limiting
Jason Scott Montoya (40:49)
Yeah, yeah. So, yeah, I imagine that's even more the case the further you get away from the city and into the rural and the mountains. The top of Mount Everest is probably the hardest place to get to
there. Ha ha ha. Now, is that a positive thing that there's so much tourism and the Everest attraction in terms of bringing money to the country or is it?
Dan Maurer (41:04)
It is it is I think they're sending people up in drones now. I don't know what they're doing
Jason Scott Montoya (41:18)
kind of create its own problems as well.
Dan Maurer (41:22)
Hmm. The revenue boost is great. You know, it does supply thousands, tens of thousands of people with seasonal jobs. The impacts, though, are very clearly seen in terms of just the waste and the waste generated human waste and plastics and kind of all these things. They've done a lot.
There's been a lot of more rules and regulations around in the tourism industry to help kind of clean that up. But it goes back to some of the basics of not having those systems or infrastructure in place that if you got a team that's, you know, a seven day walk from a road and they're drinking a bunch of stuff out of plastic bottles, you know, it's not a garbage man to come by and collect it. So how are you going to kind of get all those out of there? And then once you do, where's it going to go?
Jason Scott Montoya (42:17)
Dan Maurer (42:22)
You don't really have a sorting facility and all that. It's great for people to come to Nepal and help boost the local economy. I think I'll leave it there.
Jason Scott Montoya (42:34)
Yeah, yeah. So now, are there, what you're doing, you're helping this country, you were born in Rochester, live in Flagstaff now, where I'm from. Are there other organizations that are doing things as well? Are you kind of one of many, or are you one of the only ones doing this work?
Dan Maurer (43:01)
There are many, I don't know the number at one point in time I looked it up, but there are many nonprofits working in Nepal from small grassroots stuff up to government level working with embassies. But of those who are doing that, very few are actually registered. So the main point I would make on all of that is just making sure that everything is
compliant and you are registered with that government because things can just go a little bit funny or there could be misunderstandings if they're not. A lot of people are in there with great intentions and doing fantastic work, but everything needs to be very transparent and so important to be working with those local communities and the government. So just so everything is very clear. But yes, there are quite a few other nonprofits working
Jason Scott Montoya (43:56)
Dan Maurer (44:00)
Jason Scott Montoya (44:00)
Yeah, so what are some of the dynamics when it comes to just having an international nonprofit, both in terms of you're here in America half the year and you're there half the year, and the legal layers and fundraising, tell us about that.
Dan Maurer (44:20)
Yeah, I think I wrote in a grant once, you know, we have a myriad of challenges, you know, just the physical time it takes for me to get from here to there. You know, to get to some of these projects might take me almost a week, from where I sit right now here in Flagstaff. But again, building a strong team on the ground in Nepal, which, again, I'm trying to work myself out of a job where I'm not needed and we can, you know, support.
Jason Scott Montoya (44:45)
Dan Maurer (44:48)
sustainable income for everybody there, you know, have a livelihood. Probably one of the, you know, biggest challenges working in international is dealing is understanding the rules and regulations of both sides of the globe. So everything we have in the States, we also have over in Nepal, because we're just two fully registered entities, we got a board of directors on the state side board of directors on the Nepal side.
you know, lawyers, accountants on each side of the globe too. So your funding needs to be doubled kind of for those sort of things. So, yeah, there's just and then cultures and different things that, you know, the East and the West mixing together. It's a beautiful thing to share cultures and languages across continents. But, you know, you have to be sensitive with some of the things you're working on as well.
Jason Scott Montoya (45:45)
Yeah, so what's it like in that sense to learn a second first language in the sense of culturally, using language as like a cultural idea, what is it like to learn another culture in a way that you can understand it from the way that they see it? Does that make sense?
Dan Maurer (46:06)
It's yeah, it's I mean, it's wonderful and great, but you have to have the right mindset, you have to be very open to things and you have to let your you know, my comfort zone is very wide, but you have to also kind of let your guard down in certain ways, you know, your creature comforts have to disappear and you have to adapt and do things the way.
you know, they do at the local level, because you don't want to insult anybody, or you don't want to, you know, do something wrong. He's even as simple as one story that I love of a name who I'll admit, omit, is he was in a meeting with a government official, and they were trying to come to an agreement on a financial thing, and he turned and he crossed his legs. And now his foot is pointed at.
Um, the main guy that he's speaking to now here in the States, we cross our legs and, you know, whatever it might be. He crossed his legs. His foot is pointed directly at the guy. That is a huge sign of disrespect. I mean, it's like, if you point your feet towards somebody or, or an altar or a picture of the Dalai Lama, something like that, I mean, that's up there with one of the worst things that you can do. But, right, right. Yeah. Just, I mean, just about. So, um,
Jason Scott Montoya (47:12)
It's like flipping them off or something in a way. Yeah.
Dan Maurer (47:29)
You know, kind of learn. People are very nice most of the time. You know, they explain it to you and whatnot. But you have to. You're never going to learn these things if you just don't take the time to be a part of it, to get amongst it, you know. No.
Jason Scott Montoya (47:44)
Yeah. So it sounds like it's not a place for the prideful. Humility required.
Dan Maurer (47:54)
Right. Yeah. But it's you know, and that's an interesting thing. I absolutely love Nepal. I mean, it is it is stolen my heart. There's there's a saying amongst expats there that you come for the mountains, but you return for the people. And that is that is a hundred percent true. But even someone working in
you know, job role with another nonprofit or with the government. A lot of them still struggle to spend long stretches in Nepal because it is very uncomfortable. You know, just the roads there, you're getting thrown around in jeeps and, you know, trying to things don't happen at the rapid pace that we're used to in the West. It can get very, very frustrating.
So, you know, even other nonprofits that we work closely with, if they're out of the states or the UK, you know, I hear a lot of them who are in my position to say, I can only do about a week or two a year. And, you know, it's fair enough, but making sure they have a structure in place to be able to do things when they're absent. But in Nepal, they always say, サパイガールちゃ, which means everything is difficult.
Jason Scott Montoya (48:56)
Yeah, that's interesting because the barriers, like we've been talking about with geography or infrastructure, cultural or language, there's just a life is difficult barrier. And so if you want to help people there, you have to descend into that difficulty.
Dan Maurer (49:37)
Yep, you have to you have to get into it and really embrace it and accept it. That's especially when you do work with just things that take so much time, you know, of like opening a bank account. I opened up a new bank account a couple of years ago. It took like six weeks for me to do this. You know, now we get in the States, we can do it online. But it's just, again, systems that aren't
Jason Scott Montoya (49:44)
Dan Maurer (50:05)
fully functional or make sense that it's, I mean, literally can drive a Westerner insane. But you have to just I mean, embrace it and say, Well, okay, I'll come back again tomorrow with this other piece of paperwork. Conducting business there is is, oh my goodness, it's hilarious.
Jason Scott Montoya (50:21)
Yeah. Now, why do you come back to the States? Why not just be there all the time? Why come back to Flagstaff and operate there? What's the purpose of that?
Dan Maurer (50:40)
That'd be nice. My role is I'm involved with every aspect of Elevate Nepal from the fundraising here in the States to the project implementation on the ground in Nepal. So I'm stretched like a rubber band a lot, but I absolutely love it. Coming back to the States, what a privilege I do have to be able to come back and have a wonderful place to live and see family and all that great stuff.
But you know business duties on this side with fundraising and admin and communications and kind of all that stuff still requires a bit of my time.
Jason Scott Montoya (51:17)
Yeah, so what are the lessons, when you think about this, what, nine year journey now, or longer, if you go back before the 2000 earthquake, this decade long journey or more,
what are some of the things that you've learned or that where you've really grown as a person and a leader?
Dan Maurer (51:30)
Patience. But you know, I still, every morning I pray for patience. You know, I want, I need more of it. I think this is something we're all looking for in our life. You know, I get a lot, Jason, people say, well, you know, you've helped so many people, but I always flip it to be what the country of Nepal, the people have done for me.
Jason Scott Montoya (51:39)
Dan Maurer (52:05)
And this was recognized by an older friend in Flagstaff a few years back. He goes, you know, think of where you've gone spiritually and have grown as a human being over your time of working in Nepal. So yes, I'm very proud of all of our donors and everybody coming together to make, have our mission impactful and help so many people in Nepal. But what they have done for me, I can't even, I don't even know the words to start with it. It's been, it's been a
Jason Scott Montoya (52:33)
Dan Maurer (52:34)
very beautiful and rewarding journey for myself.
Jason Scott Montoya (52:39)
Yeah, it's a mutual thing. It's not a one-way relationship. And this idea with this podcast is called Share Life. And that's derived from my personal mission statement, which is to share life. And part of the idea of that is it's to give and to receive. It's to learn and to teach. It's the mutual connection between the relationship that we have with each other.
Dan Maurer (53:06)
Yeah, it's, and I love that Jason, and to do that in our own communities here in Atlanta or Flagstaff, but to be able to share that across cultures and continents is really a fantastic thing. So when we do have volunteers or people come over to Nepal, I'm always welcoming, just come and see it in...
Jason Scott Montoya (53:19)
Dan Maurer (53:28)
just talk to people and learn from them and have them learn from you. It's just a great way to share and make us all better people.
Jason Scott Montoya (53:37)
Yeah, so if someone, you know, there's a lot of nonprofits, there's a lot of international nonprofits, there are a lot of countries that need help, there are a lot of people that need help. So how, obviously you're trying to serve a specific need and you need help to help those people. What's your message to those people that might be interested in volunteering, giving, or simply sharing the message that you have?
Dan Maurer (54:05)
It's, you know, there are so many needs all over the world as you touched on, and I commend anybody who is doing humanitarian work in any capacity. You know, my heart has fallen in Nepal and I've dedicated my life to this work. So I always invite anybody to join our mission, whether that be through volunteering or making a financial contribution, or simply sharing our story through a social media platform or our-
email communications. But kind of the thing that separates us, I believe, from other nonprofits, I'll speak specifically about Nepal, is we are very, very open and transparent about our about our mission and where your donor dollars will go. I believe there's a big disconnect in the nonprofit philanthropy world anyway, between your
your donor or your philanthropist, the implementing party, which would be Elevate Nepal, and then the population serve. The implementing party, which is the nonprofit, they're the ones who need to kind of bridge that gap between everybody. And we do the absolute best we can. I think we can do better in some ways, but that's where everybody feels connected. And we're doing all of this together. So, you know, when I invite people to be a part of our mission, it's
we're doing this together, whatever you want, come to Nepal, whatever you need from us to show the journey of your donor dollars of the people that are impacted. I'm very happy to share and talk about those things.
Jason Scott Montoya (55:43)
Yeah, so let's fast forward, it's a year from now, January 5th, 2025. What's the story you tell about 2024 in terms of your mission?
Dan Maurer (55:54)
I'll be retired and just laughing away. Great, very good question. Something I haven't thought of. Probably this is gonna be a big year for us. We're going to service our third village with water, electricity, and new toilets. And that was kind of our goal when we started three years ago. So by the time this whole thing is done, three huge villages,
Jason Scott Montoya (55:56)
Dan Maurer (56:23)
will three villages that are very spread out will have all those services impacting over 600 people. And so that'll be a great highlight for us. We're doing our medical camp again, which will serve us a couple thousand more people. And then turning our focus on that community I've been mostly speaking about of can we get a school in there? Can we improve the, can we get a health post in there?
you know, what is kind of our next development for that area? So in a year from now, looking back, hopefully we've accomplished all that. Hopefully we've also gained some new supporters, which of course we always need because, you know, when we first started to where we are now, our budgets have increased significantly.
Jason Scott Montoya (57:11)
Yeah, yeah. Cool, anything else you want to share that you haven't had a chance to do so?
Dan Maurer (57:18)
Not really. I think just kind of my ending message really is I'm, this has been the opportunity of my life to work with the people of Nepal. I wake up every day and don't know what I have done to be so lucky. But I have the best job in the world because I get to go live with these communities and build relationships and get to know them on a very, very personal level. But none of this would be possible without the generosity of
our donor base and they're really the ones that are making all of this happen. So once again, you know, I invite anybody to be a part of our story and join us in unbelievably grateful for the continued support of our very loyal donor base.
Jason Scott Montoya (58:02)
Yeah, well, I appreciate you sharing. How can people connect? What's your website? Are you on social media?
Dan Maurer (58:09)
Yep. Elevate Nepal.org. Um, but Google elevate Nepal. You'll find us. Um, and then social media, just put it into any of the search browsers is, is elevate Nepal. And there's, uh, and I also welcome anybody to contact me directly. There's, there's my email on the website and reach out at any time for anything. As you can see, I like Nepal and I like to talk about it.
Jason Scott Montoya (58:34)
That sounds great. Well, thank you so much Dan. I appreciate you sharing with us today and helping us to learn about Nepal and it's Kind of country and the people you're serving and the things you're doing to help them thrive
Dan Maurer (58:47)
Well, thank you, Jason, and you are welcome in Nepal anytime. So start planning your trip with your wife and five kids. Ha ha.
Jason Scott Montoya (58:54)
All right, sounds good. Thank you.
Dan Maurer (58:57)
I mean, thanks so much for having me on.
Jason Scott Montoya (59:00)
Yeah, you're welcome.
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