Hillary Medalist Redefines Development

Seth Sicroff's picture

[An earlier article, I do it because I can, spotlights Scott MacLennan’s work as director of the Mountain Fund, for which he was awarded the 2010 Hillary Medal.]

Last month, just about the time I should have been pulling an all-nighter to finish off my November article for Wandering Educators, I was instead flying off to Melbourne to attend the Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal presentation ceremony. Despite the grueling flight (which included a 14-hour leg crammed between a couple of manatees who didn’t take a single bathroom break), it was an exhilarating week. And Melbourne! What’s not to love about a city that has miles of off-leash beaches just a short stroll from downtown, not to mention St. Kilda, the gentrified redlight district now brimming with tapas joints, white-table-cloth restaurants, and backpacker hostels? You can even walk out on the St Kilda Breakwater for a caffè latte and ogle rakali (Hydromys chrysogaster, a.k.a. water rats) and those midget penguins pretending no one can see them going about their reproductive affairs.

The Hillary Medal presentation banquet was a breezily formal affair. Sir Edmund’s son Peter Hillary, an eminent adventurer in his own right, shared some droll and inspiring stories. Prof. Beau Beza and Dean David Hayward (School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) spoke about the importance of volunteerism in higher education, and I contributed a few tipsy thoughts on MacLennan’s remarkable impact as a mentor to other non-profits around the world.


Peter Hillary, Dr. Beau Beza (Chair of Hillary Medal Selection Committee), Sue Badyari (CEO of World Expeditions), 2010 Hillary Medal winner Scott MacLennan (Director of Mountain Fund)

Peter Hillary, Dr. Beau Beza (Chair of Hillary Medal Selection Committee), Sue Badyari (CEO of World Expeditions, major sponsor of the Hillary Medal), 2010 Hillary Medal winner Scott MacLennan (Director of Mountain Fund)


Mountain Fund volunteers Thomas Pottage and Reece Treloar fill Peter Hillary's ears about the impact of their participation in Mountain Fund volunteer tours.

Mountain Fund volunteers Thomas Pottage and Reece Treloar tell Peter Hillary about the impact of their participation in Mountain Fund volunteer tours.






Then, following the medal presentation, Scott MacLennan took the floor. I expected Scott to tell us how he snookered himself into raising money for his first clinic, then another, and another and a school for HIV kids, and a monastery, and so on and on – an inspiring tale, and one which he recounts in my article I do it because I can. But instead he quickly launched into the rationale for his new project, which I suspect will become a game-changer for development in Nepal.


Slide from Scott MacLennan's presentation

Slide from Scott MacLennan's presentation


MacLennan’s Leadership Program is based on two insights. The first is summed up in that old saw about the relative merits of handing out free fish and free fishing poles. ("Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.")

“Traditional foreign aid is just a band-aid,” MacLennan says. “We need to equip Nepalis to organize and manage their own development projects. Our primary goal in this new project is to create leaders who are capable of understanding and performing in the global business arena and to create transformational leaders. Transformational leadership is leadership that creates valuable and positive change in communities with the end goal of developing followers into leaders. A transformational leader focuses on transforming others to help each other, to look out for each other, to be encouraging and harmonious, and to look out for the organization as a whole.”

The second insight, which MacLennan credits to a Nike commercial, is that investing in girls results in the biggest bang for the development buck. Gender equity is not a new issue in development circles, but the “Girl Effect” Initiative, a partnership between the World Bank and Nike, pitches the strategy as a question of economic exigency rather than moral outrage. 

Noting that  an estimated one-third of young women in developing nations are not employed and not in school, World Bank President Robert Zoellick argues that under-investing in girls impedes development, and that educating girls also makes sense for poor families, since an extra year of secondary schooling can raise a girl’s wages by 10 to 20 percent. "If they earn greater income, they also have greater access to reproductive health information and services, so they are more likely to delay marriage and childbirth, have healthier babies and attain higher literacy rates," Zoellick says. "The evidence strongly suggests that investing in adolescent girls is a key way to break inter-generational patterns of poverty."

Here, in MacLennan’s words, is the Leadership Program proposal:

Training young women to be social entrepreneurs and leaders in their communities has the power to create a complete mind-shift in developing countries. Our aim is to provide promising young women with the opportunity to acquire the skills needed to lead a team in accomplishing a small-scale development project in their own community. From this experience they will learn the requisite skills that can be scaled up to larger social development projects. They will also learn, and experience first hand, what it takes to be a leader and to support others in becoming leaders as well. One young woman at a time, one small development at a time and we begin the process of changing the game.

More specifically, the Leadership Academy aims to empower a young woman to

  • envision a small-scale development project for her community
  • prepare a budget for her project using Microsoft Excel
  • prepare a "marketing concept” for the project
  • prepare a written document about the project in English
  • use PowerPoint and give an inspiring public presentation about the project
  • post the project on the Global Giving Web site so as to attract donors
  • implement the project
  • report back to donors 


That's it. That's the expected outcome. I am suggesting that if we can train a few dozen young women each year to do this we will create a game-changing environment both for small-scale development and women. It is not rocket science, it's not grad school, it's mastering a few simple concepts and techniques that absolutely make all the difference in the world when it comes to changing ideas into action. We are interested in the doing.  




Scott MacLennan


Right now, Mountain Fund has the space, a few computers, and some of the other materials needed for this project, but is looking for volunteer instructors and mentors, as well as partner organizations. And funding, of course. If you are interested, contact Scott [tel: 505-830-9808 ; email: mtnfund[at]mountainfund.org].


Meanwhile, World Expeditions has come up with an exciting “HUMA Challenge” tour designed to tie in with MacLennan’s efforts. This is a 20-day packaged trek to Everest Base Camp, culminating with participation in the festivities in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s schoolhouse at Khumjung on May 29, 2011. The 2011 Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal will be presented; Scott MacLennan, Peter Hillary, and many mountain luminaries will be on hand, and there will be a full program of performances, competitions, feasting and dancing. Sherpa festivals are exceptionally colorful and high-spirited, and this will almost certainly be the most extravagant Sherpa festival ever. 

Participants in this tour have to commit to raising $3000 (tax-deductible) on behalf of Mountain Fund. For information about the trek,
contact Monique, Huma Challenge Project Coordinator [tel: 1-888-486-4862; email: Monique[at]humachallenge.com]; for questions regarding fundraising, contact Scott at the Mountain Fund [tel: 505-830-9808; email: mtnfund[at]mountainfund.org].


Seth Sicroff is the Nepal Editor for Wandering Educators