WHEN TRACE FOUNDATION began in 1993, it was a collection of ideas and aspirations based on personal experience. I had spent time, some years earlier, as a tourist and then as an English teacher on the Tibetan plateau. During this time, I came to believe that there was a role for international cooperation to play in the development of Tibetan areas.
The Foundation was, and remains, grounded in my experiences of that time—the enthusiasm I felt for many aspects of Tibetan culture, community life, and the natural environment, the exposure I had to the challenges faced by Tibetans, and the admiration I held for those who served their communities. It was my hope that, over time, the Foundation would be able to contribute in a way that would be meaningful to local people, would have a long-term impact, and would reinforce the unique and beautiful qualities of life in this part of the world.
improving quality of life.
Development is, fundamentally, about improving quality of life. While it is critical to focus on the more tangible aspects of what this means—access to education, clean water, economic opportunity, and so forth—the human experience goes beyond these tangibles. Connection to culture is an integral part of well-being, especially when cultural history and community ties run as deep as they do in Tibetan regions of the world. For this reason, the Foundation’s projects focus on the nexus of culture and development and look for ways to reinforce both; we believe that culture and development must advance hand in hand.
During our first decade of operation, we made grants to international organizations and local institutions whose work supported this idea. In 2004, we also began to implement our own projects, which now represent the bulk of our work. Direct implementation has allowed us to ensure greater accountability for ourselves and our partners, and maintain closer adherence to our mission.
We take a people-centered approach in our projects that is built on mutual respect and cooperation. We believe that these principles are fundamental to the success of our projects, and to the endeavor of development in general. Effective development will build on local assets and strengths, rather than perpetuate disadvantage or foster dependency. Our projects are conceived and planned with local participation, engaging people in the development process and embedding the perspectives and priorities in the project before it is even implemented. It is therefore the local community who will achieve and sustain positive change, and ensure that it is meaningful and lasting.
As we look to the future, we build on the partnerships we have developed at all levels of society, from village leaders and primary school teachers to county and provincial level health care workers and ministry officials. Taking lessons from the past and keeping an eye open to new opportunities and challenges, we continue to work with others to leave behind a lasting trace, and to celebrate and strengthen an extraordinary culture.
At its core, development is very simple: it is human beings, reaching out to one another, building upon our common humanity, for our common future.