Ladakh, or 'Little Tibet', is one of the last remaining traditional cultures on earth. For over a thousand years the Ladakhi people prospered, creating a rich, harmonious and sustainable culture from the sparse resources of their region. In 1975, traditional self-reliance and cultural pride were suddenly replaced by feelings of inferiority, dissatisfaction and competition when the area was opened to 'development', including tourism, media and advertisement, which brought with them highly idealised impressions of life in the West. Outside economic pressures began undermining the local economy, and ills that were previously unknown - pollution, crime, unemployment, family breakdown, rapid urbanisation and ethnic conflict - began to take hold.
Helena Norberg-Hodge founded the Ladakh Project in 1978 as a way of countering these destructive trends. As an alternative to conventional development, the project has encouraged a path based on Ladakh's own values and its human-scale economy. Much of this work has involved 'counter-development', which involves informing people about the realities of Western consumer culture while working to restore respect for the local culture.
The Ladakh Project has now grown into the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), which works internationally, in both the North and South to encourage more decentralized land-based ways of living. Straddling theory and action, ISEC seeks to alert people to the threat economic globalisation poses to communities, democracy and the natural world, while also actively promoting economic localisation through international campaigns and grassroots initiatives such as community-supported agriculture, local currencies and eco-villages. ISEC's written and video materials, including Ancient Futures and The Future of Progress, have been translated into over 25 languages, demonstrating that this message strikes a chord with people around the world. ISEC also recently produced The Economics of Happiness, a feature documentary that has been screened around the world and has met with both popular and critical acclaim. The Economics of Happiness project now also includes a series of annual conferences on globalisation and localisation issues.
With the Ladakh Project's active participation, the indigenous Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG) was founded in 1983 with the goal of ensuring that the Ladakhis themselves would be able to shape their future, one built on Ladakh's own resources and ancient foundations. LEDeG has promoted local manufacturing technologies that use solar energy for space heating, cooking, water heating, crop drying and greenhouses, and small-scale water power for grinding grain, producing electricity and pumping water. Today, one or more of these technologies can be found in virtually every Ladakhi village.
Now an influential NGO, the respect that LEDeG is accorded was demonstrated when its two co-directors were elected to high positions in Ladakh's new, semi-autonomous government.
Important developments for LEDeG in the new millennium include the large-scale dissemination of new technologies like parabolic dish cookers and photovoltaics, the building-up of a fund to become more independent from donors and the introduction of ecotourism and biodiversity programmes.
Since founding the Ladakh Project and LEDeG, Helena Norberg-Hodge has become known as a pioneer of localisation, and as one of the world’s foremost experts on the impacts of economic globalisation on cultures and our psychological wellbeing. She gives numerous lectures each year and regularly contributes to publications, ranging from books and academic journals to popular alternative magazines and films (most recently: The Economics of Happiness). In 2012, Helena Norberg-Hodge was named winner of the 2012 Goi Peace Award.
(Last update: February 2013)