Ravi Malhotra travels Colorado and the West helping rural businesses, bringing an internationally inspired approach to a conservatively local landscape.
I dropped in on Malhotra’s work several times over the past year, reporting for High Country News.
My story, “Of cowboys and Indians,” appears in the March 5, 2012 issue.
Here’s an excerpt:
But this is a typical day for Malhotra. He and his colleague Christopher Jedd are on a 72-hour journey around the state’s Western Slope on behalf of Malhotra’s Denver-based nonprofit iCAST — the International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology. The group’s name and mission — “to provide economic, environmental, and social benefits to communities in a manner that builds local capacity” — make it sound like an aid group at work in the developing world.
And in a way, that’s what iCAST is. The economic hardships in small Western communities are a far cry from the persistent poverty in developing nations. But even so, unemployment in Delta County reached over 11 percent during the recession, surpassing the statewide average. And average per capita income ranks near the bottom for Colorado counties. As in many rural areas, families scramble to get by, shuttered storefronts punctuate the streets, and wireless Internet remains a novelty. It doesn’t help that educated young people tend to flee depressed rural areas for jobs in cities, leaving locals without much access to technical expertise. That makes it harder to tackle small engineering projects, develop ambitious business or marketing plans, or gain access to much-needed capital or credit. And many locals don’t want help directly from the government.
ICAST tries to bridge those gaps, helping rural residents learn how to maintain or expand their businesses in ways that also benefit the environment. Malhotra is quick to say that he and his staff are not experts on sanitation or forestry, ranching or horticulture, although iCAST projects have addressed all those fields.