Treat Your Sherpas Right

Sherpa_Cezar MartinsThe Vested Way eBook shows the power of a Sherpa when helping people climb Mt. Everest. Even when you know where you are going and have a goal clearly in mind, it’s difficult if not impossible to do it alone. In fact, a typical climb has an average of two Sherpas for every climber.

Risks emerge that can make you change your strategy, like the volatile conditions that confront climbers as they attempt to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. That’s why the Sherpa crews are so vital to the success of Mt. Everest expeditions. They know the terrain and how to navigate it to get their climbing partner to the summit safely. And they know when it is time to call it quits and head back down the mountain in order to survive.

It’s important to keep your Sherpa happy, engaged and to treat them as partners – not just as pack mules.   After all, the Sherpas have climbed the mountain dozens if not hundreds of times more than the typical climber and it is highly unlikely you’ll reach your goal without them.

So how does this relate to Vested? We teach that when you are seeking a Desired Outcome, you must share risk—and reward—in a fair manner.

That’s why it was distressing to read about the dispute that erupted earlier this year following an avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas as they were trying to prepare the trails on Mt. Everest for the season’s expeditions. Sherpas, mourning their fallen comrades, left the mountain and expedition groups cancelled their climbing plans.

According to a New York Times story about the situation, foreign climbers pay professional Western guides as much as $100,000 to ease their path up the mountain. “Altitude Junkies, for instance, charges $42,500 for a 60-day expedition, which includes extras like helicopter flights and “two personal Sherpas on summit day. Of that, $11,000 goes to the Nepalese government for a climbing license, and issuing such licenses has netted the government $3 million to $4 million annually in recent years. Money also pours into the local economy, including hotel rooms, nights in teahouses, local cellphone use, and the hiring of yaks and porters to carry supplies up the mountain.”

The average per capita income in Nepal is around $700. Mount Everest’s Sherpas can make as much as $7,000, including incentives for reaching the summit in a season.

On the surface – it looks like everyone is a winner. The Nepalese government, the mountaineering companies, the Sherpas, and the tourist climbers. Getting to the top is big business, and the wealth is spread.

But is the reward spread fairly? Sherpas seem to think they are not getting their fair share of the pie for the risks they are bearing.

While a 10x premium in wages sounds like they are winning, you have to consider the extreme risks that the Sherpa crews take on. Like the death of 16 of their comrades that leaves families with only $10,000 in life insurance. Not much, especially considering an traditional Buddhist burial is roughly half of the insurance benefit.

A National Geographic article outlined a 13-point petition presented to the Nepal Ministry of Tourism shortly after the tragedy. It highlighted the Sherpas’ demands to make the economics more balanced considering their risk: They want 30 percent of the $3.5 million the government collects in permit fees to return to the mountain and fund future rescue operations (the government agreed to 5 percent); they want the current $10,000 death benefit doubled to $20,000 (the government agreed to $15,000); they want improved compensation for Sherpas who are injured on the mountain and a memorial to the Sherpas who died (the government agreed to both requests).

While it is clear is that aligning your vision is essential—whether in a business endeavor or when climbing a mountain—it is also essential that the parties involved  are have a fair balance between risks and rewards.

Image: Sherpa by Cezar Martins via Flickr

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