Bringing it Home: Aspen nonprofit gains seat at UN table

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspenite Jim True and his daughter Rachel visit Machu Picchu in May. Jim True represented the nonprofit Aspen International Mountain Foundation in a global conference in Peru.
Courtesy photo |

Editor’s note: “Bringing It Home” runs weekends in The Aspen Times and focuses on state, national or international issues that have ties to or impacts on the Roaring Fork Valley.

One Aspen nonprofit is far from a household name in its hometown, but it is building clout within the United Nations.

The Aspen International Mountain Foundation, along with its partner the Telluride Institute, was given an official voice by the United Nations in October in international discussions affecting mountain regions. The Aspen and Telluride nonprofits team to provide the official voice for mountain communities in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

How do two nonprofits from well-heeled Colorado mountain towns gain stature to represent such a diverse constituency? By putting in a lot of time at the table.

The Aspen nonprofit was formed in 2001 as an offshoot of Aspen’s Sister Cities program, according to the nonprofit’s founder and president, Karinjo DeVore.

After helping organize summits with sister cities on topics such as sustainable development and tourism, the foundation started attending various international conferences on mountain issues. That led to the formal invitation to be part of the governing body of the United Nations Global Mountain Partnership.

That body provides a voice for the world’s mountainous areas, promotes education and research projects and helps draft policy at various international gatherings. Fifty-three countries belong to the partnership.

DeVore said the Aspen foundation’s core mission is to promote sustainable development in the world’s mountainous regions and to protect their resources in unsettling times.

“Human activities are having an unprecedented impact on mountain environments, communities, and resources,” the foundation’s website says.

While heavy-duty tourism in areas such as Aspen might not be considered sustainable in the eyes of some local critics, it’s better than pursuing timber clear-cuts, strip mining, depletion of water and exploitation of natural resources as alternative economic drivers.

The Aspen International Mountain Foundation shares the story of the upper Roaring Fork Valley, and particularly its focus on skiing to drive the winter economy, with other members of the Global Mountain Partnership to try to inspire other mountain areas to convert recreation into eco-tourism, DeVore said.

The Bhutanese government invited the foundation to help it craft ways to promote its country, according to DeVore.

The foundation also participates in the United Nations’ Global Mountain Partnership to influence policy and provide practical expertise, according to Jim True, a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

In the policy arena, True has represented the Aspen nonprofit twice in the past three years at international gatherings to discuss how climate change will affect mountain areas’ water supplies. (True is the city attorney for Aspen, but he attended the conferences as a member of the foundation, which relies on private donations. No taxpayer money was used for his travel.)

In 2011, True represented Aspen at a climate-change conference in Uganda. This May, he traveled to Cusco, Peru, where the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization led talks on climate and water at the World Mountain Forum. With its stature as one of the most widely recognized resorts in the world, Aspen’s presence at the international talks gets noticed, according to True.

“I think when we go to these things, the community benefits,” he said.

The work the participants accomplished in Peru will help with the preparation of the next international Climate Change Conference in December in Lima, Peru.

It’s important that Aspen is involved in talks that will help mold climate-change policy, DeVore and True said. They are the work sessions that lead to international pacts on climate-change policy.

The Aspen International Mountain Foundation helped the U.N. Global Mountain Partnership collect research and present information on mountain areas’ critical role in the health of the planet. Mountain areas and their valleys occupy about 25 percent of the Earth’s land surface. They provide 60 to 80 percent of the planet’s fresh water. Mountain forests comprise 23 percent of the Earth’s total forest cover.

The Aspen nonprofit helped draft goals that, in theory, will shape U.N. policy on handling water and forest resources. One goal is to make sure at least 50 percent of mountain communities have adequate access to safe water for domestic consumption, irrigation and sanitation by 2030. Another goal is to ensure that at least 50 percent of mountain forests are used under sustainable forest-management practices.

To learn more about the foundation, visit