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Aiming high for a grassroots rejuvenation

LAURENCE Brahm was a successful lawyer and investment adviser, but friends must have thought he was having a mid-life crisis when he went to live and work in the Himalayas. Sonia Jarrett looks at a man who changes lives.

Laurence Brahm, a global activist, international crisis mediator, political economist and author, is a genuine "Chinese all-know." His Chinese name, Long Anzhi, literally meaning "a dragon with peaceful will," became more and more well-known for the Chinese.

Brahm's alternative paradigm for economic development is the Himalayan Consensus, which he discusses in his newest book, "The Anti-Globalization Breakfast Club: Manifesto for A Peaceful Revolution."

The American was recently in Shanghai for a lecture of his new book.

The Himalayan Consensus integrates the UN millennium goals of environmental protection and reduction of poverty through economic programs that promote sustainable development and preserve cultural and ethnic diversity.

Since 2002, Brahm has been working in the Himalayan plateau, developing models of eco-tourism by restoring property and creating boutique inns. In 2005, he established his own social enterprise, Shambhala, which works to pioneer micro-finance and equity projects for marginalized women and the handicapped, as well as organize rural medical and educational outreach programs.

Originally from Virginia, Brahm began studying Chinese in 1979 in the United States. He then came to China in 1981 and did Chinese studies at Nankai University in Tianjin. Witnessing the experimental beginnings of free markets at that time, he was very much struck by what he saw as the future of China.

"I wanted to stay here (in China) and be part of the change that was taking place," says Brahm.

What brought him to the Himalayas was something different. In 1992, he made his first trip to the Tibet Autonomous Region. Although he did not return to Tibet until 10 years later to film documentaries, Brahm was profoundly affected by the kindness of the people in that region and how they strove to protect their own culture and communities.

What he saw there was an alternative paradigm for economic development. So, in 2005 he moved to Lhasa, Tibet's capital city, leaving behind his work as a corporate lawyer in order to be part of the grassroots work taking place in the Himalayan region.

Brahm says that after working with large-scale planning and policy at the structural level, he wanted to work closer to the root of issues related to economic development. When China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, he realized that his real work lay in the grassroots level in the Himalayas.

One of the biggest challenges he faced in the initial stages of establishing Shambhala was getting people to believe in what he was doing.

"After being a successful lawyer and investment adviser, people must have thought I was having a mid-life crisis by going off to the Himalayas," recounts Brahm. However, once people understood what Brahm was trying to accomplish, they "jumped on board" to support him.

Today, Shambhala extends its aid to Tibetan communities in the form of education and health initiatives. "Tibet Micro-Equity" projects such as artisan communes empower individuals with skills that preserve their culture and provide them with a source of income.

"Give the Children a Chance" is a progressive education program and model for rural communities, which has led to the establishment of a kindergarten that provides free education.

The "Himalayan Action for Health" brings healthcare to Tibetan villages by establishing clinics within monasteries and training monks and nuns as paramedics, focusing particularly on fighting blindness. In the next two years, Brahm hopes to establish a dozen more similar consensus communities.

Brahm's work and his Himalayan Consensus draw upon the indigenous ethical values of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Islam. These schools of thought are all based upon similar great pillars: community, helping the poor and respect for the environment.

Can these ideas be applied to regions outside the Himalayas? Absolutely, says Brahm.

"I don't talk about religion, I talk about philosophy," he asserts. "You don't have to belong to any religion to adopt these principles. They are important philosophical ideas - which will be necessary for the survival of humanity and the planet in the future."

These philosophies are also a driving force in Brahm's work. What motivates him is "seeing social impact."

"It gives me tremendous faith and inspiration when I see that by empowering people with a few resources - particularly identity and self-respect - they can do so much, not just for themselves, but for others as well."

For more information, check Laurence Brahm's Website ( or the Shambhalah Website (


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