Trace Foundation was born in 1993 out of the experiences of Andrea E. Soros on the Tibetan Plateau as a tourist and English teacher. We began as a small organization, awarding grants to individuals, institutions and organizations undertaking projects which furthered the mission of the Foundation: to support the continuity of Tibetan culture and language, and develop the ability of Tibetan communities within China to meet their own needs. In our first decade of operation Trace awarded over three hundred grants in a variety of sectors and regional locations for a total investment of nearly $14 million (USD).
Trace Foundation’s first direct intervention in Tibetan areas occurred in the winter of 1995, in response to a call for international aid after a massive winter storm carrying heavy snowfall and extreme temperatures devastated parts of western Sichuan Province. In the following years, we established our presence across the region, working to deepen understanding of contemporary life on the plateau, promote Tibetan culture, and empower Tibetan communities from Tsang to Amdo.
Today, Trace Foundation continues to support projects across the Tibetan Plateau. Focusing on the unique needs of these diverse communities, we're expanding access to education, raising the standard of living, and ensuring the continuation of Tibetan culture.
Culture is the cornerstone of all our work. From our projects, to our external grants, to our events in New York City, Trace Foundation seeks to raise awareness of Tibetan culture and ensure its future viability.
Education and vocational training are key to the long-term social and economic development of the Tibetan plateau. By helping even one individual gain the necessary skills to meet their own needs Trace Foundation improves the economic outlook for, and self-confidence of entire communities.
Local communities are the heart of our work. Empowering those communities to set the agenda for their own development ensures that our interventions meet real needs and will continue to benefit the community for years to come.
Trace Foundation believes that participation of both men and women in the development process is vital to long-term social and economic development.
Throughout the world the immense pressures on the environment are being felt, but perhaps nowhere as strongly as the Tibetan plateau where glacial melt, deforestation, and degradation of grassland are all evident. Trace Foundation undertakes projects and supports initiatives that rely on local resources, and use them sustainably.
When Trace Foundation began in 1993, it was a collection of ideas and aspirations based on personal experience. I had spent time, some years earlier, as a tourist and then as an English teacher on the Tibetan plateau. During this time, I came to believe that there was a role for international cooperation to play in the development of Tibetan areas.
The Foundation was, and remains, grounded in my experiences of that time—the enthusiasm I felt for many aspects of Tibetan culture, community life, and the natural environment, the exposure I had to the challenges faced by Tibetans, and the admiration I held for those who served their communities. It was my hope that, over time, the Foundation would be able to contribute in a way that would be meaningful to local people, would have a long-term impact, and would reinforce the unique and beautiful qualities of life in this part of the world.
While it is critical to focus on the more tangible aspects of what this means—access to education, clean water, economic opportunity, and so forth—the human experience goes beyond these tangibles. Connection to culture is an integral part of well-being, especially when cultural history and community ties run as deep as they do in Tibetan regions of the world. For this reason, the Foundation’s projects focus on the nexus of culture and development and look for ways to reinforce both; we believe that culture and development must advance hand in hand.
During our first decade of operation, we made grants to international organizations and local institutions whose work supported this idea. In 2004, we also began to implement our own projects, which now represent the bulk of our work. Direct implementation has allowed us to ensure greater accountability for ourselves and our partners, and maintain closer adherence to our mission.
We believe that these principles are fundamental to the success of our projects, and to the endeavor of development in general. Effective development will build on local assets and strengths, rather than perpetuate disadvantage or foster dependency. Our projects are conceived and planned with local participation, engaging people in the development process and embedding the perspectives and priorities in the project before it is even implemented. It is therefore the local community who will achieve and sustain positive change, and ensure that it is meaningful and lasting.
As we look to the future, we build on the partnerships we have developed at all levels of society, from village leaders and primary school teachers to county and provincial level health care workers and ministry officials. Taking lessons from the past and keeping an eye open to new opportunities and challenges, we continue to work with others to leave behind a lasting trace, and to celebrate and strengthen an extraordinary culture.