The Climbing Initiative
Veronica Baker/Dani Dobrot
Interviewed by Bella Zurowski
This month we sat down with The Climbing Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting climbing communities worldwide. They help to unite organizations invested in the future of climbing while promoting the most sustainable practices that support the growth of climbing areas and their communities. Veronica Baker, Executive Director, and Dani Dobrot, Associate Director, were kind enough to sit down with us for this interview.
Hey guys! How’s it going?
Veronica: It’s been good! Now that we’ve entered climbing season, our whole team is excited about getting out to our nearby crags and dreaming of trips to climbing areas around the world.
Well, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us. I was so excited to meet you two. It’s pretty cool to see two badass women making big changes. How did the Climbing Initiative begin?
Veronica: The Climbing Initiative started out of the realization that rock climbing is growing rapidly around the world and there is so much about its social and economic impact that we as a community are just at the beginning of understanding fully. Through our experiences of traveling to different communities, we were blown away by this sport’s capacity to generate positive change. Myself, Dani, and our other co-founders decided we wanted to study the growth of climbing and become engaged in projects that harness it as a tool for positive change.
I love that. What three words would you use to describe the essence of the Climbing Initiative?
Dani: We use three words to describe our work: research, engage, and impact. Research is both a space of listening to communities’ needs and experiences as well as being data-driven about the impact climbing is having on the environment, the economy, and the local community. Next, we engage with the international climbing community by partnering with organizations around the world to work on lots of awesome projects like helping increase the number of women in the outdoors in India or using climbing as a tool to help at-risk kids in Mexico. Finally, we want to make sure there is a real, tangible, and positive impact to show from the research and engagement. This impact can currently be seen in our Best Practices project as we seek to develop an accessible tool for climbing communities worldwide.
The Climbing Initiative has conducted three case studies about the impact of rock climbing. What is the common denominator you have found within each case study?
Veronica: We find that climbing has incredible potential to generate positive change. It creates jobs, increases tourism, especially in rural places, it gets people outside, and fosters an attachment to the environment. When people connect with a sport like climbing or surfing, it gives them a reason to fall in love with the environment and want to protect it. It also has an incredible ability to create a community.
I completely agree. Having a sport that personally connects you to the environment makes you realize you need to take care of the environment because it’s taking care of you. Can climbing create positive intersectional change? If so, how?
Dani: 100%. One of the things that give me a lot of hope is that climbing is a small microcosm of the world we exist in, and because of that, it is both impacted by the same problems we experience as greater humanity but it is also a smaller community that allows for these changes to have a bigger effect. Through the shared passion and intimacy this sport creates, we can become more inclusive; we can care about justice and our neighbor more wholly. I see the potential for the climbing and outdoor industry to give a platform for people to speak about problems of injustice, inequity, and societal and environment harm in ways that can inspire an entire group of people to go out into their pockets of the world carrying these messages and influencing the world towards healing and flourishing for us and the Earth.
What do you think is the most pressing issue facing our environment currently?
Dani: Humans. At the end of the day, we are the ones that have had the most negative impact on the environment. If change is possible, we are the ones that need to change. It needs to happen on an individual level but even more importantly on a corporate and governmental one as well. Individuals can only do so much if corporations are not willing to change.
What is something more people need to know about climbing?
Veronica: I hope that as climbing grows, the message that climbing is for everyone also grows. We can appreciate the history of climbing while also realizing that in this modern era, with our sport entering the mainstream, we need to change and be better. It’s important to recognize the way that systems of oppression in the world have shaped the growth of rock climbing and other sports: for example, most of the athletes we see sponsored and given a platform are often not a representation of the diversity in society. My hope is that over the years, we will see climbing move in a direction that causes less harm to the environment, distributes profits equitably, and encapsulates inclusivity and welcomeness to all..
What does being “true to your roots” mean to you?
Dani: What it means to The Climbing Initiative is highlighting specific individuals and climbing organizations around the world and celebrating what climbing is for each person. Being true to your roots is knowing your uniqueness is what makes you special, and you don’t have to look like anyone to be a climber.
Thank you both so much for sitting down and talking with me!
If you want to learn more about The Climbing Initiative or about how you can support their mission, visit https://climbinginitiative.org.