Of cowboys and Indians: Ravi Malhotra helps rural businesses

  • Ravi Malhotra speaks at a test site for a Department of Agriculture wind project in Boulder, Colorado.

    iCAST
  • Malhotra with the new Empire Dairy lighting project in Wiggins, with Riley McLaughlin of Sustainable Building Experts and Bill Annan of the Morgan County REA.

    iCAST
  • An iCAST solar PV installation training program in Denver

    iCAST
 

Delta, Colorado
Ravi Malhotra steps from an air-conditioned SUV and inhales the stench from mounds of human waste chips and rows of evaporation ponds cooking in the rising summer sun. This is the CB Industries-Delta Inc. Composting Facility, tucked along a back road among adobe buttes and gullies just outside of Delta, Colo., a conservative agricultural community.

With his trim mustache, business-casual clothes, deep brown skin and unmistakable Indian accent, Malhotra appears thoroughly out of place. Born and raised in Mumbai (which he still calls Bombay), Malhotra is progressive, well-educated and tech-savvy. He looks like someone you'd see walking briskly down a city street with a Bluetooth snugged in his ear, not casually chatting about the finer points of septic systems with cowboy-clad and bearded local septic pumper John Caven -- a conversation that began hours earlier over continental breakfast in a chain hotel.

But this is a typical day for Malhotra. He and his colleague Christopher Jedd are on a 72-hour journey around the state's Western Slope on behalf of Malhotra's Denver-based nonprofit iCAST -- the International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology. The group's name and mission -- "to provide economic, environmental, and social benefits to communities in a manner that builds local capacity" -- make it sound like an aid group at work in the developing world.

And in a way, that's what iCAST is. The economic hardships in small Western communities are a far cry from the persistent poverty in developing nations. But even so, unemployment in Delta County reached over 11 percent during the recession, surpassing the statewide average. And average per capita income ranks near the bottom for Colorado counties. As in many rural areas, families scramble to get by, shuttered storefronts punctuate the streets, and wireless Internet remains a novelty. It doesn't help that educated young people tend to flee depressed rural areas for jobs in cities, leaving locals without much access to technical expertise. That makes it harder to tackle small engineering projects, develop ambitious business or marketing plans, or gain access to much-needed capital or credit. And many locals don't want help directly from the government.

ICAST tries to bridge those gaps, helping rural residents learn how to maintain or expand their businesses in ways that also benefit the environment. Malhotra is quick to say that he and his staff are not experts on sanitation or forestry, ranching or horticulture, although iCAST projects have addressed all those fields.

John Caven's predicament, though unique in its particulars, is hardly uncommon. He's a plumber with 40 years' experience, and most of his recent work comes from pumping septic systems and hauling waste in his truck, up to 2,000 gallons of sludge per trip. The recession has hit him hard because people put off septic maintenance when money's tight, and the rates he must pay to dispose of sludge at local facilities are two to three times the national average. In 2010, he had to cut his staff from 11 to two.

Caven explains that finding alternatives to expensive disposal areas might help; perhaps he could get equipped to handle treatment himself. Malhotra nods quietly. He doesn't react when the septic dump manager blames the economic slump on the state's Democratic leaders. And Malhotra knows better than to shift the conversation to talk about "sustainable development." After all, he's not here to promote an ideology or a specific approach. He's just here to help.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIV
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • DEVELOMENT DIRECTOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness is seeking a qualified Development Director to manage the fundraising success of our growing organization, including the team-driven implementation of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • SAN JUAN BASIN ENERGY CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is seeking a full-time San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer located in Farmington, New Mexico. The San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer focuses...
  • WILDLIFE PROGRAM MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) is looking for a passionate, experienced, and motivated Wildlife Program Manager to lead campaigns to protect and enhance wildlife and...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes."- Billings Gazette Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, &...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER AND MEMBERSHIP COORDINATOR
    Western Colorado Alliance is hiring for 4 positions, 2 Full Time Community Organizers, 1 Part Time Community Organizer and a Part Time Membership Coordinator. For...
  • BUSINESS OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    Thorne Nature Experience is looking for a Business Operations Director who will work in partnership with the Executive Director and Thorne's Directors and Managers to...
  • WILDERNESS CONSERVATION CORPS - OREGON
    The Siskiyou Mountain Club is hiring interns for the 2020 Field Season. Interns utilize non-mechanized tools to complete trail restoration and maintenance while gaining job...