Research and Learning Initiative

Bringing colleges and universities in contact with developing communities in order to form a more equitable tomorrow.

Sun Mountain International

Sun Mountain International (SMTN) was founded in 2001, with the goal of partnering with other organizations to promote sustainable environmental development around the world in order to better help improve the quality of life for people living in vulnerable communities.

The Initiative’s goals include:

• Research ways in which to improve the social welfare of marginal populations in an environmentally sustainable manner.

• Promote, design, and execute economic development projects that improve the socio economic and environmental conditions of marginal populations.

• Promote, organize, and execute classes, seminars, and workshops regarding the previous objectives

• Promote international relations in order to help create more informed global citizens.

Our Team

Our team is very diverse with representatives from countries around the world and expertise in the fields of agriculture, community development, business, administration, economics, sociology, computer science, logistics, finance, biology, environmental science, and more! 


Where the initiative begins and what is its potential?


Our initiative is taking root within the Northwestern portion of the province of Pichincha, or Noroccidente, in Ecuador, in a rural cloud forest community called Pacto, The cloud forest is essentially high elevation rainforest, so it is a beautiful setting; humid, but cooler than expected due to the altitude. Noroccidente is made up of rural, tight knit communities living in cloud forest/rain forest environments, of which some are more degraded than others. This degradation is something we hope to improve alongside the local populations’ livelihood as we continue to work with not only Pacto, but expand into the surrounding communities. 

 Noroccidente is part of an important biome known as the Choco Andino, which is historically very biodiverse. It is not unlikely to encounter several exotic bird and/or butterfly species without trying very hard while you explore the area. Noroccidente is also historically home to the Yumbo people, a pre-Incan civilization. The history and nature thus give it a diverse sense of beauty.

 We have been building relationships with the local people in Pacto for several years now, helping them solidify associations to strengthen their goals of becoming more economically sustainable while maintaining environmental integrity. We want to continue building up this community and the surrounding communities.

 Eventually we could potentially expand beyond the borders of Ecuador as SMTN has experience working in 48 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We want to help pave the way for a greener, more equitable tomorrow.

What have we accomplished so far?

We continue to further relations with colleges and universities both here and in the States and with other environmental/social outreach initiatives that would be beneficial to work with. We have had professors from both California Lutheran University and UC Davis come visit and see the potential for our organization to work with their universities. Professor feedback has been extremely positive. Many of them would even like to implement a travel aspect to current and/or future courses that would bring students to Ecuador for, not only, a culturally immersive experience, but also an experience that would positively impact the communities we would bring them into contact with.

We have undergone community development needs assessments spearheaded by graduate students from Yale University and the University of California Davis within Pacto and the surrounding communities. We are grateful for both the Yale and the UC Davis contributions. With these assessments, we can continue to better structure classes that will mutually benefit the local communities we work with, as well as the university students working with them. For example: one proposed class would be with students from the school of business management at California Lutheran University. With these reports in mind, business students could help write strategic action plans for local businesses in Pacto. 

Why is this important to the world right now?

During a time when climate change is threatening our biosphere and extreme poverty is far too prevalent, it is important to implement projects that can counteract climate change and help marginalized communities increase their resiliency and ability to thrive. By implementing environmentally sustainable practices within their livelihood systems (such as ecotourism, agroforestry, etc.), marginalized communities can contribute to a sustainable world where both nature and humans can benefit. 

 We believe both we and the community members we work with have knowledge to share, such that we can learn from them, and they can learn from us. This back and forth dialogue is something we believe strongly in, and something that we are hoping to promote and expand.

Who do we want to partner with?

 We would like to partner with universities and colleges. By partnering with them, we can help not only create a more green tomorrow, but improve our knowledge of what that green tomorrow should look like. Research students and/or professors can research socio-environmental dynamics and pass on to others the information and knowledge they help generate. Students who are learning to be educators can work on disseminating this information among marginalized communities and people working with marginalized communities. Sun Mountain thus acts as a gateway in which knowledge can pass from different organizations, and, on another level, acts as the implementing factor of said knowledge.

How would it all work?

We have a highly capable logistics team at Sun Mountain International that has been able to take care of hosting professors, students, and others from multiple universities and agencies such as California Lutheran University, UC Davis, Yale, and USAID. In the communities we are currently focused on working with, we have relationships with multiple places that provide housing and food where we can coordinate stay and eating arrangements. Transportation can be arranged with rental vehicles knowing ahead of time how many people will need to be transported and where. If desired, we will always have staff at hand to accompany the visiting group or groups. 

A fee for our services would help support our team in order to continue working with these communities and some of that money would go directly into supporting the communities. Costs are estimated by adding up the costs of transportation, stay, food, and activities plus costs to our business, eg. cost of labor, insurance, etc. This is all divided by the number of people visiting from the college or university.

We initially plan on hosting trips for groups that would like to come down during their winter, spring, or summer break. It is possible to host groups during the short terms that some schools offer as well. 

What next?

Besides implementing other factors of what we may learn from the needs assessments, it is believed that income coming into the communities we work with from students, whether they be business students, biology students, Spanish students, education students, etc., could help finance business investments for the small businesses within the communities we work with. We already know these investments are a huge obstacle for community members and families that run businesses in Pacto. In order to not create dependency on a constant influx of students within the communities, businesses would be encouraged to invest the money coming in from students on diversifying their income and on investments that will keep them self sustainable for years to come.

How can you help?

Before most of this can take place, we need to identify the interest from university and college faculty members and their students. We already know of some interest, as previously mentioned, but we want to reach out to a broader audience that may have interest themselves or know others who may have interest. By expressing interest, we can then move forward with designing trips that are beneficial to both faculty and students and the communities they come in contact with.