We caught up with Climate Action Challenge winners Rajeev Goyal and Priyanka Bista and their ‘The Vertical University’ during a special evening held at the Patagonia headquarters in Amsterdam. Ever since winning the Climate Action Challenge in 2018, the team has made remarkable progress in realizing their vision and bring about powerful impact. After exploring the accompanying exhibition with Himalayan plants, video testimonials and explanatory infographics – We sat down in the audience with a plate of complimentary Himalayan snacks excited for what was to come.

About the Vertical University Project.

Koshi Tappu Kanchenjunga Biodiversity Education Livelihood Terra-Studio (KTK-BELT for short) is a joined venture of Rajeev Goyal (co-founder and conservation director) and Priyanka Bista (co-founder and design director of KTK-BELT) aimed at mitigating ecosystem fragmentation in the eastern Himalayas by designing a contiguous educational land trust stretching from Koshi Tappu (67 m), Nepal’s largest aquatic bird sanctuary, to Mt. Kanchenjunga, the 3rd tallest peak in the world. 

The trust which goes by the name of ‘The Vertical University’ is an effort by KTK-BELT to conserve endangered habitats and species across an 8,000-meter vertical gradient, while fostering ecologically sensitive livelihoods for rural farmers who are seen as its ‘professors’ because of their indigenous knowledge of the area.

‘The Vertical University’ is an effort to conserve endangered habitats and species across an 8,000-meter vertical gradient.

Picking up steam

Ever since becoming What Design Can Do Climate Action Alumni, the project has picked up considerable steam and caught the attention of many. After hearing Goyal talk about the richness of the land, how they plan to protect it, their educational ambitions and the creation of gender-inclusive work teams – it was easy to see why. 

Brands like Patagonia and Funds like The Rainforest Protection Fund in Virginia and the Prince Albert Fund have rallied behind the project making it possible to put up settlements in the Himalayan area and acquire pieces of land that are of indescribable value in terms of biodiversity and preservation – All of this happened within a time span of 1,5 years of hard work and determination as their impressive presentation clearly showed.

From teaching a poor but ambitious farmers daughter how to shoot and edit videos, empowering a local woman by means of granting her an opportunity to explore her fascination in construction and educating children in the beauty of nature and the environment, Goyal and Bista showed that they are not simply a fund set to protect nature. The vertical Univerity rather proposes a 360 degrees approach to create a sustainable movement and improve all facets of life in the area hoping that one day, a Nepali student can walk up the mountain across 118 different forest types and learn from local farmers about its diversity.


As well as creating the BELT farmers programme, KTK-BELT also launched a BELT schools programme, which went into its second year January 2019. They currently have 9 schools involved. Other events they’ve been involved with, include an outdoor cinema screening of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth for local villagers and schoolchildren, and a celebration of ZERO pangolin poaching in Yangshila. Through the leadership of young people, the community signed a pact to create an 835-acre pangolin sanctuary surrounding their bio-intensive farm – which can expand all the way to Madhumalla, through awareness programs and new sanctuaries. 

In partnership with Sankhuwasabha Learning Grounds (SLG), KTK-BELT have also conducted the first meeting to create a 176,000-acre Community-Based Conservation Area in the Lumbasumba that will link the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area and Makalu-Barun National Park, the 3rd and 5th tallest peaks in the world. 

It’s safe to say we were beyond proud to be sitting in the audience!

Revisit Rajeev’s talk on the What Design Can Do Stage and be sure to visit the Vertical University website where you can stay up-to-date and make a donation to support their vision!