Michael Kobold, founder of Kobold Watches in Pittsburgh, was in the process of setting up the Soarway Foundation, a nonprofit to raise money for earthquake preparedness in Nepal, when the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit on April 25. Now he is working to raise funds for disaster relief.
Kobold, an avid adventurer and climber, has climbed Mt. Everest three times with the assistance of two Nepalese Sherpas, Namgel and Thundu. On one trip, faced with a failed oxygen cylinder, he credits the Sherpas with saving his and his wife’s lives. Determined to help them establish a livelihood off of the dangerous mountain, he brought them to America and trained them as watchmakers. In 2012 he established a workshop in Nepal. Kobold watches are made in the U.S., it is a core company principle, but Kobold Nepal produces a line of special-edition Kobold Watches called Himalaya and also sells the watches out of its workshop in Kathmandu to travelers in Nepal.
“As a businessman I never should have done it, but luckily when you own your own business you can make emotional decisions, and this was an emotional decision,” he says.
Giving them jobs wasn’t enough, however. Kobold set up the Soarway Foundation to raise funds for disaster preparedness in the country. “We started the foundation because we knew we couldn’t rely on the government when an earthquake occurred, and one was always going to occur, the whole country is on fault lines. We knew private enterprise would have to help in a big way,” he says. “But we didn’t realize how unprepared they were. There was no proper plan or procedure by the government. They totally missed the chance to be proactive.”
The first priority for the Soarway Foundation, he says, is tents. “In seven to 10 days the monsoon will start, it’s like clockwork, and it doesn’t stop raining for the most of the day,” he says. “Getting tents there is a race against the clock. After that, we are going to concentrate on fund-raising to rebuild. Our desire is to rebuild homes, an earthquake-proof fire hall, and a hospital. It’s ambitious, but I think we can do it. And then lastly, we want to deliver emergency vehicles: fire trucks, ambulances, earth-moving equipment.”
“I 100 percent feel responsible for their livelihood,” he says. “We changed their profession from mountaineering to watchmaking and now we have to stand behind them.”
More information about the Soarway Foundation, and a link to donate, is available at Soarwayfoundation.org.