Meet the Match

Twin Mountaineers Help Indian Girls Reach the Summit

In the history of mountaineering, less than 50 people have completed the Adventurer’s Grand Slam, which entails a summit of the seven highest peaks on each continent, and reaching the North and South Poles. Two of these, Tashi and Nungshi Malik of India, are also the first siblings and twins to accomplish the feat.

Born in the state of Haryana in northern India, the sisters began their career as explorers after finishing secondary school. Their father, a retired military officer who had moved the family throughout India during his career, signed his daughters up for a basic course in mountaineering.

“That turned into a very good chance for us to explore the outdoors,” Tashi says. “And it was a very good opportunity because we got to do it together.”

Tashi and Nungshi are inseparable. Since childhood, the twins have attended the same schools, completing bachelor’s degrees in journalism and mass communication from Sikkim Manipal University, and receiving certificates in peacebuilding from SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont in 2012. They share the same passion for dancing, music, and athletics, and can telepathically finish each other’s sentences. The mountains “cast a spell” on them both, as Nungshi puts it. But, from the outset of their journey as mountaineers, Tashi and Nungshi knew pursuing sport as a career would be a huge cultural challenge.

“When we first spoke about Everest, everyone in our family said, ‘Girls don’t take up sports like mountaineering,’” Nungshi says. “Mom was quite worried about us, so for three years she stopped us from climbing. There was this pressure on her from our community about why she was letting her daughters do this.”

Outside of the major cities in India, the twins say women are solely prized for their domestic capabilities. When it comes to sports, women are deemed incompetent or unfit. Male children are also highly prioritized over girls because of norms dictating that after marriage a woman leaves to join her in-laws’ family and, thus, is no longer able to provide financial support to her parents.

“Women are born with mountains to climb,” Tashi says, “and that has become our inspiration for climbing the mountains outside.”

Tashi and Nungshi have spoken extensively throughout India on women’s empowerment, including a TEDx talk in New Delhi, and have been honored by the President of India and the Chief Ministers of Uttarakhand, Haryana and Delhi. In January 2015, the sisters were named brand ambassadors for the Uttarakhand government’s Save the Girl Child campaign to improve high rates of female infant mortality and infanticide in the state.

In order to continue supporting their efforts in the future, Tashi and Nungshi hope to learn more about marketing, sports management, and fundraising through their participation in the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP).

“Although we have ideas on how to approach our plans, we lack experience on a larger scale,” Nungshi says. “We’re novices in terms of entrepreneurship, and we know we’ll have the opportunity to learn from women with an abundance of experience.”

As the twins look for ways to market their newly established foundation, they will rely heavily on Susan Cohig, Senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing, and her team at the NHL. Susan’s extensive background in marketing, sponsorships, and branding will expose the Malik’s to new skills that will propel their foundation forward. Susan’s long-term investment in the GSMP – mentoring in 2013, 2014, and again in 2015 – not only demonstrates her commitment to empowering women, but also defines her as a seasoned veteran in cause-related strategic planning.

At the NHL, the Maliks will engage with the NHL Foundation and Hockey Fights Cancer, two entities addressing community issues and promoting social responsibility. As one of the only female senior executives in a male sports league, we feel certain Susan’s own professional and personal journey will encourage and inspire the Malik’s to continue carving out their space as females in the mountaineering world. We look forward to the mountains these women will climb together and the ways this partnership will inspire a new generation of females in India.

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