Go on a City Tour
Several tour companies in Nepal run city tours that bring economic advantage to otherwise neglected communities. Social Tours can arrange a lunch with nuns at Nagi Gompa or in a traditional Newari restaurant run by a woman's group in Kirtipur, both in the Kathmandu Valley, bringing much-needed income to both organizations. They can also arrange day tours to show how the 2015 earthquake affected people in the Kathmandu Valley.
Welcome to My Yard is a non-profit that runs city walks through the winding back streets and hidden courtyards of old Kathmandu, stopping en route to visit markets and taste some of the city's tastiest snacks. Proceeds support programs for street children, some of whom are trained as tour guides.
In Pokhara Tibetan Encounter is a Tibetan-run organization that runs tours to nearby refugee communities, meeting monks and a traditional amchi (doctor), while learning about the life of Tibetan exiles in Nepal. It's a great way to get an insight into Tibetan culture and recent troubled history.
Trekking in the Langtang Valley
April 2015's earthquake devastated many rural communities in central Nepal. In the Langtang Valley trekking region, the entire village of Langtang was wiped out by a landslide: almost every villager lost one or more family members and lodges and livelihoods were destroyed. The good news is that today almost all the lodges have been rebuilt, many with funds provided by tourists. The trail has been safely rerouted in a couple of places, the scenery is as spectacular as ever, and the stories of rebuilding that you'll hear along the trek are inspiring.
Many smaller lodges are run by women who lost their husbands or children in the quake and now rely on lodge profits as their sole income. Make a trek in this spectacular valley and you'll know that the money you spend here will go directly to families recovering from the worst loss in a generation.
Nepal has several fair trade craft shops that offer sources of income to marginalized Nepali craftspeople, with a particular emphasis on empowering women financially.
Helping Hands is a Pokhara-based organization that trains deaf, blind or physically disabled Nepalis to weave. Their pashminas and woven woolen and silk scarves and shawls are of excellent quality.
The nearby Women's Skills Development Organization outlet in Pokhara similarly works with disabled, abused, widowed, divorced and outcast women from rural Nepal to produce lovely bags, purses, and toys. You can find products from both organizations at their showrooms in Pokhara's Lakeside and at the Fair Circle shop in Kathmandu's Thamel district.
Get a Massage and a Coffee
Sometimes doing good is as simple as laying back and getting a good massage. Seeing Hands in Pokhara, Thamel, Bodhnath, and Patan trains blind Nepalis in massage therapy. Choose from a post-trek sports massage, a relaxing 90-minute Swedish massage or a 45-minute foot massage; all are top notch. The organization offers employment to the visually impaired in a country where opportunities are severely limited, and part of the fee goes to training additional blind massage therapists
Himalayan Healers is another organization that offers massages, though in more of a spa-like atmosphere, alongside beauty treatments, reflexology, body scrubs, and facials. The staff are mostly from Nepal's lowest castes or have suffered from human trafficking or domestic violence. The main spa is conveniently located on the edge of Thamel in central Kathmandu.
If you need waking up after all that relaxation, finish off with a cappuccino at one of the Kathmandu branches of the Bakery Cafe or at Sam's One Tree Cafe, the latter on a rooftop overlooking central Durbar Marg. Both cafes employ deaf wait staff and offer excellent food and service while offering employment and self-sufficiency to some of Nepal's estimated 50,000 deaf citizens.
Helping in Your Sleep
Your choice of accommodation can also directly benefit the communities you are visiting in Nepal. Many hotels donate a portion of their profits to social programs, so contact your trip organizer to hear about their favorites.
As an example, Sapana Village Lodge in Chitwan uses the profits from its lodge to fund development projects in the local Tharu community, supporting local education and microfinance projects, as well as medical camps and earthquake reconstruction. You can even use some of your spare luggage allowance to bring in supplies for the nearby school.
In Pokhara, the Butterfly Lodge is one of the most popular places to stay in Lakeside, partly because profits go the Butterfly Foundation's work with underprivileged children, including education and daycare facilities. If you are staying in Bodhnath consider the excellent Rokpa Guest House, which uses its profits to support a local children's home.
Finally, if you are planning a trek in Annapurna foothills ask about the excellent string of community-owned lodges on the Khopra Ridge trek. A string of lodges at Khopra, Mohare Danda, and Nangi village offer simple but comfortable teahouse accommodation atop some of the best viewpoints in the Annapurna region. Profits from the lodges go to fund local schools, giving villagers a real stake in local tourism. Where there aren't lodges, there are community-run kitchens and homestays. The trek is one of the best in Nepal and still relatively unknown. Your nightly dal bhat (rice and curry) here will taste even better when you know it is funding local children's education.