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Success Stories

Sunny Varkey: Educationist, Philanthropist, Billionaire

A Few Words about Sunny Varkey

With a life that seems out of the storybook, Sunny Varkey is one of the most prolific and recognizable Dubai-based non-resident Indian philanthropists and education entrepreneurs.

Founder and executive chairman of GEMS Education, a global advisory and educational management institution, and the founder and trustee of Varkey Foundation, he also serves as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

Having committed himself to a lifetime of philanthropic work in the form of donating at least half of his money to charitable causes through The Giving Pledge, he became the first-ever education entrepreneur to vow to the pledge.

Early Life and Background

Born in the humble town of Ranni in Kerala, India, in 1957, Mr. Varkey was destined to walk on the path of education owing to his Kerala Syrian Christian educator parents, K.S. Varkey and Mariamma Varkey.

When he was just two years old, he moved to Dubai in 1959 with his family, at a time when the emirate was still in its infancy stages of development.

Education and Skill Development

At the age of four, he was sent back to Kerala to a Catholic boarding school. While there, he even sold fruits at the age of 11 to get some extra cash in hand. He returned to Dubai at the 13 in 1970.

He finished his O-Levels study at St. Mary’s Catholic High School and moved to the UK to start his A-Level from Bembridge School before returning to Dubai a year later to finish his study at the British Council.

Identifying Passion and Goals

Mr. Varkey’s foray into his current interest began with a stroke of luck and his in-depth command of English. Although he started his work at Standard Chartered Bank, he soon opened a trading company and a maintenance company and entered the healthcare industry.

However, he left all his business when his parent’s school was made into an all-purpose school, and he saw this opportunity to expand the schools in Dubai. Seeing the vast population of immigrants and the scope of education in the country, he recognized the potential of education and opened various British, Indian, and Pakistani schools.

The Pillars of Success

Varkey came to the conclusion early in his career that education is his calling, and he set on the journey to lay the foundation of his workforce in this field.

At the turn of the millennium, he ventured into what would turn out to be his most noteworthy achievement – the creation of the GEMS (Global Education Management Systems) institute that would eventually become the world’s largest operator of kindergarten-to-grade-12 schools.

Innovation and Adaptability

Instead of resting on his laurels and enjoying his wealth, Mr. Varkey seized every opportunity that came his way to bring about innovation to improve education around the world.

By collaborating with public and private clients, non-profit organizations, and influencers, GEMS has provided education to thousands of children not only in the UAE but also in Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Lesotho, Libya, Singapore, Egypt, Uganda, Jordan, Switzerland, USA, and Kenya, among others.

Recognizing the diversity in the ethnicity of its students, it introduced a highly adaptable environment in its organization that facilitates education. It puts focus on promoting multiculturalism so that the students become global citizens who are noted for their leadership qualities and forward-thinking approaches.

Achieving Success and Recognition

His contribution to education has been praised across the globe and has brought him fame and wealth, putting him on the billionaire’s list of Forbes, with a net worth of $3.3 billion.

In addition, his work in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one for the ages. Getting honorary doctorates from multiple universities and winning path-breaking business awards are just the tip of the iceberg that is his life.

Empowering Others and Personal Growth

Only education can bring about positive changes. This philosophy rings truer for Varkey than any other in his arena since he wants to empower people through the exact way he put himself to success. Because of the difficulties he faced, he wants to make the road easier to navigate for the present and future generations.

Varkey’s approach proves why strong and healthy parental engagement is essential for a child’s educational growth. His passionate approach to strengthening the base of education is reflected through his enabling the less fortunate with more power and control of their destinies.

Giving Back and Impact on Others

What has set him apart from his peers is that he has not engulfed himself in his wealth. Rather, he used his power to eradicate prejudice, conflict, and poverty. To solve the educational challenges around the world, he partnered with UNESCO, Microsoft, The Clinton Global Initiative, and World Economic Forum.

From receiving the Rajiv Gandhi Award for Eminent Educationist in 2008 to India’s fourth highest civilian honor, the Padma Shri in 2009, from being recognized by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education in 2011 to being named the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for education partnership in 2012, he achievements speaks for themselves.

Reflection and Life Lessons

Varkey’s life reflects how education can pave the way for success and how undeniable its powers are. Striving for a world where everyone would have access to quality education, he wants to see his vision come to a reality.

With the sustainable development goal of ensuring quality education to every child by 2030, he still stands strong in his promise of using every fiber in his body to make a positive difference in the world.

A Journey Continued

The Varkey Foundation is noted for its empowerment of both pupils and teachers and believes that every teacher’s voice is heard. It has set up the National Teacher Prize worth $1 million, which has, so far, felicitated 40 teachers worldwide.

Mr. Varkey wants to keep embarking on the mission to host a world education summit and fund powerful research and shape debates in philanthropy, EdTech, and neuroscience. His motivation to actively pursue child education is an inspiring one and has only cemented him as a pathbreaker in his field.