Surya Karki is the Country Director and Co-founder of United World Schools (UWS) Nepal where he oversees the education of more than 1550 children and the construction of 150 primary schools in Sankhuwasabha and Gulmi districts. He is also the Co-founder and President of Diyalo Foundation which works to develop sustainable energy, education and agriculture in Nepal.
In 2014, he was awarded the Prince of Wales and Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Award. In 2016, he was recognised as one of the 30 under 30 International Literacy Association leaders. In 2017 he was recognised as one of Forbes 30 under 30.
Karki holds a master’s degree in Global Affairs in Economics and Business from Schwarzman Scholars at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and a bachelor’s degree in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic.
In this edition of B360, he shares the five things that have impacted his life:
My single mother, who had no exposure beyond her rural village of Sankhuwasabha district, went against all odds to impart education to her children; something she couldn’t receive. She was a woman of perseverance. Every day, she would wake up at the crack of dawn, feed her animals, prepare food for me, and drag me (literally) or carry me on her shoulders to my school, two hours away from my village. Back then I could not fathom the importance of education, so I’d get inside the school but get out from the backdoor and reach home before my mother got back from dropping me off. Soon my mother realized that I would be just like any other kid in the village if I continued my schooling there. She then took a brave decision to send me to a boarding school which kept me away from her and the village for 8-9 years. I am what I am today because of her. She struggled throughout her life; lots of dream but no financial means to make them real, had hopes of getting out of poverty and into prosperity but did not know how, ideas in her head but without tools to make them real. Despite the odds she continued to hope. She has shown and taught me to be hopeful in despair and to remain humble in successful times.
My mentors are my ‘go to people’ when I stumble upon any kind of personal and professional crisis. One is Jay Friedlander, also my professor at my alma mater, the College of the Atlantic. He reminded me and made me internalise that I could accomplish anything. I would show up at his office at any time of the day with an idea and there wasn’t a single time when he shut me off. He would take time to listen and ask questions that would guide me through my own idea, to either drop it or to develop it further. The reason I came out on the Forbes 30 under 30 list with my work was because of the ideas that got implemented after they went through Jay. He believed in my ability and stood by me so much so that, one midnight, he even took the time to come on Skype and prepare me for my final interview for the Schwarzman Scholar Program – a prestigious program based out of Tsinghua University in China.
Another one of my mentors, Sheila Kinkade, one of the most compassionate humans on earth, continues to be an inspiration to me. She supported me throughout the launch of Diyalo Foundation. Instrumental in coaching me, she further reaffirmed my belief in myself, to finish a job that gets started, to be value-based, to become selfless in my deeds, and to continue even in times of difficulties. Above all, they have taught me that seeking out for guidance is not a sign of weakness but a tool to build your strength.
The people in my team are the ones I spend most of my time with. The fact that these people – be it the directors, education officers, teaching fellows, or the CEOs – travel and work in the most rural parts of Nepal is inspirational. These are people driven by the future of the children they work with. Some of our education officers say, “I question what I am doing here when I see the villagers’ lack of interest, but as I see the children, I know why I am here.” Trust me, it can be frustrating working in rural Nepal, but having a team that continues to push the envelope with a belief in newer possibilities is what takes an organization further. And that is exactly what our team does, we struggle together to build schools and make education happen. They have taught me to sit back at the end of the pack while they lead.
My friends and my well-wishers
Some of my friends [they know who they are] have more faith in my work than me. The small and kind gesture of support when asked for, the readiness to jump on the boat to support something I have started make me realise that I am not alone. And what can be better than having a strong backing? The selfless nature of my friends is addictive.
Another group would be the people who support what we do on the ground, the people who believe in the work being done in rural villages of Nepal, the donors. The CTC Family Foundation has been supporting me and the work that our team does on the ground for the past five years, without even meeting me in person. Likewise, the St. Christopher’s Junior School in Bahrain, Pam and Powell Family, the Obermeyer Family, Doug Miller, and many others who trust our team. These people inspire me for their sheer belief in sharing some of what they have with the ones who lack even the bare minimum.
People from villages we work with
Their optimism for the future despite having to deal with false hopes from irresponsible leaders and lagged development makes me want to struggle and work for a better today for them and their families. They do not easily trust people that have gone to educational institutions, but when they do, they will give it all in. They take their time to say yes but when they are in, they are all in. They are the reason UWS Nepal and its programmes exist. They care for us and our people and we hope to do the same for them.