Sunny Varkey is a visionary education entrepreneur. He believes that every child has a basic human right to decent education, but also that the education process itself should be as inclusive as possible to ensure high standards are achieved regardless of gender, nationality or social background.
Convinced that education plays a key role in reducing conflict, prejudice, poverty and intolerance around the world, his work is based on the guiding principle of providing access for all young people to better schooling. Sunny Varkey’s parents arrived in Dubai in 1959 and started their first school for Indian expatriate children in 1968. From the beginning, they concentrated on both education and charity and this ethos continues to be paramount today. Since Sunny Varkey took over the company in 1980 it has undergone a remarkable expansion from a family-run business to a multinational company with global reach and reputation – GEMS Education currently educates 100,000 students who represent more than 140 nationalities – but the original family values remain at the heart of its work.
In practical terms this means creating an environment in which parents, local communities, education providers and Governments work together to provide access to education for as many children as possible. An ongoing partnership programme with UNESCO is aimed at training 10,000 school principals in Kenya, Ghana, and India, while a second programme is focusing on training teachers in Lesotho and Kenya to improve STEM education for girls and women. To achieve his aim of providing access to education to as many children as possible, GEMS Education concentrates on three areas: the public sector, the private sector, and a not-for-profit, philanthropic arm, the Varkey GEMS Foundation established in 2010. The Foundation provides education scholarships, leadership/professional development, and teacher effectiveness courses to improve the skills and knowledge of teachers and school leaders. The aim of the Foundation, whose Honorary Chairman is former President of the United States of America Bill Clinton, is to impact 100 underprivileged children for every student enrolled at a GEMS School.
GEMS has come a long way since it was founded. It is a company with a social conscience. ‘Global Citizenship’ is one of GEMS four core values which run throughout every one of its schools and the importance of ‘giving’ in the widest sense is given a high priority. Over the past 50 years, GEMS students, parents, teaching staff and corporate staff have raised over US$ 40 million for charities around the world. Sunny Varkey also provides free and subsidised education to over 3,000 students every year through ‘GEMS Cares’ for students from economically challenged families. In 2007, he pledged US$ 30 million to ‘Dubai Cares’, a Dubai-based charity focused on providing education to primary school children.
To help guide all these activities, Sunny Varkey has also put together a network of eminent, international advisors who are proven gamechangers on the global stage. GEMS Education has strategic partnerships with UNESCO, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the World Economic Forum, Dubai Cares, Pratham and Microsoft. Sunny Varkey himself has been honoured by the Government of India for his contributions to Education with the Padmashri Award, one of the highest civilian honours of the country.
In his mission to effect qualitative change and an education revolution in society, Sunny Varkey’s philanthropic commitments have helped improve the lives of thousands worldwide. He believes that an education is the finest gift that impoverished families can enjoy because it provides them with the opportunity to lift themselves out of hardship and poverty.