Vikas Pota is Chairman of global education charity the Varkey Foundation and Group Chief Executive of Tmrw Digital, which invests in education technology businesses and has established the Tmrw Institute to advance understanding of the education technology sector in key areas.
At a time when we face a global education crisis – with the urgent need to recruit 69 million teachers to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of universal quality education – Vikas responded by getting presidents, prime ministers and even the Pope around the table by convening the annual Global Education & Skills Forum – widely known as the ‘Davos of education’ – to discuss how to meet this challenge.
Vikas established the $1 million Global Teacher Prize, which has brought together world leaders and stars such as Lewis Hamilton, Matthew McConaughey, Princes William and Harry, Bill Gates, Hugh Jackman and the late Stephen Hawking in celebration of the work teachers do. The prize – known as the ‘Nobel of teaching’ – has unearthed the stories of thousands of inspirational teachers to shine a spotlight on the profession. The story of this year’s winner, Kenyan teacher Peter Tabichi, has been covered the world over from the BBC to CNN, Globo and the New York Times. Vikas identified that by raising teacher respect in this way, we could help encourage the best and brightest to go into and stay in the teaching profession to solve the recruitment and retention crisis.
Vikas has won numerous awards and honours for his work including being named by the Evening Standard as one of London’s Top 1000 most influential people, being appointed a visiting practitioner by Harvard University, and being selected to join the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders programme by HRH Queen Rania of Jordan, an honour shared by the Founders of Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, and Heads of Government such as the former President of Mexico, the Prime Minister of the UK, and President of France.
Vikas’ journey to becoming a leading light in the charity sector was a long and painful one. During the British Raj, Vikas’ grandparents emigrated to East Africa from India to help build the railways where they settled and raised their children. Vikas’ parents were introduced by way of a photo of his mother sent from India to his father in Kenya. They were married the next day. Vikas was born in 1974 in Kenya, when Idi Amin in neighbouring Uganda was launching his brutal campaign against Asians. Political uncertainty followed in Kenya and a coup d’etat was attempted in the early 80s. With soldiers barricading their road and gunfire at the end of the street, his father sent his wife and two young children to his brother’s home in London. Vikas was nine years old.
His father had planned to join them, but as he was preparing to do so he was killed in a motor accident, leaving his young family facing poverty in London. Despite not speaking any English, Vikas’ mother worked every hour she could to feed her family, first in an Indian confectioner’s shop making samosas, then in a factory making sandwiches for Marks & Spencer’s and lastly in an elderly home.
The only advice his mother offered him during his education was to do everything to ensure he gained admission to a university course because in her observation, all those who she could see prospering had a degree qualification.
With that in mind, Vikas graduated from Aston University and then entered the world of work where he strived to pay off his mother’s debts. Initially, he worked for a big bank, but he knew this was not his calling. Instead, he threw himself into charity work, founding Sewa Day, which has motivated over 50,000 people in 20 countries to provide their time to either help relieve hardship and poverty, protect the environment, or to bring a little joy to those who have little. He also relished the opportunity to work in international relations as the Director of an India focused Parliamentary Group in Westminster during the Blair government, taking British MPs to India and fostering improved foreign relations.
It was his skill as a bringer together of people, as well as his passion for helping some of the most disadvantaged people on the planet through the transformative power of education, that ultimately led him to establish the Varkey Foundation with Sunny Varkey.