Kul Chandra Gautam was born in a rural village with no electricity or running water, no doctors and schools. The nearest town with a market was a five-day walk away.
He left home at age 7 to study — and study he did. He was one of the first people in the world to learn English from a Peace Corps volunteer, and his outstanding grades eventually won him a full scholarship to Dartmouth.
But getting there wasn’t easy.
For two years, Gautam petitioned the Nepali government for a passport so he could attend the U.S. university. But back in the 1960s, passports were given only to people of privilege — not poor villagers. His passport request went all the way up to the king, only to be denied.
It was then Gautam vowed to do something special with his life.
“That moment came because of the injustice of not being able to get a passport,” he said on a visit to NPR headquarters last month to talk about his life and his new memoir, Global Citizen from Gulmi: My Journey from the Hills of Nepal to the Halls of United Nations.
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Gautam, now 69, speaks with contagious energy, his eyes gleaming. (He exuberantly corrects the Western way of counting one’s age. He’s actually 70, he says, because in Nepal your first birthday is on the day you are born: “That seems logical to us!”)
The discrimination Gautam faced as a young man only made him fight harder. The second time he applied for a passport, a mid-level government official who had also risen from a rural village sympathized with his plight and approved his application.
Gautam was going to America.
“From that point on, I felt — ah! I have managed to do something impossible,” he says early in the interview. His cup of tea, forgotten, cools before him as he recalls the pain and then joy of his challenges. “Even when the king rejects you, that’s not the end of the road.”
For Gautam, the road would extend all the way to a top leadership position with the United Nations.
In 1971, he graduated from Dartmouth, where he studied international relations, after just three years. Next, he received his master’s degree in economic development and modernization from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School in 1973.
After that, he ascended the ranks of the United Nations, beginning as a program officer for UNICEF and climbing to the position of assistant secretary general of the U.N. from 2000 to 2008.
A grandfather’s wish
When Gautam was born, his grandfather, who had long yearned for male heirs, was elated.
“He said, ‘I want this boy to be someone special,’ ” Gautam recalls. ” ‘An educated pundit.’ ”
His grandfather and his father taught him all they knew, scratching letters of their Nepali dialect into the dirt with a stick. The boy quickly absorbed their knowledge. When he was 7 years old he moved to a village across the river to learn from a local teacher — the first in a series of moves farther and farther from home in the pursuit of education.
In 1962, Gautam was a seventh-grader in a town called Tansen, one of the first outposts for volunteers with a new organization, the Peace Corps. Gautam knew only a few English words then — not enough to string together a sentence — but he excelled under the volunteers’ tutelage.
His education didn’t stop when school did; Gautam would tag along with his teachers after class. They taught him how to play chess and Scrabble; soon enough, he began beating them.
One volunteer told him if he kept up his education, he might one day study in America.
There are times when the right encouragement, the right promise, echoes in your head and lodges in your heart. Even now, half a century later, Gautam’s face still lights up at the promise of that dream.
The idea of studying in the United States stayed with him. More specifically, Gautam decided, he wanted to attend Dartmouth — the alma mater of a volunteer who had lent him books.
In the final year of high school, Gautam enlisted the help of his old Peace Corps teachers and took college entrance exams.
“Apparently, surprisingly, I did very well,” he says with characteristic humility. He still calls himself “a little village boy” and says that his village was, “by Nepali standards, not very remote” — a mere five-day walk to the nearest small city.
At one point, he mentions in passing that he was one of the most accomplished students in all of Nepal. He was recounting his explanation to a low-level government employee why he should be granted the passport.
“Obviously, he was suspicious, you know, ‘How did he get this scholarship? This is abnormal.’ And I explained everything, you know, I have a very good record in school, I’m at the top of the whole country in the final school-leaving exams.”
“But qualification is not the main criteria” for getting a passport, he says, shrugging nonchalantly. “There’s one possible criteria: It is who you are related to.”
Yet this poor Nepali villager not only gained entrance to one of the most prestigious schools in the United States — he was offered a full scholarship.
Gautam believes organizations like the Peace Corps, which was instrumental to his own education, are important for improving the lives of people like him around the world.
“The Peace Corps is a unique instrument that I think is perhaps underestimated in this country and elsewhere,” he says. “They are in many ways the true ambassadors of the U.S.”
“He has such a great voice for his country,” says Glenn Blumhorst, president and CEO of the National Peace Corps Association. This year, Gautam was honored with the organization’s Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.
“He has the ability to connect with a village elder or a small child in his village, somebody who’s from very humble background, to diplomats and heads of state,” Blumhorst says. “That’s really impressive.”
Hard work, good luck
When he tells his story, Gautam is sure to emphasize his good luck along with his hard work and determination. But he also clearly has a faculty for winning people over.
When he speaks of the government official who eventually helped him get a passport, he tugs on his ear just like the official did five decades ago — an impromptu sign for “Listen, here’s the way we have to do this,” a code between two villagers of how they’d work within the system to conquer it.
At UNICEF, where he eventually became deputy executive director, Gautam was part of the push to vaccinate 80 percent of the world’s children by 1990 — an enormously ambitious and ultimately successful campaign.
In addition to vaccines, UNICEF encouraged health workers to monitor children’s growth and introduced oral rehydration therapy to combat diarrhea and dehydration — a major killer of children.
To encourage breastfeeding in places where unclean water caused many infections, like Brazil, Gautam enlisted the mother of soccer superstar Pelé.
“Of course, he is the best football player in the world,” Pelé’s mother said, patting the shoulder of her son in an image that was plastered on billboards around the country. “I breastfed him!”
All of these improvements have had a massive impact. But to reach the remaining children in need, Gautam says, global health and development workers must take a multi-pronged approach.
“You do whatever you can do. It’s not one versus the other,” he says. “We vaccinate people, we also work on poverty reduction, we also work on girls’ education, we work on multiple fronts.”
That last issue — girls’ education — is particularly important to Gautam.
“Of the investments you can make in development,” he says, “probably the most important, and the most transformative, is in girls’ education.”
It’s important not just because it changes each girl’s life, Gautam explains, but also because those changes ripple throughout the whole family and into the community. Education helps halt the cycle of poverty that often traps generations of families.
“Ultimately, the best vaccine is reducing poverty and providing education,” he says.
Gautam retired from the U.N. in 2008. He now serves as chair of the board of RESULTS, a nonprofit focused on eradicating poverty.
He is optimistic about the progress the world has made battling preventable diseases and improving the well-being of millions around the globe. But, he points out, newer — and more complicated — problems arise as old ones are solved.
For instance, when he was growing up, his village had no school. About 95 percent of men and 100 percent of women were illiterate. It was rare for a woman to receive any education, he says.
Today, there are five primary schools in his village alone. And more girls than boys attend the public schools in his village, Gautam says.
But for this longtime activist, access alone isn’t enough. “You see this new form of inequality coming — a subtle discrimination,” he says. More girls may attend public schools, but more boys attend higher-quality private schools, he believes. The girls have equal access to education, but not to equal quality, he says.
“If the biggest challenge in development of the 20th century was access to basic services, the biggest challenge of this century is equity,” he says. “How do we make sure that everybody has access, [and] that access is equitable?”
Source : https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/09/21/642283574/rejection-by-the-king-of-nepal-was-not-the-end-of-the-road
Born into poverty in Nepal, Kul Chandra Gautam capitalized on a little luck and a lot of grit to get an education. He has spent his adult life paying it forward.
The village of Amarpur in the Gulmi region of Nepal hugs the side of a steep green mountain like a toddler clinging to his mother’s back. At the time of Kul Chandra Gautam’s birth there in 1949, the village had no roads, no school, no health services, no post office, no telephone, no electricity, no running water and virtually no toilets. The nearest significant market town was Butwal — a 10-day round trip by foot. Gautam estimates that 100 percent of the women and about 90 percent of the men were illiterate.
Gautam’s family and neighbors worked primarily as subsistence farmers, eking out a sparse living on the steeply terraced fields. Families in the village lived cyclical lives, with one generation replacing the next in the tilling, planting and harvesting. Few left — or even imagined leaving — the village.
But in Gautam’s case, as he describes so powerfully in his new memoir, Global Citizen from Gulmi: My Journey from the Hills of Nepal to the Halls of the United Nations, something remarkable happened. A combination of aspiration, luck, grit and a shocking amount of persistence enabled him to not only leave Amarpur but to eventually spend three decades as a UNICEF powerhouse, helping countless children with similarly long odds achieve their dreams of health, education and opportunity.
On September 5, UNICEF hosted a book launch for Gautam in our Manhattan headquarters. In her introduction, Caryl M. Stern described how, shortly after she was hired as UNICEF USA President and CEO, her predecessor gave her a list of five people who would prove invaluable to both her understanding UNICEF and her efforts on behalf of children. Gautam’s name was first on the list.
I used to ask endless questions about social norms and religious beliefs, which annoyed some adults and amused others. — Kul Chandra Gautam
Gautam’s journey really began with a fairly simple, if unlikely step. His doting, semi-literate grandfather decided to teach him the Nepali alphabet. Gautam proved himself a natural learner and, at age 7, his family sent him to a small religious (Hindu) school a three-hour walk away. As the world began to open up for him, he found himself increasingly curious. “I used to ask endless questions about social norms and religious beliefs, which annoyed some adults and amused others,” he said in a recent interview.
Seeing Kul’s bottomless thirst for knowledge, his family enrolled him in a school in India, requiring a five-day trek followed by a 6-hour bullock cart ride through tiger territory, then two train trips. For his next school in Kathmandu, the journey was double that length.
Children at play in Nepal’s Gorkha district in 2016. © UNICEF/UN017152/Shrestha
It’s amazing how easy it is here in the United States to take education for granted. Yes, our system is imperfect. But all children are guaranteed the right to learn. That is still far from the case in many parts of the world, particularly for girls — despite the fact that education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty and to provide children with a pathway to a better future.
Gautam is living proof that children who have a chance to learn can do amazing things. Despite obstacles (including a two-year struggle to obtain a passport so that he could attend Dartmouth College with a full scholarship) he refused to throw up his hands and compromise on his search for a better path.
In 2002, as UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Kul Gautam (far left) visited the Zevenfontein informal settlement, near Johannesburg, South Africa, where children made banners in honor of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. © UNICEF/UNI37727/Pirozzi
This attitude would come to shape much of his time and success at UNICEF where, following graduate school, he quickly rose in the ranks. In his first job as a Program Officer in Cambodia, he witnessed the bloody rise of the Khmer Rouge (he once said to his wife — only partly in jest — that he would want to be captured by the Khmer Rouge so that he could be taken to one of their camps and actually understand their thinking and actions).
I have a duty to serve humanity because I’m still luckier than many people that I’m serving. — Kul Chandra Gautam
He went on to work as Program Officer in Indonesia and then as UNICEF Representative in Laos and Haiti, before becoming Chief of UNICEF for Latin America and the Caribbean. From 2000-2007, he was UNICEF Deputy Executive Director (following his 2007 retirement, he returned to Nepal to help the country recover from both a civil war and debilitating earthquake, described in his first memoir, Lost In Transition: Rebuilding Nepal from the Maoist Mayhem and the Mega Earthquake).
During his various leadership roles at UNICEF, Gautam witnessed the first major vaccine campaign in Colombia, helped roll back malaria in Africa, watched a dictator fall in Haiti, stood up to generals in Myanmar, helped broker famine relief in North Korea and much more.
Together with 1 million others around the world, hundreds of people gathered for a candlelight vigil in front of United Nations Headquarters in New York, in support of the first World Summit for Children in 1990. © UNICEF/UNI51119/Barbour
But, when asked, Gautam will say that his greatest achievement is the role that he played in crafting the agenda of the historic 1990 World Summit for Children. An unprecedented 71 heads of state and government gathered at U.N. headquarters to sign off on a detailed set of child-related human development goals aimed at — among other things — reducing infant and maternal mortality, child malnutrition and illiteracy by the year 2000. Backed by the passion of UNICEF Executive Director Jim Grant, these goals helped drive profound changes in global child survival. When Gautam joined the U.N. in 1973, 18 million children died every year; by 2016 that number was less than 6 million, despite the fact that the population more than doubled.
UNICEF has helped spur tremendous gains in education, too. There are now 100 million more children and adolescents enrolled in primary and secondary schools around the world than a decade ago. Still, an estimated 264 million children and youth are not getting the education they so deserve.
Girls in Jana Jyoti Lower Secondary School in Salyantar Village Development Committee in Dhading, Nepal. © UNICEF/UNI187813/Shrestha
The “Let Us Learn” initiative, funded by a $20 million contribution from Stefan and Susan Findel, is one UNICEF program that is working to erase inequality in education by giving the most excluded and marginalized children — especially girls and children affected by crises — a chance to learn. The program is currently focusing on five crisis-affected countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Liberia, Madagascar and Nepal.
At the launch event for Gautam’s book, Susan Findel sat in the front row, listening eagerly to this compact man with a voice that bubbles with optimism and enthusiasm. She was there, in part, because Gautam had recently announced that all of the proceeds from his book will go towards supporting the Nepali arm of the “Let Us Learn” program. In other words, the tale of his own journey will be helping to give Nepali children the same leg-up that education has given him.
Kul Gautam and Susan Findel at a UNICEF event celebrating the publication of Gautam’s memoir, “Global Citizen from Gulmi.” © Ann Putnam Marks UNICEF USA
When asked in an interview what has driven him to help so many children over his many decades of work, Gautam replied, “If you compare yourself to people who are better off than you, you feel deprived and victimized. But if you compare yourself with people who are much worse off than you are, you feel, ‘I have a duty to serve humanity because I’m still luckier than many people that I’m serving.’”
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Wisdom, history and a remarkable life
This blog site was never intended as a place for book reviews. However, on this occasion a book says so much that chimes with my thinking, and that feels important in the current political context, that I felt a review would be appropriate. I hope you will read the review, but also the book itself, which I strongly recommend. While the book covers many issues and tells a great personal story, for me it most importantly brings a narrative of hope for a world increasingly mired in nationalism, isolationism and protectionism. What is needed is the reassertion of values of global solidarity and this book provides that much-needed worldview at a time of the greatest need.
It is a rare privilege to review a book by someone you genuinely admire. This is three books in one, and in spite of its 500+ pages is an absorbing read. It is far more than a memoir. It is a book for our times, but one that leaves the reader with a sense of hope that, despite setbacks, the world is on track for a better future. In a way, you could even say that this book, in its gentle way, is a manual for the work we all need t
o do to build a world fit for children, and therefore for all of us.
The first of the three books is an autobiography of an exceptional man. It is the unique story of a boy who grew up in a remote village in rural Nepal. A place where there was no road, no school, no health service, no post office, no telephone and no electricity. His parents were married when they were children. While child marriage is something he has campaigned against, his own parents and grandparents were caring and supportive and, in spite of their own lack of opportunity, gave him the chance to excel, and to become “Kul – Global Citizen from Gulmi”.
From this unlikely background, Kul went on to become Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, an Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and Nepal’s highest ranking international civil servant. Thus the second book is a documentary – the story of UNICEF’s work for children across the world through the eyes of someone who was intimately involved in bringing about dramatic gains in child survival. We follow him through moments of history and see how, even (perhaps especially) at the most challenging times, it is possible, with great skill and diplomacy, to make a difference. From the dawn of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in Cambodia, through the dictatorship of Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti, to his central role in high level diplomacy in New York, in Latin America and Asia, and his key role in helping his native Nepal to overcome its own strife following a brutal Maoist insurgency, we can witness through Kul’s eyes, the unfolding of the last half century of change across the world. Change in which he was not merely an observer, but an actor.
The third book though is the one that I believe is most important and the reason why this exceptional volume should be widely read. That third book is a philosophy of hope, a book of wisdom and reflection that addresses our worries, fears and uncertainties and brings the lessons of a unique life to bear on our past, our present, and most importantly our future. He reflects on the curse of ultra-nationalism and offers a convincing and powerful case for a world where states work together to address the key challenges of our time, which know no borders. He discusses the role of religion in world affairs, for good and ill, and his own journey from a Hindu upbringing to what may perhaps be described as Buddhist agnosticism. He contemplates the tricky balance between principle and pragmatism and shows how to hold to the principles of human rights, freedom and democracy even while seeking pragmatic solutions to seemingly impossible dilemmas and building a global consensus for progress. And he offers an optimistic vision for the better future we can achieve. All the ingredients for that future are in place. It is within reach. Developments that may seem to be taking us in the wrong direction are (if we make it so) just small blips in the positive sweep of history.
These three books are woven together so that we are carried along by the personal stories and what might otherwise become a description of bureaucratic endeavour becomes instead a compelling narrative. We learn how Kul came from the most unpromising roots, but through hard work, good luck and some inspirational people he met along the way, was able eventually to gain a scholarship to a leading US University. He nearly didn’t make it as the Government of Nepal seemed determined to prevent him getting a passport. The story of his battle for a passport is a lesson in how bureaucracy and political absurdity can get in the way, and is just one example of how Kul’s special combination of curiosity, energy and persistence enabled him to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles in every phase of his remarkable life.
While Kul is passionate about his home country of Nepal, his life has led him to embrace another identity, as a global citizen, as the embodiment of Thomas Paine’s dictum: “I am a citizen of the world and my religion is to do good”. It is this approach to identity that can help us to be proud citizens of our own countries while serving the greater global good. There is no contradiction. Indeed, it is through solidarity that we become the best we can be.
I only met Kul Gautam when I joined the UNICEF family in 1999, but there are so many overlaps between his story and mine. While he was a student activist at Dartmouth in the late ‘60s, campaigning against the Vietnam War, I was demonstrating in Grosvenor Square, and committing to the struggle against apartheid. After he served in Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge took power, I wrote a report for Oxfam on the impact of UN decisions there, and later travelled to New York to lobby the UN in support of humanitarian aid to post Pol Pot Cambodia. While Kul campaigned against the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, I wrote a book on the use and misuse of hazardous pesticides in developing countries. We were both closely involved in the huge effort to bring to global attention the impact of HIV/AIDS on the world’s children. And we both found in UNICEF, the organisation which, despite its flaws and its variable leadership, offered the best opportunity to apply our energy to changing the world for the better. And we are both long-time supporters of Oxfam, Kul currently as a Trustee.
The book also contains some lessons in leadership, built on the experience of serving alongside someone who inspires unprecedented loyalty and admiration among those who worked with him – UNICEF’s former Executive Director Jim Grant. As Kul puts it: “Grant came to UNICEF like a tornado with a bright rainbow on its horizon. He was bubbling with ideas and bouncing with energy”. Grant was the initiator of a revolution in child survival. His diplomacy, vision and leadership “probably saved more lives than were destroyed by Hitler, Mao and Stalin combined”. Grant’s success as a leader owed much to his positive outlook, his belief in humanity’s capacity to do good, and the deep faith he inspired in those he met, even the unsavoury world leaders he managed to convince to invest in immunisation, or to halt wars to bring help to children. It is fascinating for those of us who knew some of them to see Kul’s scores out of ten for UNICEF’s Executive Directors. I’m surprised Ann Veneman got as many as four. Grant got eleven!
Having retired from the UN, Kul is in a strong position to examine its weaknesses and does so without flinching. Nevertheless, his wisdom and experience underscores with precision and power why the world needs the UN and why we should all support a multilateral approach to world affairs. He recognises the need for reform, not least in the Security Council. But he is scathing in his critique of some of the more doctrinaire and ideological pressures of member states to undermine the distinct mandates of individual humanitarian and development agencies like UNICEF. He is well aware (though he spends, for me, too little time on it) of the unique “people to people” nature of UNICEF within the UN system, as the only agency which derives a substantial part of its support from the global public, especially through its network of National Committees. He also emphasises their role in advocacy and education in industrialised countries as a key element in UNICEF’s commitment to every child, wherever they live.
Kul’s conclusions on the UN are worth quoting at length:
“in our imperfect world that is rapidly shrinking into a global village, there is no alternative to inter-dependence and solidarity. As the issues of global warming and climate change highlight, whether we are rich or poor, from the North or South, we are all destined to sink or swim together. Assuming we would rather swim than sink, we need an organization like the UN to help establish some common rules of the game for managing global public goods and values. As it has been said, if the UN did not exist, it would have to be created anew. Since it already exists and it has endured and overcome some of the toughest tests to its raison d’etre, let us make it an effective instrument for tackling those planetary problems that no nation, no matter how powerful, can hope to tackle alone”.
The UN’s vital presence is evident across the world in peacemaking, humanitarian response, international development and the adoption of global norms, standards and conventions that allow us to hold leaders to account. One of the greatest of these, and the most widely ratified, is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which gives UNICEF its mandate. Only the USA, to its great shame, has not ratified this landmark human rights standard. Jim Grant’s deathbed appeal to Bill Clinton led to its signature but the US has failed to follow this with full ratification. A change in this US position will be one important element if we are to see Kul’s bright vision come true.
In looking to the future, Kul believes that two great issues define our current dilemma: migration and climate change:
“For the next couple of decades, xenophobic restrictions on migration on the one hand and “migration for development” as a positive force are likely to coexist as dominant themes in the world’s political and development agenda. Climate change and how we harness the earth’s natural resources will challenge human ingenuity. Striking the right balance between adaptation and mitigation, and dealing with these issues from a trans-national perspective, will surely be the greatest public policy triumph, or tragedy, of the next generation of world leaders”.
Kul spells out other elements of the change the world needs to see if his vision is to be realised. These are ambitious but he manages to make us believe they are possible, even inevitable: a democratic China, a united South Asia (with India and Pakistan especially learning to work together), the emergence of Africa as the new miracle of economic development, and a renewed United Nations at the centre. At the heart of the empowerment of the UN is the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ – the principle of solidarity and international duty to act wherever states are grossly violating the rights of their people. This solidarity will, in Kul’s view, overcome the parochial concept of sovereignty which is so prevalent today:
“It is heart-breaking to see how parochial national interests of countries – especially the big powers – is preventing the UN from acting to implement the noble concept of the “responsibility to protect” in situations of conflict, massive refugee crises or gross violation of human rights as is the case currently in Yemen, Syria, Myanmar and North Korea. But I strongly believe that over time application of the principle of “responsibility to protect” is likely to be the most enlightened marker of the UN living up to the ideal of “We the peoples of the United Nations”. I bet that a hundred years from now, the Westphalian view of sovereignty – that states should run their own affairs without any foreign interference – will sound quaint and outdated. Today’s ultra-nationalists will seem like dinosaurs”.
His vision is inspired also by the example of Costa Rica in reducing military expenditure and investing instead in development. True security will not emerge from a greater stash of weaponry (neither for individual US proponents of the gun lobby or for states) but from economic and social wellbeing and solidarity that ensures a better future for citizens. He is also convinced that a focus on greater equity will be a vital element in this more secure future:
“the progress made for humanity at large in the past half century – including in the poorest countries of the world – in terms of increased life expectancy, reduced mortality, control of diseases, access to education and communication, poverty reduction, spread of democracy and human rights – is of such scale and magnitude that our ancestors would find the world today unrecognizable. Yet, if we did a public opinion survey, there would probably be more people complaining about their misery and deprivation. The major reason for people feeling they are worse off than before is directly related to the growing inequality between the haves and the have-nots, even when the have-nots today are objectively much better off than their parents or grandparents. Visible inequity and growing disparities in the living standards and lifestyles of people magnifies the sense of deprivation and injustice among the less well- to-do”.
Even the IMF has realised the dangers of growing inequality, warning that it creates “an economy of exclusion, and a wasteland of discarded potential” that threatens “the precious fabric that holds our society together”.
If, as Kul believes we can and will, the world is able to overcome its divisions and tackle global challenges together in solidarity and share responsibility for the protection of the most vulnerable, then “the era of democratic stability and peaceful progress is clearly on the horizon”.
His hope is founded not just on a positive and optimistic outlook, but on a lifetime of service and experience, and in a belief in the young people who will become the next generation of world leaders. This book is important. It offers us a vision that counters the narrow parochialism that seems to be gaining too much traction in our recent politics. It is a new manifesto for the disadvantaged and dispossessed, who will not gain from ultra-nationalism, austerity, Trumpism and Brexit but from global solidarity, equity and protection of human rights. And it is a guide and manual for all of us – a lesson in principled pragmatism, determination and the power of an optimistic vision.
Remarks by Kul Chandra Gautam
at the book launch of his memoir: Global Citizen from Gulmi
at UNICEF, New York, 5 September 2018
Thank you, Paloma, for your warm words of welcome. And I thank the whole DOC team and the UNICEF family for organizing this wonderful get-together.
I am deeply grateful for the kind remarks that have been made about the contents of my book and about myself.
Maria Luiza, please convey my gratitude to the Secretary-General for his kind message. And Shahida, please convey my greetings to the UNICEF Executive Director.
Thank you, Ambassador Karki for coming all the way from Washington DC, and your warm words on behalf of the Nepali community.
Dear Caryl, it is always a delight to collaborate with you and the US Fund for UNICEF.
A few years ago, you honoured me with the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award. The elegant spirt of Audrey continues to inspire me. As do many other Goodwill Ambassadors who instill a warm glow of human touch that has long been the hallmark of UNICEF.
Meeting in this Hall named after Harry Labouisse evokes many nostalgic memories for me.
For some of our friends who may not be familiar with UNICEF’s history, Labouisse was the 2nd Executive Director of UNICEF.
He received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of UNICEF in 1965.
His predecessor, the first Executive Director of UNICEF, was a remarkable leader named Maurice Pate.
When he was offered the job as the first head of UNICEF, Maurice Pate told the UN Secretary-General that he would accept the job on one condition – that UNICEF should be allowed to help children in need everywhere, including in the so-called “enemy states”.
Please recall that article 53 of the UN Charter speaks about the “enemy states” – the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) – that had been defeated in the Second World War.
The principle of helping children everywhere regardless of the politics of their parents allowed UNICEF to help children in post-war Germany, Italy and Japan, as well as in the socialist countries of Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
Invoking that principle, UNICEF provided humanitarian assistance to children even in countries and territories whose governments were not recognized by the UN, and where other UN agencies were not allowed to work.
Harry Labouisse led one such early effort during the Nigerian civil war in Biafra in the 1960s and another to help the children of Indo-China at the height of the Vietnam War.
Thus, UNICEF was way ahead of the rest of the United Nations system in practicing what we today call the “responsibility to protect”.
I was an anti-Vietnam War activist during my student days at Dartmouth College. One of my favourite professors there was Donald McNemar with whom I took a course on international law and the United Nations. That course instilled in me a deep interest in the UN, which eventually-led to my joining UNICEF.
I am delighted that Prof McNemar is herewith us today. Thank you, Don.
In 1973, when there was the Paris Peace Agreement to end the Vietnam War, Harry Labouisse launched a massive program of UNICEF support for post war relief and reconstruction all over Indo-China.
I joined UNICEF in that campaign. And that was the beginning of my three and half decade-long career in the United Nations.
So, this conference hall, named after my first big boss and hero, Harry Labouisse, carries a very special meaning for me.
This hall has been the venue of many momentous events.
In 1989, when the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN, we celebrated it in this hall.
I cherish the hope that one day it will see another celebration, when the United States of America ratifies the CRC, and helps make it the first-ever universal law of humankind.
In 1990, when UNICEF led the organization of the first ever World Summit for Children – the largest gathering of world leaders in history until that time – we celebrated that historic milestone – right here in this hall.
James Grant – the 3rd Executive Director of UNICEF – was the master-mind behind that world summit, and I was fortunate enough to be tasked to draft its Declaration and Plan of Action.
These days, so many summits happen at the United Nations, that we feel rather blasé about such summits. But the very first summit held at the UN in 1990, when the Cold War was drawing to a close, was an exhilarating affair, not only in its pomp and circumstances, but in the substance of its outcome.
It was the first summit to adopt ambitious, time-bound and measurable goals for children and development – to drastically reduce maternal and child mortality; to combat diseases and malnutrition, to promote basic education, to protect children from abuse, exploitation and discrimination.
But some cynics said that at the UN goals are ever set and never met. The Summit for children soon proved that cynicism wrong.
The goals of the Summit for Children, relating to child survival, protection and development were the most systematically implemented and rigorously monitored.
Extra-ordinary social mobilization and political commitment were harnessed. The result was that most of the goals of the Summit were achieved or even exceeded in most countries.
Encouraged by the success of the child-related goals, when world leaders met again at the Millennium Summit in 2000, the most prominent among the goals they approved in the Millennium Development Declaration were – guess what? – those relating to the health, nutrition and education of children.
In a very real sense, and unbeknownst to most of us here, the foundation of today’s sustainable goals was pioneered by the goals of the Summit for Children.
It is a story I tell in some detail in the book I am presenting to you here today.
The master-mind behind the story was UNICEF’s legendary leader Jim Grant. And I was lucky to be a supporting actor, along with many others – some of whom – veteran UNICEF retirees – are here with us today.
Some of you in the audience may not have even heard of Jim Grant. So, let me share a statistic that will explain why Grant was among the most inspiring leaders ever in the UN system.
Nicholas Kristof, a well-known columnist for the New York Times, said of Jim Grant that his work and leadership probably helped save more lives than were killed by Hitler, Stalin and Mao Ze Dong combined.
He remains one of the great unsung heroes of the 20th century.
But historically, the leadership in UNICEF came not only from its Executive Directors.
A prime source of UNICEF’s leadership in early years came from its highly committed Executive Board.
Let me acknowledge here the presence of the current President of the UNICEF Board (HE Ambassador of Norway) several Board members.
Excellencies, I would commend to you a brief chapter in my book on the role played by some of your illustrious predecessors. UNICEF was very dear to the early members of its Board. They nurtured, protected and promoted UNICEF’s interests in ways that are hard to imagine today.
Friends, the Charter of the United Nations speaks about “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations…”. But in practice, today that translates into “We the sovereign governments of the United Nations, determined to protect our national interest at all cost…”.
But in the constellation of UN agencies, there are organizations like UNICEF that continue to embody the spirit of “We the peoples”.
UNICEF’s large network of national committees, like UNICEF USA – has thousands of citizen volunteers and dozens of celebrity ambassadors. They and the millions of people in developing countries who benefit from the UN’s support – represent the voice and views of “We the peoples of the United Nations”.
In these days of many initiatives for UN reform, I argue how important it is to preserve this “we the peoples” dimension of UNICEF and the UN.
UNICEF’s greatest strength has always been its highly decentralized, field-based structure with very empowered country representatives.
Their role is not only to manage UNICEF assistance but to advocate for child-friendly policies drawing on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other normative principles.
I hope this strength of UNICEF will be preserved and protected in the context of the seemingly endless process of UN reforms.
I am aware and fully agree that Member States and the Secretary-General want the UN country teams to work in a well-coordinated manner.
But let us remember the wise words of the late Kofi Annan, who said, memorably, that those UN Country Teams had to be like winning football teams where all players pursue a common goal, but where there is room for individual brilliance.
Today, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals are our shared destination.
All SDGs are highly desirable, but some are more doable, more cost-effective and urgent building blocks for others.
The goals related to the rights and well-being of children are such foundational goals that merit the highest priority.
Children have only one chance to grow, and if we fail them in their formative stage, we doom them for life.
Hence, I argue in my book – as all UNICEF-wallahs would do – Children First, and the best interest of children – must always come above all other considerations.
Commenting on my memoir, one astute reader said it actually consists of three books in one.
The first of the three books is of an autobiographical nature – of my unlikely journey from very humble beginnings in the remote hills of Nepal to eventually the lofty halls of the United Nations and beyond.
The struggles, trials and tribulations that I had to go through in that journey might not sound so unusual to my Nepali compatriots of similar backgrounds. But I am told these sound very intriguing – to the non-Nepali readers.
I leave it to you to judge for yourself.
The second book I am told is like a documentary – the story of UNICEF’s work for children across the world through the eyes of someone who was both a participant and an observer.
My key message here is not just about the good work of UNICEF and its great impact – in setting and achieving ambitious goals for children.
The more important point is how at its best, the UN system and a multilateral approach to solving global problems can succeed, where national and bilateral approaches, while necessary, are woefully inadequate.
All the triumphs and promises of global solidarity that I discuss, require a multilateral approach for sustainable success – whether it is spearheading a global child survival revolution or ensuring a rule-based global trading system; whether it is maintaining international peace and security or tackling global warming and climate change.
In today’s world, national action is not enough whether it is to combat terrorism or to tackle cybercrimes used to perpetrate violence against women and children.
Without global multilateral action it would be impossible to eradicate or even control deadly diseases like smallpox, polio, HIV/AIDS or ebola, or to protect the universally recognized human rights.
We can scream at the top of our voice “America First” or “Europe First” or “Nepal first” or whatever hyper-nationalistic slogans we like. But in this increasingly globalizing world, we will ALL sink or swim together.
Assuming that we would rather swim together than sink alone, I argue in the book that we owe it to ourselves and our future generations to build a robust multilateral system that also helps protect and preserve our national, regional and local identities in all their rich and beautiful diversity.
In the third book of my memoir, I outline my hopes and dreams for a peaceful and prosperous Nepal – and the world as a whole – with some markers of momentous changes for humanity that I see unfolding in this century.
I apologize to my Nepali friends, that we do not have much time to discuss about Nepal today.
Suffice it to say that Nepal’s prosperity – like that of all other relatively small and poor countries – depends heavily on how well we embrace the positive forces of globalization and global best practices and universal norms of good governance, rule of law, transparency and accountability.
These same factors are relevant for our increasingly inter-connected world community.
Reviewing some global mega-trends, I express my hopes for the triumph of a humane and pluralistic democracy all over the world, including in China. I also dream of the emergence of a Commonwealth of South Asia; a prosperous Africa and a vibrant Latin America.
These are all feasible, if not in our life-time, certainly during the life-time of our children.
Closer to home here at the United Nations, I speak about a drastically reformed UN system that will be fit for the 21st century with – some specific proposals.
The book concludes with some observations on how – not just peace and prosperity – but equity must become the defining issue of our times.
Empowerment of girls and women is the best catalyst for an equitable world order – with quality girls’ education as the best investment for ending inter-generational transmission of poverty.
To make a small contribution for that noble goal, the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to a girls’ education project assisted by the UNICEF USA in several educationally deprived districts of Nepal.
There is much more in the book for you to read and, hopefully enjoy.
But my time is up – so, I thank you all for joining us today.
Global Citizen from Gulmi: My Journey from the Hills of Nepal to the Halls of the United Nations”
Posted on 9/5/2018
by Kul Chandra Gautam (nepa-laya, Kathmandu, 2018)
Book review by Valerie Julliand, UN Resident Coordinator in Nepal
Kul Chandra Gautam’s extraordinary memoir resonates on so many levels, depending on one’s perspective. I trekked through its more than 500 pages as a representative of the UN system in Nepal, but also as a non-Nepali, with a palpable sense of discovery but also flashes of recognition at every turn.
Indeed, the story of young Kul Chandra is in many respects so Nepali; having to walk for five days, ride on a bullock cart and rickshaw for a day, travel by train for two days and another day of walking, that is to say a total of nine days to reach his new school. This may seem to most Nepali readers a normal occurrence, but for European readers, it is an adventure!
And this is what Gautam’s life seems to be: an adventure throughout.
Reading this book from my UN perspective, I could not help but think that the “fairy” of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was accompanying him from day one. His native village, Amarpur, is an SDG village by all standards – the perfect place where all the SDGs make sense.
Let’s review this. In the author’s own words (with my annotations): In Amarpur, there was no road (SDG 9), no school (SDG 4), no health services (SDG 3), no post office, no telephone and no electricity (SDG 6, 7 and 11). All the villagers were subsistence farmers, with the poorest working as share-croppers (SDG 1, 2 and 100% of women and possibly 95% of men were illiterate (SDG 4, 5 and 10).
There you go! The Sustainable Development Goals have been tailored for Amarpur village. No wonder why Gautam had a calling.
Another aspect of his life struck me. For a man who was going to dedicate his entire career to children’s rights, his life and that of his family is a textbook case of what should NOT happen.
He was born from an underaged mother (17 years old) who was actually only seven when she was married to a nine-year-old boy (his father). And his own marriage was also semi-arranged, with his future wife being only 17 at the time!
Reading Gautam’s book, one is taken through seven decades of world progress and mutation.
The small village of Amarpur, without electricity or health post or even school, is now a much different place. The author himself says (on page 485): “Every time I go to my native village, I marvel at the changes since my childhood. Women no longer have to walk for hours to fetch water; children go to school; motor vehicles reach the village instead of people having to walk for days to get to the nearest bus stop; mobile phones are in the hands of rich and poor alike; lights turn on at the flick of a switch.”
And these seven decades are the same seven decades of existence of the United Nations. The author was born almost at the same time as the UN and his life is the exemplification of what the UN has accompanied and what it has accomplished.
Interestingly, Kul Chandra Gautam sees the world changing – but not our human nature. He thinks some human traits are unchangeable. So, if the world changes, but not our basic human traits, one might ask: what generates the changes? And this is where the idealistic nature of us, UN civil servants, kicks in and we say: the UN has been and continues to be a force behind the changes.
Of course, far from me the pretention to attribute to the UN all the progress in the world, but through Gautam’s book, one sees clearly that the UN has accompanied (sometimes following and other times preceding) all the major changes in the world. And when I say the UN, I mean of course the Member States, but first and foremost the people working at the UN, the women and men who come from 193 different countries, the Kul Chandra Gautams of this world.
Actually, Gautam’s experiences and achievements are an inspiration to all of us. What a truly extraordinary and very rich career. His life shows that with hard work and determination, you can achieve a lot. But more important than hard work and determination, the most striking feature in Gautam’s life is the values and principles that guided him throughout. His life demonstrates that being anchored in strong humanist values and principles, and respecting and adhering to these values and principles no matter what, is what makes a difference.
And this is what led him to the UN, what kept him in the UN. The boy from the foothills of the Himalayas found in the UN the place where he belonged.
Anchored in these experiences and values and principles, Kul Chandra Gautam is well positioned to give us a bit of his wisdom and share his dream world.
The world of tomorrow, he says, will be a mix of power struggles but also a better place than today. And here we can feel the vision of the “idealistic, young, opinionated and perhaps a bit naïve young man” he was when he joined UNICEF in Cambodia in 1973.
From the current globalization and its unequal distribution of wealth to the emergence of an enlightened and more collaborative world order, Gautam has many dreams:
One of a democratic China that will embrace human rights and dissenting voices as a source of strength and prosperity, unleashing the creativity of its billion plus citizens.
Of a Commonwealth of South Asia, where India and Pakistan overcome their differences, and where growth is led by people (more than by governments).
One of a prosperous Africa, learning from Asia the recipes of success and harnessing the talent of its ever-growing populace that will represent half of the world population by 2100.
Of a vibrant Latin America, more mature, more equal, finding its place in the community of nations.
In Kul Chandra Gautam’s dreams, inequality will be defeated by the very people themselves. The conscience of the most unfair and glaring disparities between those who have and those who don’t will lead the people of the world to unite and build a new world. He actually says that “what people accepted as their fate in the past, they protest as injustice today”.
The dream of this retired Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations is also one of a reformed UN through a democratization process that will reflect the realities of today (not the power sharing post WWII) where the “Responsibility to Protect” will be fully expressed, where military expenditure will be brought down to leave space and resources for the real sustainable development so many people in the world yearn for.
In Gautam’s Dream World, Buddha’s teachings find all their meaning, in particular that of the “middle path” – avoiding all extremes, be they extremes of poverty or extremes of wealth.
But what I love most in this book is his own description of the United Nations. Indeed, despite the many criticisms (on the US domination or its opposite, the anti-American approach; on its helplessness faced with rogue regimes or abusive superpowers), he views the UN as the indispensable organization for global governance of our times.
There is no other organization in the world that can do what the UN does or that has the mandate the UN has. He puts it this way: “The UN is a complex organization. It defies simplistic, black and white, good and bad characterization. … It is a vital and necessary organization in today’s world. If the UN did not exist, it would have to be created anew”.
And Gautam knows and has experienced first-hand, as a citizen of a small and still poor nation, what the UN does for people. He has this sharp eye on some aspects of the UN that many others might simply miss.
Let me quote directly: “Unbeknownst to most of us, the UN actually has great influence in our lives, sometimes directly and often indirectly, through support for various government institutions and inter-governmental mechanisms”.
“Our jobs depend not only on farms and factories but on far-away markets; on the rules of international trade and norms of universal human rights. We need an organization like the UN to facilitate and regulate international cooperation and global governance”.
“We need the UN and a multilateral approach to tackle “problems without passports” – problems that cross national borders uninvited (climate change, drug trafficking, terrorism, epidemics and so on). No one country or group of countries can tackle such problems alone. It is these problems that remain at the centre of the UN’s agenda”.
And finally, the author of this hopeful yet realistic memoir has this wise definition: “The UN is, of course, not perfect. The UN is a mirror of the world. It reflects our hopes and convictions, and our divisions and disagreements”
So, reading this book has been an extremely inspiring experience. If a boy from the hills of Nepal can make it to the halls of the United Nations, then nothing is impossible. Maybe this is what the UN is all about. Make the impossible possible. Bring our common hopes and aspirations to life.
We owe the author a debt of gratitude for having taken the time and energy to publish this unique tale of adventure and transformation that is bound to leave readers with a deep sense of humility and admiration.
A Journey From a Nepali Village to the Upper Ranks of UNICEF
Sir Arthur Richard Jolly
Sir Arthur Richard Jolly, an eminent development economist, is Honorary Professor and former Director of the Institute of Development Studies
at the University of Sussex, UK.
BRIGHTON, UK, Aug 28 2018 (IPS) – Kul Gautam’s memoir is everything which one hopes for from a good biography. There are difficulties all along the way, obstacles and challenges overcome and a vision pursued with extraordinary persistence in spite of everything.
There are successes and triumphs, many of real significance. And there are lessons to be learned, albeit presented with self-deprecating gentleness and modesty.
Kul Gautam’s story has all of this and much more, set in a journey from a poor village in one of the world’s poorest countries to operating at the highest level, negotiating with government leaders at World Summits of the United Nations.
Collaborating with Kul in my role as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, from 1982-1995, was not only rewarding professionally, it cemented a friendship that has endured to the present.
Kul’s early life and teenage years are eye-opening for those of us born in middle-class comfort in the richer parts of the world. Kul had to break free from the constraints of his Nepali village in order to train as a priest – which itself involved travelling miles away to India, the first five days on foot.
There, seemingly established in Sanskrit and religious studies, his intellectual potential for more serious education was spotted and he left for secondary school back in Nepal. With good fortune, the teachers at his progressive public school helped him build an impressive academic record and he was offered a full scholarship at Dartmouth College in the United States.
But when all now seemed straightforward, bureaucracy intervened and he had to spend nearly two further teenage years trying to persuade the authorities in Nepal to give him a passport and let him accept the scholarship. These efforts alone are a study in how to overcome the rules of well entrenched bureaucracy, requiring skill as well as extraordinary persistence.
After graduation, Kul has had an extraordinary and fulfilling international career – in Latin America, Africa and Asia – working in UNICEF for children at various levels of leadership. Starting near the bottom, he ended up as an Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Initially, Kul found himself in Cambodia, conflict ridden and with a government about to collapse, which it soon did, with Kul evacuated in a diplomatic plane full of embassy staff. But while in Cambodia, Kul’s youthful idealism and openness to new thinking never lost him, though perhaps one must add for better or worse.
It was there, newly wed, that Kul remarked to his wife Binata, that “he would not mind being kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge”, as this would give him the chance to learn more about them and their thinking. Scarce wonder that Binata, living outside Nepal for the first time, was occasionally scared by her eccentric husband.
Kul also shows how the most successful interventions for children – and development – are often achieved by seizing new opportunities, breaking new ground, rather than by cautious step by step progression along previously negotiated tracks.
Those who know little of the practical operations of the UN will find Kul’s descriptions of UNICEF in action to be fascinating and revealing – in Indonesia, Laos, Haiti and afterwards overseeing UNICEF’s work in Latin America as a whole. Those with knowledge of UNICEF and other international agencies will be pleased to recognize the names of many colleagues they have known.
Others will enjoy Kul’s insightful, often amusing stories of his encounters with celebrities and leaders of all stripes and foibles. Important lessons emerge from all these accounts, especially those showing how quiet diplomacy and empathy with the situation and culture of the nationals with whom UNICEF worked could often ease initial suspicions and find solutions even with difficult bureaucrats.
Kul also shows how the most successful interventions for children – and development – are often achieved by seizing new opportunities, breaking new ground, rather than by cautious step by step progression along previously negotiated tracks.
Nor are they usually the result of individuals acting alone, but almost always as part of a group or team working together, often acting within an individual country but backed up by regional and international action and support.
The pioneering features emerge most dramatically when Kul is based in UNICEF headquarters New York, where – like me – he worked hand in hand with Jim Grant, UNICEF’s visionary Executive Director and legendary leader.
Many readers will be aware of the MDGs and the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals and their current sequel, the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed at summit meetings in the United Nations in 2000 and 2015.
Kul documents from first-hand involvement the little-known origins of these global goals, in the late 1980s when UNICEF organized the 1990 World Summit for Children, the first truly global summit ever convened on any topic, as Kul makes clear. Kul’s responsibilities included drafting the document setting out these goals for the 1990s and helping to gain their acceptance, itself a story with many twists and turns.
The summit set the priorities for much action for children worldwide and especially for UNICEF over the 1990s which, in turn, laid the foundations for the broader goals of the new millennium. Kul was then made responsible for drafting the key documents for assessing progress made towards these children’s goals and for drafting and negotiating new goals linked to the MDGs.
On all this, Kul provides detailed descriptions of the skilful efforts needed to bridge gaps and produce an agreed document. He lays bare a process often hidden from the public at large, even members of NGOs and others participating on the edges of such negotiations.
Careful readers will not only understand better the often-tortuous interactions involved, but how Kul was able to preserve most if not quite all of Jim Grant’s original vision for children in the final set of commitments. Gaining global consensus around such an ambitious and far-ranging agenda for change was an unprecedented achievement.
The most influential parts of Kul’s long and distinguished career have been of international service, working in UNICEF, but later in other organizations of the United Nations and in non-government organizations like RESULTS and OXFAM. Kul’s clear and vivid prose illuminates in fascinating detail what happened following his departure from UNICEF, often bringing out further lessons.
This remarkable story of Kul Gautam’s journey from village to the heights of the international action for children and humanity is one of extraordinary success, achieved through talent, intelligence, hard work, persistence, comradeship and much help along the way.
In the early years, support from family, friends and teachers made all the difference; in the later years, working in UNICEF with strong colleagues, great support and outstanding leadership brought out the best in him. It is a story of endless fascination and inspiration.
Kul’s story continues to inspire on every page, with vision pursued, challenges faced and opportunities grasped, all with insight and skill to make positive improvements in the lives of children. It is a story told with quiet modesty and self-deprecation, traits that are all too rare in leaders and that I have always appreciated in Kul.
If so much vision and energy can emerge in one person from one village in Nepal, it leaves one wondering what might be possible if the vison, talent and energy hidden in many other corners of the world could be released.
From 1982-2000, Sir Richard Jolly was Assistant Secretary-General of the UN, serving first as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and later as Coordinator of UNDP’s Human Development Report. He was also co-director of the UN Intellectual History Project.
Kul Chandra Gautam, a native of Nepal who rose from humble beginnings to become Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, has received the highest honor bestowed to a global leader by National Peace Corps…
SOURCE National Peace Corps Association
Born in a small village without running water or electricity, Gautam’s ties to the Peace Corps date back to 1962 when he showed great promise as a student.
SHAWNEE, Pa., Aug. 24, 2018 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — Kul Chandra Gautam, a native of Nepal who rose from humble beginnings to become Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, has received the highest honor bestowed to a global leader by National Peace Corps Association (NPCA).
Currently chairman of the board of the anti-poverty non-profit RESULTS, Gautam accepted The Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award today at NPCA’s annual Peace Corps Connect conference in Shawnee, PA.
The award is named for the former U.S. Senator who was instrumental in the formation of the Peace Corps in 1961 as a special assistant to President Kennedy. NPCA is the largest non-profit organization representing Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Born in a small village without running water or electricity, Gautam’s ties to the Peace Corps date back to 1962 when he attended a school in Tansen, about a three-day walk from home. According to his official biography, Gautam, an outstanding student, “became good friends with several U.S. Peace Corps volunteers who were English language teachers at the school. He learned to play Scrabble with them and surprised them by often beating them – quite a feat for a Nepali 7th or 8th grader.”
Recognizing Gautam’s talents, Peace Corps volunteers encouraged Gautam to seek a college scholarship in the United States. Gautam eventually graduated with degrees from Dartmouth College and Princeton University and then worked for UNICEF over three decades, rising to become Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations in the early 2000s.
After retiring from the UN, Gautam was briefly Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Nepal on International Affairs and the Peace Process. He continues informally to advise his country’s senior political and civil society leadership on the peace process, consolidation of democracy, human rights, and socio-economic development.
“I am thrilled and most grateful for this honor,” said Gautam. “My experience with the Peace Corps has been a source of great inspiration for me from my early student days in Nepal and throughout my long career with the United Nations in the service of the world’s poor and disadvantaged, particularly women and children.”
The author of a new memoir “Global Citizen from Gulmi,” Gautam is donating proceeds from the book and the monetary component that accompanies the Harris Wofford award to a UNICEF-assisted girls’ education project in Nepal.