Kul Chandra Gautam-a short biography

Kul Chandra Gautam was born on 1 December 1949 in the small village of Amarpur in Gulmi district of western Nepal.

He was the first child of Om Prasad and Heema Gautam, a humble but respected family in Amarpur. Small and frail looking, Kul was known for being a very inquisitive little boy. His relatives and childhood friends remember him as asking endless questions on topics ranging from the origins of the earth and stars to religious faiths and miracles.

When he grew up, Amarpur village had no school, no health post, no running water, no telephone and no roads. Even to this day, the village has no electricity.

As a child, Kul learned his first alphabets from his barely literate grand-father Kapil Mani Gautam. At the age of 7 he left home to study with a guru in a neighbouring village across the river. Besides Nepali, his native tongue, Kul also studied Sanskrit and some Hindu scriptures.

At the age of 10 he went to Benaras, the holy Indian city of learning, to continue with his studies in Sanskrit and theology. Initially his parents’ wish had been for Kul to become an educated priest or pundit. But his life took a different turn, when one of his maternal uncles suggested that he should switch to modern, “English” education to prepare himself for a government job.

Kul was taken to Kathmandu and enrolled in a local school there. But Kathmandu did not suit him well. He got sick and became frail. So his parents decided to send him to a school in Tansen, Plapa – a 3 days walk away from his village.

Kul was a bright student, always at the top of his class. Besides his regular studies, he became a voracious reader of Nepali literature. He had read much of the published classics of Nepali literature by the time he was 16 years old.

In high school, he participated in poetry recitals and was a champion in inter-school antakshari contests in Tansen. He also wrote essays and poems. He was awarded a medal and recognition as a “Bal Kabi” or young poet-laureate by the then district commissioner of Palpa.

During his studies at Janata Vidyalaya high school in Tansen, Kul 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 beating them sometimes – quite a feat for an ordinary Nepali 7th or 8th grader. Impressed by Kul’s English language and academic aptitudes, these Peace Corps volunteers encouraged him to consider pursuing higher education in America when he finished his high school.

Kul completed the last year of his high school in 1966 from Juddhodaya Public High School in Kathmandu. He scored first division and was among the top students in the nationwide 10th grade SLC exams.

Right after completing high school, Kul took the TOEFL, SAT and college entrance exams in Kathmandu for admission to U.S. colleges, and secured excellent results. He applied and got admission with full scholarship at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, USA. But because he had obtained the scholarship directly through his own efforts, rather than going through His Majesty’s Government of Nepal, and also because he was an ordinary village boy, not related to any prominent Kathmandu families or senior government officials, he could not obtain a Nepali passport to travel abroad.

Disappointed but not discouraged, Kul persevered and obtained his passport 2 years later. Meanwhile, he enrolled himself at Tri-Chandra College in Kathmandu and obtained the Intermediate of Arts (I.A.) diploma in first division ranking among the top students in the nation. To earn his living, he worked as a part-time translator at the USAID mission in Kathmandu. And although he was only a high school graduate, he occasionally tutored more senior college students to supplement his income.

At Dartmouth College in the US, Kul majored in International Relations. He was in the Dean’s List and graduated cum laude. He was active in the 1960s student movement against US war in Vietnam. He was one of the founders and the first President of the International Students Association at Dartmouth. As another extra-curricular activity, he was active in the student Model United Nations project. This planted in him great interest and respect for the ideals of the United Nations, and a desire to eventually work for this international organization.

His interest and activism in the anti-war movement led Kul to learn about the history and politics of Vietnam and Indo-China. Fascinated by the epic struggle of the Vietnamese against a Super Power at great odds, he developed a desire to one day visit and possibly work in Indochina. With that in mind, he studied and became proficient in the French language, which served him well in his future assignments with the United Nations.

Kul completed his graduate studies at Princeton University, earning a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree in economic development and modernization from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. In 1973 he was recruited by UNICEF to serve in war-torn Cambodia, a fulfillment of his dream to work for the United Nations in Indo-China.

Kul progressed rapidly in his career with the United Nations, taking on challenging assignments and demonstrating good managerial and leadership skills. After serving as Programme officer for UNICEF in Indonesia, Kul became the youngest UNICEF country Representative in Laos. He was the first UNICEF Representative to Haiti during the politically turbulent times in the early 1980s.

Kul later became Chief for Latin America and the Caribbean at UNICEF Headquarters in New York – an unusual honour and a challenge for an Asian. He rapidly acquired proficiency in the Spanish language and on the development dynamics of a new continent.

Kul became UNICEF’s Director of Planning and Coordination in 1988. In 1993 he became UNICEF’s Director of Programmes overseeing the policy-making and priority-setting of this billion dollars a year international organization working in over 160 countries. He also served as UNICEF’s Special Representative for India and Regional Director for the Asia Pacific region.

From 2000 to 2007, Kul served as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, holding the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Kul was the key senior UNICEF officer responsible for drafting the Declaration and Plan of Action of the 1990 World Summit for Children, the largest gathering of world leaders in history until that time. In 2002 he led the organization of another major United Nations conference – the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children – attended by 70 world leaders and thousands of child rights activists and civil society leaders, including celebrities and Nobel Prize laureates.

In his long and distinguished career with the United Nations, spanning over three decades, Kul had extensive dealings with leaders of governments, donor agencies, multi-lateral organizations, NGOs and the corporate sector in policy dialogue, advocacy and resource mobilization.

As a senior UNICEF official, Kul provided leadership for strategic planning, policy guidance and programme management. He coordinated inter-agency collaboration and public-private partnerships for child rights and human development among UN agencies, donors and civil society organizations on behalf of UNICEF.

At the global level, Kul dealt with the highest levels of policy making at the United Nations, including the General Assembly, Security Council, ECOSOC and the UNICEF Executive Board. And he oversaw UNICEF cooperation in over 150 developing countries.

Kul has visited over 100 countries on official missions involving field visits as well as dealings with local and national leaders in Africa, Asia, Latin America, CEE/CIS and the OECD countries.

Kul served as Chair or member of the Boards of several international development organizations and public-private partnerships, including the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), the Micronutrient Initiative (MI), the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), Inter-faith Council for Ethics Education, etc.

Kul is the winner of several awards, including the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award – 2008, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Award for Lifetime Achievement given by Dartmouth College, USA in 2009.

Kul was the highest-ranking Nepali in the UN system. During the decade-long civil war in his home country, he worked hard informally to secure the support of the UN and other key players to promote peace and reconciliation in Nepal.   He spoke forcefully against violence, impunity and violation of human rights by all parties in the conflict.

Kul retired from the UN service and returned to his native Nepal in 2008. Ever since, he has been informally advising Nepal’s senior political and civil society leadership on the peace process, consolidation of democracy and socio-economic development.

Kul serves on the Boards of a number of international and national foundations, charitable organizations and public private partnerships.

In 2010-11 Kul served as Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Nepal on International Affairs and the Peace Process; and as Chair of the Gautam Buddha International Peace Award Committee. At the same time, he was Chairman of the Board of Citizens Bank International, Nepal.

Internationally, Kul is Chair of the Council of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children (Japan), Chair of the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund (USA), Member/Advisor of the Boards of GoodWeave (USA), and South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (World Bank),

In Nepal, he serves as Member/Advisor of the Nepal Development Council, the Nepal Public Health Foundation; the Arogya Foundation; the Rato Bangla Educational Foundation; the Madan Pustakalaya Foundation; and as Patron of Chance for Change: Inspiring Young Futures, and as a Rotarian. Along with other prominent Nepali citizens, he also leads a Rollback Violence Campaign.

Kul continues to speak out and write extensively on the peace process, democracy, human rights and post-conflict reconstruction and development in Nepal. He also continues to be a passionate advocate of international development cooperation, the Millennium Development Goals, child rights and the well-being of women and children globally.

Personally, he has supported several local development activities in his native village and district, especially in the areas of health and education, child development and women’s empowerment.

In recognition of his accomplishments, the Himal magazine listed him as one of the 101 eminent national personalities of Nepal of the past 100 years.

Kul has a lovely family. His wife Binata is a woman of deep religious faith; daughter Jyotsna, a performing artist; and son Biplav, a sports enthusiast and entrepreneur.