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GEMS Education Chairman Sunny Varkey

“I believe that a person who has been educated will also understand the importance of educating their own children, so the impact of a quality education will flow from generation to generation.” – Mr Sunny Varkey

Mr Sunny Varkey’s name is synonymous with excellence in education. He is hailed as a visionary education entrepreneur, who has contributed significantly to the development of education in the UAE, the MENA region and indeed the world.

Having moved to Dubai at the age of 2 from Kerala, India, Mr Varkey has witnessed first-hand, the rapid and significant development of the Emirates and the region, especially as it relates to the education landscape. His Alma Maters include a catholic boarding school in Kerala, St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Dubai, and the Bembridge school in the UK. He completed his studies at the British Council in Dubai.

Mr Varkey is the Founder of GEMS Education, a family owned business that has been in operation for the past 55 years. He is also the Founder of the Varkey GEMS Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of GEMS Education and the organisation behind the ground breaking Global Teacher Prize.

Under his dynamic leadership, GEMS Education today boasts a global network of award winning schools. He has also forged meaningful partnerships with the World Economic Forum, Microsoft, UNESCO, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Pratham and Dubai Cares.

Through the Varkey GEMS Foundation and his position as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Mr Varkey, continues to work diligently to help to provide access to education for some of the world’s most underprivileged people. Teach UAE Magazine invites you to get to know a bit more about the man whose organisation has been credited with playing a key role in developing private education in the region.

How did GEMS Education come about?

In 1968, my parents opened Our Own English High School in Dubai to fulfil the demands of an increasing expat community. At that time, Dubai mainly focused on local arab schools. This presented expats with a challenge of having no schools to put their children in. We expanded that school in 1980 and started to build a network of schools in the Gulf States and then later on internationally. By 2000, we had built a strong network of schools in the region, offering various types of curriculums customised to the education people wanted for their children. We established GEMS to provide a standard quality of education on a global platform.

Who was your favourite teacher and why?

I have to say my parents. They had the courage to make the journey to Dubai, a journey of sacrifice, in order to make a better life for their family and their community.

The education landscape of the UAE has changed significantly over the years, what are two major changes that you have observed?

The UAE has and continues to experience exponential financial growth and an influx of a diverse population. We have seen a massive shift in educational demand. Expats in the UAE want international curriculums like those offered in their home countries. Another change that we’ve observed is the technological boom in the UAE and the globe in general. Students need to be taught the ‘know how’s’ of today’s digital environment. Our schools incorporate the best digital facilities in a learning environment.

What are some of the ways in which educators in the UAE can help with the development of education globally?

We believe that government sectors alone cannot sustain meeting an increasing demand for education. Private sector companies like GEMS can assist in providing quality education across the nation. Educators in the UAE have experience with students from diverse cultures. This knowledge when added to the experience hub of GEMS worldwide, can aid in the development of education on a global level.

What are three key initiatives carried out by GEMS Education in promoting educators and education globally?

GEMS Education has a philanthropic purpose to its vision. We are driven to provide quality education to every child and every student that is part of our network. We have made this our mission for the past 55 years. As a proud UAE company, we have dedicated considerable resources to ensuring the highest quality education for young people across the nation, and beyond. Today, a quarter of a million students are educated across our schools and subsidiaries across 19 countries, representing over 174 nationalities. In the UAE, we teach more than 98,000 students representing more than 160 nationalities across 41 schools. We have hired over 1,200 teachers in the UAE this academic year. We are proud to call over 13,000 education professionals and staff from 115 countries our colleagues.

It is our mission to share best practices with countries that are in need. Last year we trained over 7,000 teachers in Uganda, impacting the lives of over 365,000 students. Our next phase of the training programme will be delivered in Ghana with the support of Dubai Cares. Our aim is to train 250,000 teachers by the end of our programme. This will lead to improving the lives of over ten million students.


Governments often face the challenge of policies that sometimes hinder a faster outcome as it relates to funding and dealing with the demands within the education sector. Private sector institutions like GEMS are crucial in effecting timely and positive educational outcomes. Through meaningful partnerships with governments and NGOs, we can efficiently provide the quality of education communities around the world deserve.

What is the best advice that you have received? How has it helped you?

Think Big. Move Fast. Never Give up.

What gadget do you find to be most effective in your everyday life? Why?

My phone. I would be lost without it.

What do you do in your leisure time? Why?

Leisure is not a concept that I am too familiar with, although it is important for me to maintain a healthy lifestyle. So, I do spend quite a lot of time in the gym.

What is one of your proudest achievements to date?

It is never one thing. But perhaps most important – we exist to put a quality education within the reach of every child and student. We have never wavered from this purpose. Whether it is the work of our foundation or GEMS Education, we believe that we have the ability to change our world for the better.

Mr Varkey’s strong business acumen, visionary approach and philanthropic efforts have made him a titan in the education sector within the UAE and beyond. Educators and students worldwide continue to benefit from his tireless work and invaluable contribution to the field of education.

Mr Sunny Varkey of GEMS

By Carolyn Lee

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