#2: Conversation with Ram Krishna Rijal – Founder of The Bloom Nepal School

This is the second one in the “Conversations with Ayush” series. Ram Krishna (708 C) currently works as a Consultant at The World Bank in Kathmandu. Meanwhile, he is also the Founder of The Bloom Nepal School, established in 2013. The concept behind the school is based on magnet schools in the US. Magnet schools have specialized courses that allow students to focus on the particular subject that they are interested in.

Ram Krishna and I are from the same batch and thus I have known him since grade 4. We have also been involved in projects while at college, albeit none of which worked out. We along with Sandeep (7125 C) and Bishnu dai (568 C) tried to start a micro-finance bank in Nepal targeting the hilly region, in the summer of 2010. We did not make much progress and dropped off the idea. The following year we registered in MIT 100k along with Suniti (720 C) who went to Harvard, with the idea of a fresh/raw coconut water company. It was really my thing and Ram was only trying to help me and I kept on working by myself, post MIT 100k. I reached up to the point where the CEO of Zico (second leading coconut water brand in the US) Mark Rampolla offered to let me work on the idea and experiment under his brand. The only asset I would have would be the brand since coconut water is a commodity product and thus I decided not take that conversation further, eventually dropping off the idea for coconut water as well.

We had regular communications since then where we talked about the importance of education for the development of Nepal, where we had opposing views. Bloom Nepal is a manifestation of Ram’s belief of the importance of education (and I agree with that now). It also stems from his appreciation of the opportunity that BNKS gave him and here is the conversation between us.

Me: Let us start with your background; where are you from?

Ram: I am from Banfikot in Rukum which is a four hour walk from the capital of the district. I came as a scholarship student to the school. Coming to BNKS was like a switch that completely changed my family, for the better.

Me: I feel like even though I know you, I do not really know the story before you came to the school. I realized that I have no idea what process scholarship students go through before you come to the school. For example, I was tutored on my English for two weeks as part of the preparation.

Ram: My cousin (fupaju ko chora) told my father that I should appear for the entrance exam of Budhanilkantha School since I was good in studies. He then asked the District Education Officer about the test. Coincidentally, it was coming up soon and I appeared for it. I did not do any preparation. I did not get a question for Math right, which was on equations and I felt bad about it. In hindsight, I felt like I should have at least prepared and would have gotten that question right since it was fairly easy.

Me: What was your experience like at the school?

Ram: It was a very memorable experience, especially because of sports. I got to compete in many things and that was instrumental in developing me. I think those competitions also developed friendships and helped bring the best out of you. The competitive environment pushed me to do even better.

Me: My experience with the competitive aspect of school is quite the opposite. I guess I was a notch below the best students in almost everything at the school and I feel like I never really got a chance to do anything because only the best students got the chance to participate. Coming to Saint Peters allowed me to explore myself much more. Taking the example of debate, I never got a chance to participate in any of the competitions at school because only the best students got chosen. Here at Saint Peters, I joined the debate club and progressed tremendously over the years.

Ram: Let me make a note of that since what you said is very interesting. That is probably something we have to keep in mind for our school.

Me: Why did you choose to go to MIT? Why did you return to Nepal after that?

Ram: I wanted to go to MIT because all the people who went there were highly appreciated at BNKS. I was interested in Mathematics, and thus the luster for Harvard went away. Once I got accepted at MIT, I stopped all my college applications.

The experience at MIT was different. I was always a top 10 student until my time at Hastings – in the UK where I did my IB. I had to work very hard at MIT and I was not very prepared for it. My expectations for MIT were not set right and I had time management issues. It was hard to balance studies and everything else. There were times when I felt that it asked too much out of me. However, it also taught me humility and the value of education. It also instilled a culture of doing something in me.

I was not happy with the situation in Nepal and I wanted to come back. I was about to take a break from school but following the advice of Atul dai, I decided not to. After finishing at MIT, I got a job at the World Bank, which made it an easy decision to come back. It was purely an emotional decision.

Me: Since there were lots of things that you wanted to do in Nepal, why did you decide to start a school?

Ram: It was an idea I had while at MIT. A second year student named Keshab who was a computer engineer came up with an algorithm that was better than that of Netflix. He did not really have any college education yet and he had learnt all of that by himself. I realized that getting the opportunity to follow your passion is very important. Thus the idea for specialized education e.g. Maths. The impacts of the school are tangible. It also an inspiration from getting to study at BNKS since I would have become a Maoist had I not received the opportunity.

Me: What is your vision for the school?

Ram: We want to provide specialized education to as many kids as possible. 15-20 years down the line, we would like to have 8 schools in various parts of the country; at an affordable cost. We want them to pursue a university education after that. We also want to move onto colleges and universities later. By doing all this, we want to create an army of people and leaders in specialized education that will lead the country.

Me: What has your experience of starting a company in Nepal been like?

Ram: It has not been that bad. Getting students has definitely been challenging. Starting a school requires a license and there was no new issuance then. We also had challenges around audit and legal issues.  Financing has not been a big challenge yet. I have been very lucky in finding an amazing team of people who go through the everyday grind to make it successful. Rabindra (776 C) Рanother graduate of Saint Peters University Рdeserves an even bigger praise than I do for the work he has done so far. Bishnu dai (568 C), Ajay (860 C) and Rajendra (705 C) are the other co-founders who have been amazing.

Me: What are your plans for the future – on a personal level and your involvement with the school?

Ram: When we get a proper round of financing, I want to switch working at the school full-time. I have one-and-half more years to go with the contract with The World Bank. However, I also want to get my Master’s Degree in Mathematics if I get a Fulbright type scholarship where I have to come back to Nepal after getting my degree. I will do that once we have smooth operations and have capable hands to run the school.

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This is the difference that an opportunity to study at Budhanilkantha School makes – between becoming a Maoist (and who knows what would have happened) and a degree from MIT followed by opening up a school to provide opportunity for education to more people. I think we do not fully appreciate the impact of an opportunity that BNKS provides to many of us. Ram is only getting started and I expect lot more from him in the future.