Advancing the right to an education for all
Harry Bajwa wants people to know that entrepreneurs are not just interested in business; many are also involved in humanitarian efforts. The Bachelor of Commerce student will soon graduate from UBC Sauder School of Business, but he’s already applying lessons learned in the classroom to improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable children.
As a varsity athlete, straight-A student and social enterprise co-founder, Harry Bajwa has a bright future with numerous career options, but the 21-year-old has already found his passion –advancing human rights, especially the right to an education.
“In my family, education is extremely important,” says Bajwa. “Education is what empowers people and it’s through education that you can tackle many of the world’s greatest challenges.”
For as long as he can remember, Bajwa has followed a calling to help others. In addition to tutoring peers throughout high school and university, he has worked with charities to deliver computers, Internet access and education programs to children in developing countries.
A pursuit of knowledge that began early in life
Bajwa’s upbringing helps explain his interest in helping children living tens of thousands of kilometres away. In 2004, he left his home in northern India and immigrated with his family to Canada. Growing up in Vancouver and Surrey, he spent hours at the public library with his older sister while their parents worked.
It was there, among the books and computer terminals, that he developed a love of knowledge and an appreciation for the power of the Internet.
“I remember the day I returned home from school to discover my father setting up our first computer,” Bajwa says. “I was ecstatic knowing that I would no longer be bound by the 30-minute time limit put on the computers at the library.”
Gifted in both academics and field hockey, Bajwa earned a full scholarship to UBC and decided to study business. While balancing a full course load plus athletics, he continued to focus on his extracurricular work: providing educational programming to both local and overseas students.
Developing a small business with social impact
Guided by his passion for teaching and empowering students, Bajwa co-founded Knowledge Builders, an academic tutoring service. Back in high school while working as a peer tutor, Bajwa began thinking about the need for learning support among youth in the community. While private tutoring companies existed, they were too expensive for many families. He and a friend came up with a solution: a scalable, online tutoring service that offered families both affordability and flexibility.
In addition to being a for-profit business, Knowledge Builders is also a social enterprise. Bajwa uses the technology platform to offer free online education to children in India, Nepal and Cambodia.
Delivering humanitarian support on a global scale
While he learned the value of hard work from his family, Bajwa’s path as a social entrepreneur was shaped by his mentor – businessman and philanthropist, Dave Mann. The two met when Bajwa, in grade 10 at the time, applied for a part-time job typing Mann’s handwritten journals. The two became friends.
“We would meet and talk for hours because I wanted to understand Dave’s life – his business career but also his humanitarian work,” explains Bajwa. “That’s how I learned about his charity and wanted to get involved.”
Bajwa began volunteering at Mannkind Charity, gradually taking on more and more responsibility. Today, he is Director of Operations and a member of the board, overseeing the charity’s finances and operations. It’s a role that tests all of his business skills.
“At UBC Sauder, we learn about companies and business management, which is great because you can apply similar principles to charities. When I learn something new in class, I apply it right away in my charity work.”
Mann offered this description of Bajwa’s contributions at Mannkind Charity:
“In addition to managing our projects in five countries, Harry led the charity’s efforts to provide computers and Internet access for over 400 children living in our orphanages. When schools closed because of coronavirus, many children living in disadvantaged communities did not have access to computers and could not continue their education online. I was fortunate that Harry had already integrated computers at our orphanages over the last three years, but we needed more to accommodate all the children. Facing budget constraints, Harry took the initiative to solve this problem using his excellent communication and diplomacy skills. He collaborated with government officials in India and Nepal to obtain their support in providing remote learning tools. Harry possesses a unique ability to connect with others and radiate the compassion he is filled with.” - Dave Mann, Co-Founder, Mannkind Charity
Forging a path as educator and advocate
Since university moved online last March, Bajwa has found more time to pursue his interest in teaching. He has been taking courses in early childhood education and this spring will graduate with both a Bachelor of Commerce from UBC Sauder as well as a Certificate in Early Years Education from UBC’s Faculty of Education.
He and his sister, Beenu (who graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Science in 2019) have set up a classroom in their home and are providing online classes to children living in an orphanage sponsored by Mannkind Charity in Kathmandu.
“We’ve designed a curriculum and we’re teaching math, science, social justice and environmental topics. With local schools being shut due to COVID-19, the children are so happy to be learning once again,” says Bajwa.
After graduation, Bajwa intends to continue his mission-driven work, creating educational opportunities and advocating for Internet access for children in poor, rural communities.
“Education is a human right, but in many parts of the world, it’s not seen that way. I’m interested in finding out how we change that narrative. How do we encourage policy makers and Internet providers to set up broadband infrastructure in rural areas? I believe we can create systemic change by having a shift in policy to ensure every child has equitable access to education and technology, a need that has been amplified by COVID-19.”
Bajwa has embraced the opportunity to lead social change and all the responsibilities that go with it. Harnessing his business education and personal experience as a newcomer to Canada, he is helping youth around the world gain skills and knowledge to form a strong foundation for a better future.