(December 7, 2022) “When I was leaving India, I knew I would do something for Manipur one day. I just didn’t know what and when.” Dr Shachi Gurumayum’s determination only grew over the years and in 2017, he started the MaolKeki Foundation. Named after his grandparents, the foundation works to uplift people in Manipur through social initiatives in agriculture, education and healthcare. In 2021, his efforts earned him the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman.
Born and raised in Manipur, Shachi is the founder and director of Switzerland-based AgriMayum, which stands for ‘House of Agriculture’. He also advises the World Benchmarking Alliance (Amsterdam), LadyAgri (Brussels) and is part of the Board of Sahel Consulting (Lagos).
“I believe that if you are blessed, you share your blessings,” Shachi tells Global Indian connecting from Switzerland.
Growing up in Manipur, the son of an engineer father and a teacher mother, Shachi has happy recollections of his childhood. The community where he grew up comprised of smallholder farmers who lived a remote, very rural life. “There was no electricity, no infrastructure and a lot of civil society issues,” he says. It’s now that the urbanisation is creeping in, it was all marshland then.
If you are able to come out of such a rural environment and achieve something in life, you have to give back. It’s not just money, it’s also about sharing the knowledge and skills you have acquired over the years.
Manipur, which stands for the ‘land of gems’ has a special significance in the entrepreneur’s heart. It’s where his parents spent all their life. When Shachi started MaolKeki Foundation, he made his parents its trustees.
Finding his feet
“I remember my father scolding me in class seven or so because I came back home ranking towards the end of 30 students in the class almost flunking in math,” he smiles. “My father said, ‘an engineer’s son cannot flunk in math.
The carefree Manipur lad grew into an extraordinary student when he moved to boarding school in Karnataka, where he finished high school. That transformation would remain with him through his life. “I won the medal for being the school topper,” he says. From there, he went on to study Chemistry at St Stephen’s College, Delhi. After that, he earned his Master’s and a PhD from the University of Bristol in the UK.
A series of scholarships carried him through his educational career, from his bachelor’s degree in Delhi to his MSc in Surface and Colloid Science and later PhD in the same subject in the UK. “It’s very expensive to study in the UK otherwise and was certainly out of my reach if it had not been for the full scholarship,” he remarks.
Through last-mile agricultural training, health projects and nurturing agri-entrepreneurs, the foundation’s aim is to catalyse the development of people. The organisation achieves its purpose by designing and implementing socially impactful initiatives in agriculture, education and healthcare through strategic partnerships, grants and direct investments.
My belief is that no one party can solve society’s challenges; however, if we come together and create an ecosystem to share our knowledge, skills, resources and energy, much can be achieved collectively.
A district by Loktak Lake was one of the MaolKeki team’s first locations. “It is the only freshwater lake in the region, with the world’s only floating national park. That’s something to admire,” Shachi says. From there, his team, whom he gives immense credit, scaled up their reach to other parts of the state.
“The learning point during all this has been that the impact of an individual effort can never match that of an institutionalised initiative,” Shachi explains. Today, the Foundation works in synergy with Syngenta Foundation India, Agri Entrepreneur Growth Foundation, Anaha Trust, Sattva, NABARD and the Swiss TPH Support Group.
Life in the UK
England was eventful for Shachi. “I was very actively promoting STEM education.” He was promoting chemistry through the Young Persons’ Network of the UK Chemical Industries Association and was even invited to Buckingham Palace for his contribution to British science.
Recalling his meeting with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Shachi tells he was in awe of the Queen’s charismatic presence and says, of Prince Phillip, “He was a curious man and showed genuine interest in knowing what I was doing.”
In the same event, Shachi met the CEO of BP, the multinational oil and gas company headquartered in London. That association led him to multiple interviews at BP and the opportunity to enrol himself into a fully-sponsored MBA programme at HEC Paris.
Shachi quotes Steve Jobs as he looks back at his life: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Working in labs and doing research work was not the route that Shachi wanted to take forever so the MBA fulfilled his desire to venture into the commercial side of enterprises.
With a PhD in Surface and Colloid Science and an MBA, Shachi had options to work in diverse industries.
I could have worked in industries like personal care, and oil and gas but versus those I chose to work in the agricultural sector because I thought I would be able to take the lessons I learn to Manipur.
After working with companies like Lubrizol Corporation, Chemical Industries Association and BP, he joined Syngenta, the leading agriculture company helping to improve global food security by enabling millions of farmers to make better use of available resources. He spent nearly a decade there, working his way up the hierarchy to multiple leadership roles in the Africa Middle East division. “I felt that there were lots of commonalities between smallholder farming in Africa and in India, especially Manipur,” he remarks.
In the process of spearheading the Good Growth Plan in Africa Middle East (AME), Shachi and the AME team trained over 300,000 farmers, mostly smallholders, in over 25 countries to increase their productivity. The experiences were setting the stage for the developmental changes that were about to happen back home in Manipur.
The new course in life
In 2017, Shachi left corporate life behind to establish AgriMayum GmbH – his own business venture. Around the same time, he set up MaolKeki Foundation to fulfil the goal he had set at the time of leaving India decades ago. “If we don’t help ourselves, nobody will come and help,” he says. To address the gaps in his state, he has been lucky to find a helping hand from acquaintances there.
The affable Samaritan has also found support from his rich network of friends that he nurtured over the years. For instance, the network of Stephanians played a good role in helping him out with the complete know-how of setting up a foundation in India. “That made life easier.”
One has to appreciate the advantage of going to a good college because of the good exposure and life-long access it provides.
Shachi Gurumayum’s foundation offers annual MaolKeki Memorial Scholarship to a deserving Manipuri student at St. Stephen’s College.
Shachi and his team at MaolKeki Foundation focus on data and technology driven initiatives to support farmers. Because of their modern approach to address challenges, they have been able to impress a host of leading organisations for strategic partnerships and co-funding opportunities. Even Syngenta, the organisation where he worked before embracing entrepreneurship, has been a major supporter right from the beginning through Syngenta Foundation India.
Learning is fun
Enhancing his knowledge by enrolling in different courses is a vital part of Shachi’s life’s journey. The lifelong learner is currently enrolled at the Swiss TPH for an International Healthcare Management MBA programme. “It’s my second MBA,” he says, about the programme that emphasises practical, pragmatic lessons on the ground. “For each module that we have, we also have to do some practical work and submit reports, and I’ve focused all of them on activities in Manipur,” tells the Global Indian.
To combine agriculture and health at the very last mile in Manipur, Shachi and his MaolKeki team are facilitating the healthcare of farmers. Their health is assessed as they come to learn about new agricultural practices. Farmers are encouraged to get their routine health check-up done as a preventive measure.
All these are novel experiences for them. Recalling one of the instances, Shachi says, “What was fun for the farmers was that some hadn’t even weighed themselves in 10-20 years. Even standing on the scale was such a big attraction, apart from other basic primary care check-ups. The Foundation hired nursing staff for this purpose and has also worked on a tie-up with local healthcare centres to ensure farmers’ good health.
The philantropreneur is based in Europe for a majority of his time but spends a substantial amount of time each year in Manipur – the place closest to his heart and where his mother still lives – often accompanied by his family.