A CEO and global visionary, Yang Rai ’14 is empowering single women in rural areas of Nepal by teaching them ways to overcome poverty.
The word drive comes to mind quickly when talking to Yangmali Sahadev Rai. At 25 years old, the 2014 Westminster College grad has a list of accolades long enough to rival successful leaders twice his age. But it’s that drive, coupled with Rai’s sincere, seemingly innate desire to improve the lives of individuals in need that makes him such a force.
Rai is the CEO of FundProVo, one of the fastest-growing global crowd-funding platforms that connects donors, social entrepreneurs, leaders, volunteers, experts and organizations. He’s also the founder and president of the Yang-Ward Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to empower single women in rural areas by engaging them in revenue-generating activities, such as cash crops, animal husbandry, goat farming and more.
“Since our inception in 2013, we have launched various projects in different parts of Nepal, where single women once outcast have gained financial independence, now making five times their previous salary working five hours a day, five days a week compared to 10 hours a day, seven days a week previously,” Rai says.
The foundation has also established libraries in rural schools and set up scholarships for underprivileged girls to attend local schools. They’ve provided immediate aid relief, too, such as tents, food, medicine and clothes to earthquake victims in various parts of Nepal after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck in April 2015.
“This is the most satisfying thing I have ever done in my lifetime,” Rai says. “You can see how the income of the women has improved and how their economies have changed, their status in the societies has changed. I cannot put into words how much this all means.”
The seeds for the Yang-Ward Foundation were planted during Rai’s time at Westminster. A native of Kathmandu, Nepal, Rai had an impressive background even before coming to Fulton. He studied at the National School of Nepal, followed by United World College. He was a Davis Scholar in India, and that’s where he started exploring options for universities. Westminster, a Davis-funded college, appeared on his radar, and he was won over by the College’s flexibility and self-designing major. He ended up earning a degree in international relations and diplomacy, international business and transnational studies.
“Westminster gave me so many opportunities,” he says. “If I wanted to do summer research, I got funding. If I wanted to study something, the professors found a way for me to do it.”
Being so far from home, Rai also benefitted from the close-knit environment. “Westminster gave me a family environment, where I could turn to anybody if I had a problem,” he says. “I didn’t have to think twice before knocking on the door of a professor or staff. It gave me confidence.”
In fact, one of the biggest confidence boosts Rai received while at Westminster came from professor Keith Hardeman’s Introduction to Speech course. “I give him credit for helping make me who I am,” Rai says. “He helped me with my pronunciation and my public speaking. He helped me in every possible way. I could see the transformation before and after I took that class. And that confidence led me to the Clinton Foundation.”
The Clinton Foundation is where Rai won the seed funding for what would become the primary mission of the Yang-Ward Foundation. The Resolution Project, a nonprofit organization that identifies, inspires and supports young leaders through its fellowships, awarded the Resolution Fellowship to Rai in 2013 at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. There were more than 600 applicants representing all 50 U.S. states and 70 countries. Rai presented his idea, aimed at empowering the single women of Nepal who had lost their husbands in the civil war, as well as the child victims, by teaching them ways to overcome poverty. Although he was the only individual applicant, Chelsea Clinton announced his name as the winner of the $9,000 award.
“This was the beginning of amazing, life-changing experiences and opportunities,” Rai says. “Launching my project with the seed funding from the Resolution Project to empower single women in rural areas was very successful. Within a very short period of time, our project was making impacts in the lives of many single women and their communities.”
Following the project’s success, Rai was invited by President Bill Clinton to attend the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Gathering in New York, where he met world leaders, including President Barack Obama, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and the king and queen of Jordan, to name a few.
After graduating from Westminster, Rai went on to earn his master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He then returned to mid-Missouri to launch his startup, FundProVo, which is based in Columbia. Although he plans to keep Missouri as the home base for his business, he has his sights on other countries. He wants to become a diplomat and travel the world while representing the U.S. government.
“I’ve always wanted to be a diplomat, so the next big step is taking the U.S. Foreign Service Exam in a year’s time,” Rai says. “I’m also looking into the possibility of starting my own education program in Nepal. But I’m based in Columbia, and I’ll continue working for FundProVo, so I’ll be in the U.S. for a while.”
Despite how impressive his contributions have been and will continue to be, Rai is quick to credit the people around him for his success. “To be honest, you need to have the right people on your team,” he says of his FundProVo and Yang-Ward Foundation co-workers, both in the U.S. and abroad. “We want people who wholly believe in the change we’re bringing, and we have that. I know I can totally trust my volunteers in Nepal. They do all the work free of charge and out of pocket. My job is to educate, and they are actually carrying out that mission.”
As for Westminster, Rai says he’ll always be grateful for the impact it had on his life. “Westminster has given us so much, and now I’m in a position to pay it back,” he says. “I got to Westminster because of the scholarships, and I want to express my thanks so other students can have those opportunities.”