Col. Chris Rego, Founder CEO, Sunbird Trust

“The integration and building of a country did not happen at the stroke of midnight in 1947. It is work in progress.”- Colonel Chris Rego

In this episode, Ashutosh Garg engages in a thought-provoking conversation with Col. Chris Rego, CEO of ‘Sunbird Trust’, a non-denominational, not-for-profit Civil Society Organisation (CSO) that helps to educate and empower children from North East India. He has a keen interest in social entrepreneurship, particularly in the context of conflict resolution in North East India.  Col. Chris talks about the three key milestones in his illustrious life. He talks about the startup he founded post-retirement, Sunbird Trust, and explains how the organization works. The colonel tells what motivated him to venture into social entrepreneurship and name the areas where the trust operates. He shares the challenges he faced while managing people from multiple ethnicities. Col. Chris opines about how the central government can bring small ethnic communities in Northeast India to the mainstream. He elaborates on how Indian’s should be taught to be more culturally inclusive. He examines the receptivity of the people of North-East India to integrate with the other parts of India.  Later in the episode, Col. Chris analyzes the influence of neighboring countries, and especially China, on the North-Eastern states. The army veteran turned CEO explains the core values of his organization and defines his leadership style.

Col. Chris Rego, Founder CEO, Sunbird Trust

Profile

An alumnus of the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, Col Chris Rego was commissioned in the Corps of Army Engineers in 1984. For the next three
decades, he served across the length and breadth of the country and tenanted varied appointments in the Army. Chris completed his MA in Public Administration from Punjab University, Chandigarh (1999) and his MBA from Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship, Bangalore (2003). On graduation, he was adjudged “Graduate with the Best Potential Value to Society. Volunteering to serve in the North East, he spent three years with the paramilitary Assam Rifles in Meghalaya and Mizoram (2003 – 2006). Here, he witnessed how poverty and lack of education was linked to radicalization of youth. Further, there was a distrust for the Government, the security forces and people from other parts of the country. It was during this tenure that Chris crystallized the idea of using education not only to empower youth but to build friendship between people of different ethnicities.
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Through this, he hoped to work for bringing Peace and Progress to conflict affected areas of India’s North East. In 2012, Col Rego, at his own request, was posted to conflict ravaged Manipur on delegation to the Border Roads Organisation. He leveraged his official duties of traveling across the length and breadth of the state to explore the nuances and genesis of the all-pervasive distrust between communities. Through many friends and a grassroots team that had joined him, he built up the initiative of sponsoring education of underprivileged students and through these children engaging with their communities. On his retirement in January 2016, Chris Rego was appointed as CEO, Sunbird Trust (which he had conceived off, registered in Dec 2014) by the Trustees. In 2016, the innovative idea and methodology of “Peace through Education” by Col Chris, an ex-soldier who had served in the conflict zone earned Col Chris the prestigious international Ashoka Fellowship for South Asia. Later in 2018, the multinational Luminous (dealing with solar energy products) selected him as a “Luminary” and showcased his work in their video “White Bullets” which had over a million views on various platforms Among the achievements of Sunbird Trust are:-
 Currently sponsoring the education of 3,300 children in 53 partner institutions in 5 North East Indian states.
 Has built (or is building) 7 schools and 8 hostels
 Positively impacting the lives of over 10,000 people in North East India through child sponsorship, building educational infrastructure and various community initiatives.
 40 graduate “alumni” include a super specialist doctor, a lawyer from the National Law School of India University, an MBA
 Has a team 20 young professionals, including an IIT postgraduate with a doctorate, 9 Teach for
India Fellows, 5 MBA and 4 Engineers all of who live and serve in Sunbird partner institutions in remote villages in the conflict zone.
 
The objectives for Sunbird Trust by the year 2025: –
 To sponsor the education of 25,000 children across North East India
 To build 50 institutions (schools and hostels) in remote, insurgency affected areas of the NE by 2025 to provide physical access to education.
 To bring together all other stake holders such as the state government, security forces, civil society and people from other parts of the country into this venture of mutual interest.
In October 2016, Col Chris was featured among 10 “Entrepreneur karma yogis of the Indian Armed Forces” in a book “Success from being Mad” authored by Army veteran Col H S Sidhu. The same month, he was also interviewed on One India TV as part of their “Never Say Die” series. A person of varied talents, Chris Rego is an author, avid traveler, pianist, amateur herpetologist and photographer. He has written three books – including a travelogue on Kerala and “Cradle of Valour”, the history of the Army Bombay Engineer Group Centre at Kirkee.

 

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