Claremont, Calif. (April 6, 2023)—The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) welcomed Pitzer alumnus Sumesh Shiwakoty ’18 into the CGI University program and at its annual meeting from March 3 to 5. During the meeting Shiwakoty presented the mobile app that he developed with his colleagues to address gender-based violence in Nepal.
More than one in four women in Nepal have experienced intimate partner violence according to the World Health Organization. For Shiwakoty, this hit him with an acute reverse culture shock when he returned to his home country after college. Seeing Nepal from a bird’s-eye view, he questioned what he took for granted while growing up in its male-dominated culture.
“When you come out of that mindset, one of the best things to learn is to unlearn and relearn,” said Shiwakoty.
After consulting with Nepali women activists about the challenges of domestic violence—especially in urban areas where it happens behind closed doors—Shiwakoty put his relearning into practice.
He gathered more than 20 friends and colleagues to develop the app Rakhsya Kawach (translated as “protection shield”) to equip Nepali women “in overcoming adversity and leading meaningful and fulfilling lives.” The app has a panic button to alert trusted contacts if a user faces a threat, and it also includes resources for scholarships and job opportunities for women.
Shiwakoty spoke about his app during CGI University’s 2023 annual meeting at Vanderbilt University, hosted by President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton. This is the first of many opportunities coming to Shiwakoty. Since its inception, CGI University has helped 11,000 students from more than 160 countries and 137 higher education institutions to turn their ideas into action. CGI University’s 10-month curriculum focuses on developing early-stage social impact ideas into scalable projects and providing mentorship from entrepreneurs.
Shiwakoty’s acceptance to the program did not come easily. He was rejected six times, starting with his first attempt in 2012, but he was not deterred. Eleven years later, his gentle but steady persistence has proven to be a boon for his career.
Shiwakoty credits many Pitzer community members for helping him succeed. Foremost among his mentors are Jill Nelson P’20 and Tracy Strayer P’18 (parents of Shiwakoty’s Pitzer classmates) and former Pitzer trustee Rob Fairbairn P’16, P’18, P’22.
“I could not have achieved this without their support,” said Shiwakoty. “It takes a village to raise a child, and there is no other village/community like Pitzer. If I could redo college, I would again choose Pitzer any day.”
At Pitzer, Shiwakoty participated in the Student Senate and Model United Nations and completed an Andrew W. Mellon Environmental Analysis Research Fellowship to study seismic safety in Nepal and California. Shiwakoty has earned his master’s degree in human rights law from Central European University and plans to pursue his JD and study international law in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Shiwakoty is devoting himself to his women’s empowerment app. He writes commentaries about Nepal for newspapers such as The Nation, The Kathmandu Post, and The Times of India to raise funding for the Rakhsya Kawach project. (Most recently, Shiwakoty co-authored an article about fighting dengue in Nepal.) He also intends to reach out to more corporate partners in Nepal about his app.
“I want to show we can develop an app in Nepal with money that is already within the country,” said Shiwakoty.
In many ways, Shiwakoty got his start from a Facebook post he found while studying at the University of Delhi. It was an article by Angel Pérez, who was Pitzer’s vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at the time. Shiwakoty was so inspired by the article that he sent a note to Pérez. To his surprise, Pérez replied and eventually encouraged Shiwakoty to apply to Pitzer. Shiwakoty received a full scholarship to attend the College.
“That’s why I believe in miracles,” said Shiwakoty. “If I hadn’t opened Facebook that day, I never would have come.”
Shiwakoty learned English later in life and experienced academic struggles as an undergraduate, but he continued choosing classes that would challenge him.
“Pitzer taught me to turn to a brighter side even in the darkest times,” said Shiwakoty.
He carries that persevering spirit in everything he does.
“So many people walked on this planet before me, and I want to leave proof of history that I walked here, too,” said Shiwakoty. “I want to leave something better to the community.”
During the CGI University annual meeting, Shiwakoty joined a private roundtable with President Clinton. Shiwakoty, who hopes to run for office in Nepal someday, asked Clinton for advice about committing to public service and his morals in a post-truth world where many people say anything to get votes.
Clinton shared that as president he asked Nelson Mandela if he hated the people who imprisoned him. Mandela replied that he did for a while, but he realized that no matter how they tortured him, he still had control over his mind and heart.
“President Clinton told me that every time life puts me in a situation where I might think of doing something that would pose a moral dilemma,” said Shiwakoty, “I should always remember that, like Mandela, I always control my own mind and heart.”