When it comes to volunteering—or in his words “giving back”—Kelowna’s Raghwa Gopal does it because it’s personal.
The CEO of Accelerate Okanagan is supposed to be retired. But, as he puts it, he could spend six hours a day on the golf course or he could spend part of his time volunteering with groups that deal with issues near and dear to his heart, education and literacy. Despite his love of golf, it’s an easy choice — the latter will win out every time.
“I suppose, in part, it goes back to when I was growing up in Fiji, where the opportunity to go to school wasn’t available to everyone,” says Raghwa, who was named Kelowna’s 2016 Man of the Year in the spring.
“When I got to Grade 6, I was faced with having to leave school because we could not afford for me to go anymore.”
But, he said, a benevolent benefactor stepped in and offered to pay for him to continue his education.
“That changed my life,” he says.
He never forgot that and after coming to Kelowna 37 years ago, having a very successful career in the tech industry, selling his company and being able to retire if he wanted, he payed it forward as best as he could. When he was asked to volunteer at Okanagan College he agreed.
That led to many other volunteer opportunities including with Project Literary, a group he says he knew nothing about when he agreed to work with it. He says he just jumped right in when he heard in included the word “literacy” in its name. He says he just knew it would be for him. And it was.
Like many who volunteer, Raghwa credits others for getting him involved and likes to think his involvement will spur others to do the same.
“I like to think we lead by example,” says Raghwa, whose volunteer resumé includes work with the Okanagan College Foundation, the Women’s Enterprise Society, Rotary, United Way, East Meets West Orphans’ Foundation, the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, the YM-YWCA and Project Literacy.
“I believe when people help others, and it’s life-changing, those who are helped will go out and do extraordinary things,” he says.
And his volunteer work has rubbed off on at least two others—his son and daughter.
He says his son caught the volunteer bug several years ago when he wanted to go along with his father during a Rotary club campaign to gather old, used and replaced machinery from health facilities such as Kelowna General Hospital, make sure it was operational and shipped it to developing countries around the globe where it was used in centres that otherwise would have nothing to help treat medical patients.
“It’s not something we required of our children but we encouraged them and they saw us doing it, so I guess they followed suit.”
Raghwa is also a founding director of a Kelowna startup that works to bring the volunteer spirit directly to local business, a company called Volinspire.
He said at Accelerate Okanagan, employees are given a half-day off each month to volunteer in the community, a move common among credit unions in this province and growing in popularity with many other businesses.
He predicts that within 10 years, the practice will be commonplace across the entire business sector, as companies see what survey’s have already discovered, employees who volunteer are happier, more productive and more apt to stay longer with the companies they work for.
“It really is a win-win situation,” he says.
While Raghwa is the first to say it takes many individuals to make the community great and there are many others richly deserving to be recognized for their service, his selfless desire to help others has resulted in both the city and the province recognizing his volunteer efforts in the past.
As his nominator for the Community Leader Community Builder Award, Jennifer Leash-Trask, put it, despite his very busy schedule, Raghwa still finds time to coach, mentor, motivate and inspire others.
“He literally goes above and beyond every single day to help others in some small or large way,” Leash-Trask said.