LSE alumnus Ravindra Ramrattan lost his life in the attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi. In this post, his friend Josh Weinstein, who blogs at Develop Economies, celebrates his life.
This weekend has been difficult. I found out yesterday that a friend was killed in the senseless, horrible attack in Nairobi. He was a great person and meant a lot to many people. He had a profound impact on so many people’s lives that I would not even begin to understand how to chronicle it all. So I will settle for talking about the time I knew him.
I met Ravi early on in my time in Nairobi. I was grabbing a drink at a bar called Sierra Brewery with another guy named Ravi (Ravi Bungoma, after the town he hailed from in Western Kenya) who was applying for a job at my company, and he brought along Ravi Ramrattan (also known as Ravi Mumias). He worked for an organization called Innovations for Poverty Action at the time, and was stationed at a sugar factory in a town called Mumias a few hours outside of Nairobi. I remember thinking that this guy was exceptionally smart. Subsequently, I found out he had bachelors degree in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, a masters degree in financial economics from Oxford, and another masters in econometrics and mathematical economics from the London School of Economics. After teaching statistics to graduate students at the London Business School for a year – at the tender age of 26 – he decided to move to Kenya to commit himself to the cause of poverty alleviation.
After six years in London, Ravi moved to Mumias, a rural town of 33,000 people in Western Kenya, where he spent a year and a half implementing an academic study at the Mumias Sugar Factory. Ravi ran a study evaluating the impact of a conditional cash advance and a cell phone based extension system on sugar cane farmers. Using a randomized controlled trial – the methodology used by pharmaceutical companies to determine the efficacy of a drug – Ravi tried to determine whether this particular development intervention generated additional income for the recipients. After picking up three degrees from some of the most prestigious universities in the world, he moved from London to a rural town in Western Kenya to help people he’d never met.
A few months after I met him, he moved from Mumias to the big city to take a job as an economist with an organization called Financial Sector Deepening, which, despite having one of the worst names imaginable, had the noble goal of “supporting the development of financial markets in Kenya as a means to stimulate wealth creation and reduce poverty.”As part of his role at FSD, he worked to develop the capacity of financial institutions in the country in order to make them more inclusive. When I found out he worked with microfinance institutions, I took every opportunity I could to goad him into an argument about whether microfinance worked. This is something I did whenever I met people from Innovations for Poverty Action. But with Ravi, I always left with my ego bruised from the intellectual drubbing he would deal me.
As a wannabe economist myself, I took every opportunity I could to take advantage of his incredible wealth of knowledge. During one trip down to Diani Beach on the Kenyan Coast, four of us sat on the terrace of our rented house and waxed philosophical deep into the night about income inequality in America (as we did). My friend Dylan and I argued one side, while Sean, Ravi’s roommate at the time, argued the other. Ravi sat quietly, and, whenever we would reach an impasse, which happened often, Ravi came in to break the tie. After all, he knew way more than we did and was probably amused at how badly we skewed the facts to our favor.
Another funny thing to me about Ravi was that, somehow, he was a phenomenal dancer. I could never figure out how it was possible that he was able to bust so many incredible moves on the dance floor. I remember one night a big crew of us went out to a club in Nairobi called Gallileo Lounge, which, other than having a star in the logo, had nothing to do with astronomy. I was standing on the dance floor, not dancing, because I’m a terrible and highly self-conscious dancer, watching Ravi dance with our friend Woubie, and thinking to myself “My God – this is amazing.” In a somewhat legendary story, he was supposed to have a dance-off with one of the cab drivers who had been told of his prowess. It never came to fruition, I’m told, but everyone knows who would have won.
When I heard the news, I was crushed. I was with my friend Sharon, who lived with Ravi for a few months in Nairobi. For two days, we felt helpless, having to watch from afar. Being together made it easier to deal with the news. We decided to get dinner at an Indian restaurant to honor his memory, and spent the dinner sharing stories. Like his plan to start a hot sauce company, or his nickname, “The Lion of Mumias”, after a halloween costume from years prior, or the fact that he blasted the same Bollywood song all of the time. Even among the crew we’d assembled in Nairobi, which contained some of the more unique people I’ve ever met, he was in a league of his own.
I find it deeply ironic that Ravi would end up having his life taken by the people he most wanted to help. He spent a good part of his life studying economics, training himself to not only understand, but quantify the impact of development interventions on poverty alleviation. If you implement a project – whether it is microfinance, clean water, or education – it might work, and it might not. But, more importantly, if you don’t understand the results, you are destined to potentially throw money and people at the wrong solution. Ravi’s work, in particular, uncovered the true impact of these interventions, providing the academic foundation to replicate them around the world.
On this blog, I have spent many posts pontificating about the links between poverty and terrorism. I thought a lot about why this work is important, and what broader impacts it would have beyond just improving lives. For people living hand-to-mouth, life is a series of struggles often ending in tragedy. Anger, resentment, and despair are a volatile combination in the minds of young men and women who see little hope for escaping their situation. For Al-Shabab, these young minds can be manipulated to pick up arms. By stoking latent frustrations at the injustice of poverty and promising a sense of a community, brotherhood, and commitment to a higher cause, a recruiter can more easily convince a young man to become a cold-blooded mass murderer.
Unlike incomes or educational attainment, likelihood of radicalization is not something you can quantify. But I do believe that its real. And, though I never talked to Ravi about it, I’m sure he’d agree. He committed himself to serving the poor, and made the choice to move to Kenya for years to help the less fortunate. He moved to a small town in Western Kenya to study the roots of poverty, and returned to Nairobi to work for an organization whose mandate was to promote financial inclusion across the country. I have no doubt that Ravi would have continued this journey, taking it to the highest levels and influencing global development policy in one way or another.
But his life was cut short by evil men. Whether they’d been manipulated or radicalized doesn’t matter much to me. They took from the world a great person who wanted to make the world a better, more inclusive and equitable place for the most downtrodden and hard-on-their-luck people. He could have done anything, but he chose this life. He chose to help people he’d never met to attain something better for themselves and their families. A nobler cause, I do not know.
Over the last few days, the outpouring of support has been overwhelming. While the good works he did will remain, the community that has rallied around him over the last few days perhaps reflect his greatest legacy. As the people who knew him – from his youth in Trinidad and Tobago, his college and grad school in London, or his years in Nairobi, when I came to know him – have moved to different parts of the world, they have kept him in their memories. And this week, the diaspora of people whose lives were touched by Ravi are getting together all over the world to remember him. That, to me, is a source of comfort.
My deepest condolences go out to his family and the friends who loved him.
The Guardian of Trinidad and Tobago also paid tribute to Ravindra Ramrattan.
well written…thankyou for sharing.
A beautiful tribute. I am sorry for your loss of a dear friend. It is so sad to be hearing about this young man’s courageous and meaningful life because of his death. (a fellow LSE alumna).
May his Huge heart and soul remained forever. RIP
What a glowing tribute. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m an LSE Alumni and a Kenyan, and we are currently reeling from this tragedy that has affected so many in ways that we are yet to truly comprehend. The stories of those who lost loved ones or were injured are only just now pouring in.
I’d like to point out however, that Ravi was not killed by those he was trying to help, as you noted in your article. He was helping hard working Kenyans find a way out of poverty, hardly a group of radicalized fundamentalist killers. Also Mumias is not ‘in the middle of nowhere’.. this is a typical description of rural or under developed Africa which is truly unfortunate.
Nonetheless my condolences to you and Ravi’s friends and family.
We’re still following up with the news coming from kenya- and while we were happy to hear that 200 hostages were freed to safety- our hearts saddened for the victims who lost their lives in this terrorist attack and their families- thank you for sharing this story and for giving us an insight through the life of one of the victims- it is indeed a great loss- sincere condolences to his family and friends- what is really sad is that there are alot of good people who lost their lives while trying to do good to their fellow humans and make this world a better place.
Hi – thanks so much for your kind words. I wrote the post above and just wanted to reach out. First, when I said he was killed by the people he was trying to help, I really meant that Ravi wanted to help all people in poverty, not just Kenyans. I don’t know anything about these attackers, but I guess what I was trying to say was that Ravi worked to fight poverty, which is often an enabler of terrorism. But you are right that the terrible people who killed him were not the people he was helping.
To your second point, I apologize for trivializing the town of Mumias. I only meant to highlight the distinction between London and a town in Western Kenya. I’ve changed the language on own blog to reflect it.
Thanks again for your support.
Great memorialisation of an incredible person.
A touching tribute!! May his soul RIP.
I am truly sorry for your loss… hopefully this senselessness will come to an end soon, before it brings down all life on earth!
RIP – yet another innocent person with so much more to offer to this World taken away by those who have nothing to offer to it.
Very sad to hear of this. I am an LSE alumnus too (Urbanisation and Development 2010-2011) and also from within the DESTIN department. What a terrible tragedy.
Thank you for your tribute. This is really sad news and my deepest sympathies go to his family and friends
In this time of great grief, it was comforting to read your reflection on the life of a brilliant mind and humble soul. May his life work not be in vain but be a catalyst for others to continue what he has left behind. My heart bleeds for his family and friends. May he rest in peace.
Such a beautiful tribute. Reading it has brought tears to my eyes even though I have never met him. May his soul rest in peace as he lives on in your memory.
Thank you for sharing this.
I feel the same. What a heartfelt, candid gut-wrenching, sad tribute this is to this “MONUMENT” of a son. …He is a son of the soil, for I am also from Trinidad. I’m simply devastated even though I did not know Ravi personally. Your tribute soothes a deep pain. What a tremendous friend Ravi had in you!
Have you thought of faxing or emailing this wonderful tribute to Ravi’s parents and his school? I think it should form a fundamental part of any remembrancs of this stellar being who trod the earth mightily albeit for too short a time. Thank you for this soothing balm to a hurting soul. Thank you.
Truly excellent tribute to someone I didn’t know but feel grateful to have even heard of. An exemplar for not only Trinidadians and Tobagonians but for all the world.
Our prayers go to this young man who had achieved much in short life may his soul rest in peace
Beautiful and emotional tribute. Thank you for LSE and you for sharing this
thanks for sharing this.
I got to know Ravi in Nairobi over a few months last summer. One of the nicest, smartest, and most open of people; even though I was only going to be there for a brief period, he welcomed me as a friend and was a joy to be around. A terrible loss.
Well written!!! Thank you, I never knew him but the tears did flow for a Great role model for our youth and a fellow Trinbagoian.
Thanks for the memories. His family is truly devastated, as would any family at the tragic loss of a loved one. Not many leave my home here in Trinidad and Tobago to do what he did. God rest his soul and may he find people in heaven. God will deal with those people for what they have done.
The memory of the wicked will always be forgotten but the good will always prevail even though they are no more with us! Their influences live on! You can kill a man’s body but you cannot kill his soul! may God be with his family and those who loved him.He did what he was supposed to do. Carry on what he started. maybe that is why you were blessed to know him.
Beautiful intelligent important and lasting words, thank you for sharing x
Great tribute to someone who was an outstanding scholar, and more importantly, a great person. The world has lost the type of individual that it dearly needs more of. It’s such a tragically sad and senseless death.
I’m from Trinidad, and hadn’t heard of Ravi until news of his death was reported. I’ve been following the attack in Kenya on the Guardian, through which I found this blog post.
People like Ravi are a true inspiration to the rest of us, and perhaps eacj of us here reading this tribute can commit, in our own small way, to act somehow to make the world a better place. It may not be much, but it would be a small personal tribute to Ravi.
My condolences to his family and friends. I truly hope that the knowledge of the impact that Ravi had on so many people, so far from home, comforts his family.
As a fellow Trinidadian I look forward to meeting Ravi in my next life…and I mean that! Never had the honor of meeting this awesome human being but GOD wanted back this warrior….the only logical explanation I could think about after shedding tears for this amazing soul. I smiled at the fact he could dance since as a Dreamer in Chief of a NGO, I often explain to people when you are in the area of your gift/passion/talent, it is like that person who glides across a dance floor dancing to the tune of their own song and everybody watched going WOW. Sadly the majority of us never find that courage to fearlessly pursue our area or gift/talent/passions and are in fact those coordinated two steppers on the dance floor. So Ravi found his unique gift (badass dancer) and scattered it around before he left us……..how blessed are we whose lives he has touched? What a beautifully written blog as a tribute to his life. Ravi is somewhere in heaven teaching GOD’s people how to count stuff and measure it and analyse the impact effect if it and the variances needed for stamping etc. etc. His contribution to humanity continues IN A BIGGER WAY as stardust. Josh…thank you for this blog which helps those of us who did not know Ravi truly get to know him;-)
Beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing. May his family and friends find peace once again. RIP Ravi.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
very well written, may he rest in peace
Sincere thanks for this. http://merigoesaround.blogspot.com/2013/09/uko-wapi-where-are-you.html
A beautiful tribute – well put together. May his family and friends find comfort and may his precious soul rest in peace.
This is a fantastic epitaph to Ravi. I didn’t know him personally, but he was very close to someone I know very well and she thought the world of him. I think the comments above, reflect your emotion and sincerity … As a Trinidadian traveller, I’ve been to many countries across the planet, but even then I could say that Ravi had travelled more than me, since he went off to do something I wouldn’t even imagine doing.
We’ve lost a scholar and traveller – we’re all poorer for it.
My thoughts are with Ravi’s family. I pray that they will find the strength to deal with this loss. RIP Ravi.
So sad. I didn’t know Ravi personally, but went to Cambridge at the same time and (have since discovered) have friends in common with him. My thoughts are with his friends and family. Such a loss.
A great loss of a fellow Trinbagonian. I did not know Ravi personally but your tribute to him gave me an insight to a great person who left me feeling as though I knew him all my life.
I also felt a great loss in his untimely demise.
My condolences goes out to you, his family and all those who knew him.
Beautiful and touching tribute! Thank you for taking the time to share with all of us. As a fellow Trinidadian, I am pleased that you were able to capture such moments with Ravi . He lived, he enjoyed and touched the lives of many. May his family and friends find comfort at this difficult time. RIP Ravi.
A touching and beautiful tribute to an amazing human being who is lost too soon. We all aspire to contribute to society like Ravi and hopefully continue whatever the challenges out there. A tragic loss. Condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. A fellow LSE alumna. Suryani, Kuala Lumpur
What a huge loss , not only of a fine human being but one blessed with a fine intellect. I was especially moved by the grief of his parents who will have to do what every parent does not want to do: bury their child. These terrorists did not have to kill to make a statement. Bastards. RIP Mr Ramrattan, your life was well lived. I wish your family strength and courage at this difficult time.
Knew him at Oxford. Thought he was a lazy bastard, but he really was just clever. He could have just trooped off to Canary Wharf and made big bucks, but he wanted to give other people the opportunity he had had, seriously good man.
God bless his soul….. Rest in peace
Thank you for sharing —- it is truly kind of you. As a Trinbagonian it is heart wrenching to accept this fate, but understanding who this young man was and his vision and accomplishments brings a sense of contentment. Thanks again.
It sounds like Ravi left an indelible mark on many people and places. Consider this a posthumous “thank you” from a stranger.
My best to you and all others impacted by this terrible situation.
Very well written & thank u for sharing. RIP Ravi Ramrattan…
Beautifully written piece about your friend; I can feel your sadness through the words you use to describe him and his work. What a tragic loss to the world and Kenya.
Such a tragedy…a life that offered so much cut away by the very people who would have benefited from this talented young man’s contribution towards making this world a better place for all.
sad.. sad sad. 🙁 his poor parents and family. what a loss to humanity… hope that his efforts do not go in vain. RIP fellow Trini.
I followed a link from facebook to this blog, and found myself taking the time to read your tribute, hooked by Ravi’s story, and your love and respect for your friend. What can I say…? Thank you for posting. You’ve changed my day.
My father was accepted to LSE in the 60’s he never went because he stayed in Trinidad to support his family. Ravi like my father was a special person , he was and will always be an inspiration. I wish I met him. Brilliant, kind , adventurous and fuL of compassion. RIP Ravi you are dancing with my father in hea hea heaven 🙂 xo
Josh, what a beautiful tribute- Ravi was a big part of my life both in Kenya and in London and it made me laugh when you spoke of his plan to start a hot sauce company- he used to come to the dining hall every day with his own homemade hotsauce all the way from Trinidad, and ofcourse, share generously. So many great memories.
I live a few miles from where Ravi grew up and even closer to where he went to high school . My son attends his former high school . I did not have the chance to know him .However deep sadness has descended on my family . Thank you for your kind words . It helped us understand a little more about a wounderful human being we did not have a chance to meet . He is but the finest example of a person who was not limited by any of the traditional constraints of society . May the memory of his life inspire us .
such a beautiful tribute…never had the honour of meeting this brilliant, humble young man yet I am so touched by his passion for helping the less fortunate… truly an inspiring great soul! may Ravi’s soul R.I.P.
He made his parents proud, his country proud and the world proud. So sorry to have lost such a great son of the soil so soon. My heart goes out to his family. R.I.P Ravi.
To the immediate family, sorry for your loss, a son, or brother cannot be replaced but may memories of his beautiful life stay in your hearts for always.
I remember Ravi in high school…a very brilliant guy..someone to look up to
When he won the President’s Gold medal for Prez Chag in 2002, it was such an amazing moment.We as pres boys would go to the bar and celebrate ”we will gold again boy” such a closeness the school has from the present to the alumni.Reading all his achievements up to today it is mind blowing that someone from such a small country could achieve and do so much.He was truly a gift to the world.
I envy those who were around him at his time in Kenya , to be around so much excellence is such a wonderful experience.Its so sad to see a fello Prez boy die.We hold so much bonds at that high school.I am sure in his schools in England he would have made so much friends and would of been loved by all.He was really a unselfish person ,sharing his knowledge and giving back in his work on poverty.
Ravi will be missed and always remembered
Condolences to his mom and dad ,siblings ,family and friends
We really did lose a great one!
I come from the other Presentation College in Trinidad and Tobago and in fact received a call from the media trying to confirm whether I could confirm that “Ravi Ramrattan of Presentation College had died in Nairobi in the mall siege”. My heart pounded, the name sounded familiar. One of sons had fallen to a senseless, misguided mob. My blood boiled. That night I watched his parents, shock, disbelief, saddened at the thought of his life ebbing away half way across the world. On a cold hard floor, alone, in a country where he went to help the poor. Reading this tribute Josh will give great comfort. Even to many who didn’t know him yet grieve for him. Like me. Rest in Peace Ravi…….a true hero.
My heart goes out to his parents and siblings. Although I did not know the family personally, I feel thepain they are going through, and know one day Ravi will continue his legacy in another life. Thank you for sharing this story with us and his parents for giving us a genius who lasted 30 years. RIP Ravi, gone to soon.
A beautiful tribute to a great friend. I did not know Ravi before this, but hearing of his death brought tears to my eyes.
I have a son who is at Presentation College in Chaguanas and I know the comradry these boys share.
Ravi was a very brilliant son of Trinbago and had so much to offer the world. He could have chosen an easier career path in life but because of his love for helping the less fortunate in society took up a post in Kenya which led to his death at such a tender age. He was not afraid to do what he truly believed in and I am sure God is happy with Ravi’s contribution to mankind. Ravi will go down in international history for his humanitarian efforts. Let us take a page from his book and live unselfishly, caring and sharing with our fellowmen, as this is what our society lacks right now.
My condolences go out to his family, friends and his loved ones.
Ravi was my classmate and friend at LSE and it was through this post that I found out about the tragic way in which his life was taken. I was left completely shocked and shook up when I found out and it has taken me this long to say anything. I don’t know how to express my grief. I wish I could somehow extend my support to his family and tell them that I am among the millions of people who thought he was an amazing person – intelligent, selfless, kind, helpful, down to earth and always up for fun. My deepest condolences to his family and friends. May he rest in peace.
I am one of Ravi’s relatives and he is truly missed by this friends and family. We are trying to cope with this and he was a remarkable individual with such ability and outstanding potential based on this education and acheivements. His parents love him dearly and I pray that God gives them courage, strength, understanding and knowledge to deal with this situation.
He came from a family who strived to educate him to the max and now he is gone too soon. But I know that what he has accomplished in the past thirty years is what makes his family and himself proud. God has more for him to do in heaven and I know he is an angel working with god.
Ravi was always a smiling and joyful person. He was quite helpful and made a choice to help the poor and others below the bread line. Ravi I just want you to know that you are truly missed by everyone you know and we will walk through this path with you to enter the doors to heaven.
You have left so memories with us and I believe you live your life to the best and what you have achieved in 30 years would take others a much longer time. Please give sis, bro , mom and dad the courage to get through this. We love you and miss you a lot. You will always be remembered by your friends in different countries, relatives and family.
Ravi is truly a remarkable and educated person. Gone too soon but will be remembered by millions because of who he is. He makes friends quite easily and I know he is in heaven and making much more friends with god and his angels. Ravi you gem and Ravi you left us with so many memories of you. I want to say thank you. You have made the youths for tomorrow more wiser and I know they will want to follow your golden foot steps.
Thank you for the support of his teachers, community, friends from abroad and family. Ravi I would like you to give us the strength, knowledge and understanding to cope with your loss. I just want you to know that we will continue to love and remember you. Guide and Protect mummy, daddy, sister and brother. You will always have that special place in your hearts. We love you.
My heart goes out to Ravi’s family but I know that God can carry them safely through all this. I want them to remember ‘footprints in the sand’ when God carried them,when they looked and did not see their footprints because in their most difficult times it was then he carried them.
My son was a friend of Ravi’s at LSE and told me about their late night conversations and how Ravi enjoyed beating him at ping pong. In Canada, I sometimes feel removed from the senseless violence of terrorism, but Ravi had friends all over the world that are mourning his loss. Terrorism touches everyone. We are a global community. I am saddened at the news of Ravi’s death and my condolences go out to his parents, siblings, family and friends.
A very nice and moving tribute, what a complete waste of a talented person, I’m moved and saddened by this loose of life and all of those killed, but I’m even more saddened by the contribution and the difference that Ravi could have made. Next time I’m in the tuns I will toast a lost talent!
Our country is in great sadness to loss such a wonderful person. may ur family be have faith, courage and much strength.
Great tribute to a great person ….I wrote a small piece for the local newspapers in Trinidad and they published it – here is the link http://newsday.co.tt/letters/0,184392.html
Nice piece……very touching…
So sad to hear of Ravi he is my sisters neighbor an grow up with my brother in law but good thing dont last may he RIP an lets show all the love an peace to our fellow trinis .
This is such a touching story. I came across him reviewing an economic paper. He’s left an incredible impact and I will make sure to voice his greatness in my future classes. Love to his parents and friends.