First Penguin – Sunil Mathew

I am starting a new series starting today that I decided to call “First Penguin”.  I first heard this phrase in the famous last lecture by Dr Randy Pausch. For those that haven’t watched that video, here is the meaning of the goose bump-inducing phrase, in brief. When the ice starts to thaw after the brutal winters in the coldest regions of our planet, penguins march to the edge of the ice ready to jump into the water to catch fish.  One of them jumps first, and is most often devoured by predators lying in wait. However, if that penguin survives, the others follow.

I believe it is this even-if-i-die-trying quality of the First Penguin that characterizes entrepreneurs who tackle society’s biggest problems.  In this series that I plan to run every two weeks, I want to cover the work of such entrepreneurs. I look for your encouragement by way of comments, shares on social media. I also need your support in identifying First Penguin entrepreneurs across India [over time the rest of the world too 🙂 ]

For the first installment, I shall cover the work of Sunil J Mathew of Cochin, whom I was fortunate to meet in person, tw0 weeks ago.  The hour and a half we spent with him is one of the most inspiring 90 minutes I have spent in recent times.  He started his work with the Visually Challenged at the age of 22 and has been at it for 10 years. This is his story.

India has 63 million visually challenged people – the highest in the world. Sunil began working with the Visually Challenged during his college days.  He and his friends started the SRVC that trains a batch of 20-30 people and teaches them life skills to become independent, and also helps find jobs for them.

As he worked with the Visually Challenged, he realized that while many institutions focused on education, none focused on getting them jobs. He decided to address that gap.

Several years ago, he took one of his protégés to one of the biggest call-centers in Cochin run by his friend.  Sunil told his friend, “This guy has a great voice, and is only partially blind. He can read if you increase the font size. Besides in a call center, customers don’t see the agent. Please give him a job”. The friend obliged with great reluctance. After a quarter, Sunil received a call from his friend asking him to come to the call center immediately. He went over, fearing the worst, but only to be proudly surprised: their customer had recognized his protégé as the Best Employee!  Listening to Sunil’s narration, I couldn’t control tears welling up in my eyes.

After that Sunil cited several small victories he scored painstakingly over the last 10 years – his protégés run a music band, do reflexology, work in organizations like the Taj Group, Wipro, Cognizant, Redbus. Cognizant Admin Team in Cochin recently hired one of Sunil’s protégés and he is doing very well.

In the interest of space, I want to narrate one more vignette that shows how, with ingenuity, we can solve the toughest of problems. Sunil, a football enthusiast wanted the Visually Challenged to play football. Research led him to a sport called Blind Football and started playing that with his protégés.  They enjoyed the game, but came to him with the same request about finding jobs.  Further research revealed that any Indian who represents India in any sport is entitled to a government job.  He then put together a Team India, tapped into his network, to get the equipment, kits for the athletes, practice facilities, money for the tickets, and competed in the International Blind Football Championship. His team came 4th in the tournament; the first time ever India has fielded. Now he is working on getting the athletes a government job.

He also talked about filing a patent for a mobile app he has developed and several other initiatives.  His unbridled optimism in the face of extreme challenges is awe-inspiring.

Sunil Mathew

This picture was taken at the training facility where a batch of trainees is undergoing training. The sighted person at the back is Sunil Mathew.

Hope you all liked the first installment in this series? Please let me know.

P.S. This series is featured  inside Cognizant in the Cpecial newsletter Good Life Guide


  1. Quote

    Hi Sukumar,

    Sunil’s dedication, courage, persistence and creativity are very inspiring.

    And a great choice of the phrase ‘First Penguin’ for the series.

    And I have a question regarding that. I want to know how you remember and use all that you read and see ? I have seen/Read the last lecture when it became popular, but I kind of forgot everything in that now. Do you have any tips/system for remembering and using the items which we know ?

  2. Quote

    Hi Sukumar,

    Sunil’s dedication, courage, persistence and creativity are very inspiring.

    And a great choice of the phrase ‘First Penguin’ for the series.

    And I have a question regarding that. I want to know how you remember and use all that you read and see ? I have seen/Read the last lecture when it became popular, but I kind of forgot everything in that now. Do you have any tips/system for remembering and using the items which we know ?

    Thanks in advance.


  3. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 15, 2014, 1:29 pm:

    Ananth, glad you liked Sunil’s story and the series title First Penguin. As for how to remember things – I am not sure I know the answer. I don’t believe I remember everything I read or see or hear. The last lecture had a huge impact on me and so I remember many things from it.

    One of the techniques I consciously follow is to try out/experiment with things I read. This helps me improve and also remember things better. Not sure this is a technique but it maybe helpful.

    Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

  4. Quote
    Ragupathy said February 15, 2014, 2:12 pm:

    Hello Sukumar, thanks for this inspiring post. I am happy that we could be the First Penguin providing an opportunity to SRVC candidate and I was fortunate to interact with the candidate booming with passion and confidence .Hats off to Sunil for his inspirational mission .



  5. Quote

    Such an inspiring post – many kudos to sunil for such an awe-inspiring initiative – and thanks so much sukumar for sharing this with all of us..

  6. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 15, 2014, 2:52 pm:

    Thanks Ragu. Glad you liked the post. I am very happy to see you and the Admin team display such exemplary community mindedness in your Outreach activities as well as showing us the way by giving an opportunity to a SRVC candidate.

  7. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 15, 2014, 2:53 pm:

    Thanks a lot Subra. Glad you liked the post. Sunil’s work is awe inspiring indeed.

  8. Quote

    Inspiring and happy to know that Cognizant is helping them in some way. My best wishes to Sunil.

  9. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 15, 2014, 4:29 pm:

    Thanks a lot Arun.

  10. Quote

    Nice initiative and kudos Sukumar for thinking about and starting this thread. Sunil Mathew’s IS an inspiration and his pride in his wards shows in the attached photo. With such folks who have dedicated their life to a social cause, I often wonder if this is all they do and how they manage and balance their work/life/cause.

  11. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 15, 2014, 8:47 pm:

    Thanks a lot Ganesh. Glad you liked the series. It’s a good question Ganesh. It didn’t occur to me to ask that question about work life balance. Given he is only 32, maybe he hasn’t hit that problem yet. If I talk to him, I will ask him.

  12. Quote
    Vijayakumar R Kannan said February 15, 2014, 9:00 pm:

    Excellent post, Thank you for sharing this with us! Truly inspiring!

  13. Quote

    thanks for bringing these guys to the world. God bless

  14. Quote
    Srini Krishnan said February 15, 2014, 10:40 pm:

    Good initiative Sukumar. Spotlighting Indians who make a difference inspite of challenges is a great positive lens on Indians. Definitely it will encourage the attitude of Do Something , Stop Complaining.

  15. Quote

    First of all, congrats on the First Penguin series. It is very inspiring.

    What can I say about Sunil Mathew? How many account wins, successful deliveries and ESOPs will give the job satisfaction as the pioneering work done by him. I should take his autograph.


  16. Quote

    Very inspiring story, hats off to Sunil Mathew! Thanks for sharing Sukumar. Really nice of you to start a series throwing light on such inspiring entrepreneurs…

  17. Quote

    Sukumar, commendable effort, indeed. A suggestion, if I may. Why not solicit from your readers, recommendations for subjects to be featured in the series?

  18. Quote
    Ramesh Ramaswamy said February 16, 2014, 6:34 am:

    Super post Sukumar! Thanks for sharing this inspiring story. Salute to Sunil.

  19. Quote
    Job Mathew said February 16, 2014, 1:23 pm:

    Hi Sukumar,

    Great initiative in positivism in a world where we come across more negative aspects day in and day out. Acts of Individuals such as Sunil keeps humanity going.

    I liked your write up especially adaptation of Randy Poshes allegory of First Penguin to indicate High Risk initiatives and your usage ” even-if-i-die-trying quality ‘ to explain it is excellent” High Risk initiatives are justifiable for a cause .

    Wish you best in this positive endeavor of yours.

    Kudos to your , your positivism and all the ” Fist Penguins ” you are going to recognize here after.


  20. Quote

    Great initiative Sukumar. (I remember the book “Last Lecture” you presented to me when I was in Cognizant, and that was the only book I read outside my Research at that time 🙂 .) Nice of you to have started this spot lighting and hats off to Sunil Mathew.
    Recently I visited Helen Keller Service Centre for Blind at Cuddalore on 1st Feb, thanks to my Sister Kalaiarasi Ramadas of Innerwheel and Divya Ramkarthik of Infosys to have arranged for the material distributed to the students that day. I enjoyed my time there singing along with one Purushothaman (see his performance in my post at who is so much talented that he could identify me with no hesitation when I went closer and started talking to him. Certainly these students are able differently and no one can match them in some of the domains. All the best to Sunil and his team to make more and more differently abled men/women to shine. I’ll speak to Mr S Muruganandam, Secretary, Helen Keller Service Centre for Blind to get in touch with SRVC and enable the interaction.

  21. Quote

    Hi Sukumar, thanks for sharing the creative pursuit of Sunil for such a noble cause. I guess you considered him as the first penguin due to his never give up attitude especially convincing people working with government etc. Looks forward more such real stories.

  22. Quote

    Thanks for highlighting this story Sukumar. Really inspirational. Sunil must be having an incredible amount of self-belief and persistence to achieve something like this.

  23. Quote
    Masthan Babu Gundlapali said February 20, 2014, 12:57 pm:

    Dear Sukumar,

    Awesome 🙂 Really inspirational, it is encouraging me to be part of this journey and do whatever can be done to help others. Great job Sunil Mathew…hats off sir 🙂

  24. Quote
    Joe Korah said February 21, 2014, 11:28 am:

    Awesome post Sukumar. Sunil and SRVC is a great inspiration. I have been to the center at least 4 or 5 times now. Each time I come out of SRVC, I am so energized by interacting with Sunil and his protege’s. We are gald to have contributed to Sunil’s cause in a small way.

  25. Quote

    Thanks for your tip Sukumar. Don’t be sorry. All the best. Trying to experiment is a good idea. I’ll try that.

  26. Quote

    Wonderful account of a wonderful person. I know Sunil having met him a few times and seen his SRVC centre in Cochin. He really is an inspiration and listening to his proteges brought tears to my eyes as he has given them something very special; HOPE. Congratulations to him; he deserves all manner of accolades but would probably be too humble to accept them.

  27. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:20 pm:

    Thanks a lot Vijayakumar. Glad you liked the post.

  28. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:22 pm:

    Thanks Ram.

    Thanks Srini. Yes, looking at the work done by Sunil, there is no choice but to quit complaining and do something.

  29. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:28 pm:

    Thanks. You are right, no amount of money earned can equal the impact that Sunil is creating. Very inspiring indeed.

  30. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:30 pm:

    Thanks Kumudha.

    Kannan, thanks. I did have this line “I also need your support in identifying First Penguin entrepreneurs across India [over time the rest of the world too 🙂 ]” buried in the post. I guess others would have also miss it. I will make this request more prominent in the next posts. Thanks for pointing out.

  31. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:32 pm:

    Thanks Ramesh.

    Thanks a lot Job. Yes Sunil’s story is inspiring. Glad you liked the series title.

  32. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:34 pm:

    Thanks a lot Pannir. Yes, these people do have some special abilities. No doubt. I will request Sunil to contact you.

  33. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:36 pm:

    Thanks Prakash. Yes, his never-give-up attitude is inspiring.

    Thanks Kartic. Yes, Sunil has tremendous self-belief and the passion to help people at such a young age. Truly inspiring and admirable.

  34. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:37 pm:

    Thanks a lot Babu. Hats off to Sunil Sir indeed.

  35. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:38 pm:

    Thanks Joe for introducing me to Sunil. I missed crediting you in the post. Sorry about that. Yes it is energizing and inspiring to meet Sunil and his proteges. Kudos to you and the Cognizant Kochi team for recruiting one of Sunil’s proteges.

  36. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:39 pm:

    Thanks Ananth. Please try experimenting and let me know if it works.

  37. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:41 pm:

    Thanks Louise. Yes he is a very humble man. No amount of accolades will suffice for noble cause he is after. You summed it up nicely – giving HOPE to people who are in seemingly hopeless situations. I am very happy to that there are such people in our world who do such tremendously valuable things for other people.

  38. Quote

    As a part of code4cause initiative, we are starting a website “forgotten heros”, which will be lauched shortly to reward and recognize people like Sunil. A small way where we can help those people.

    Thanks for triggering this idea 🙂

  39. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 25, 2014, 1:44 pm:

    That is great Arun.

  40. Quote

    Reading this during low moments makes you understand how much is possible when challenges seem impossible. It is just about always keeping a positive frame of mind and the conviction burning high.

  41. Quote

    Thanks Veena. Yes. Extra ordinary conviction and self-belief is required for tackling such big challenges.

  42. Quote

    Sukumar – Got a mail from Sunil on Helen Keller Centre at Cuddalore and I’ve put him through to my sister, who keeps visiting this centre. Thanks for introducing me.

  43. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 28, 2014, 9:51 pm:

    Great. Thanks Pannir.

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