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News report from 2013 showcasing Frank and Debbie Islam’s home.

Frank Islam, a prominent Indian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist has been awarded the inaugural UP Ratna award for his achievements and outstanding contributions as a son of Uttar Pradesh.

The award will be given by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav at the inaugural UP Pravasi Diwas in Agra on January 4, according to a media release.

Islam was born in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh and was raised in Aligarh, where his family had relocated subsequently. An American professor visiting the famed Aligarh University – Wolfgang Thorn – offered to take Islam, who was all of 15, back with him. He stayed with the professor’s family in Boulder, Colorado joining his wife and their four sons, reported the Hindustan Times.

As a measure of his gratitude, in 2011, Islam instituted a fellowship in Thorn’s name at the University of Colorado, where the professor taught mathematics for many years.

Islam studied computer sciences for his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the same university. Soon he moved to Toronto, Canada, to work. There he met Driesman, four years younger, also a computer science student.

In 1994, Islam bought a struggling IT company in Maryland, with $50,000 raised by mortgaging his house. He grew the company from one employee to more than 2,000 employees and sales of $300 million before he sold it in 2007 to Ross Perot, the millionaire whose presidential run in 1994 cost George H W Bush a second term.

Islam and his wife, Debbie Driesman started the Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman Foundation and pledged $2 million to AMU for the construction of a new school of management at the 140-year-old institution.

Other institutions and organizations that have received the support of the Foundation include University of Colorado, Montgomery College, and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, USIP and Brookings Institution.

“I am profoundly grateful to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and the Uttar Pradesh government for this honour,” said Islam, describing the award as an “incredible honour.”

“Uttar Pradesh is where my journey started. It is where I grew up and spent the formative years. I am humbled and delighted to be honoured by the state of Uttar Pradesh.”

“I feel a strong connection to the past and future of UP,” he said. “I felt a reaffirmation of purpose to strive to improve the educational conditions for those who are less fortunate and underprivileged.”

Islam said he felt “a sense of cautious optimism that we as concerned Indian Americans can make a positive and a meaningful difference by working together.”

Vandana Kumar

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...