The honor recognizes his work in founding the Jay and Sylvia Sobhraj Foundation, which this year helped create the nation of Guyana’s first-degree program in psychology, as well as a new building and resources to house mental health services at the university.
It further recognizes the Foundation’s work in creating scholarships for students to attend the university, its purchase of equipment for the Guyana police force, as well as for the specialized high school preparatory classes it runs for hundreds of public school students in Queens.
In bestowing the honor on Mr. Sobhraj, the University of Guyana, which this year is awarding honorary doctorates for the first time, cites his “combination of business acumen, personal distinction in the field of real estate development, connection to The University of Guyana through generous philanthropy as well as exceptional service to the Guyanese community in Guyana and in the United States of America.”
The other three recipients are, musician and singer Eddy Grant, famous for the hit song “Electric Avenue”; indigenous rights activist Laura George; Yesu Persaud, another leading Guyanese business figure and philanthropist and past president of the Guyana Manufacturers Association.
“It is a tremendous honor to receive this recognition from the University of Guyana, whose educational mission has been central to so many of the charitable endeavors Sylvia and I have been fortunate enough to support,” said Mr. Sobhraj. “My family has enjoyed success in the United States and we feel a deep obligation to repay that success by helping others, primarily young people, from Queens, New York, to Georgetown, Guyana, further their education and help realize their dreams.”
Born in Guyana in 1948, Mr. Sobhraj was one of 10 children and the son of a rice farmer. He earned a degree in engineering from Middlesex Polytechnic in London, England, and became a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in 1984.
After working in the oil industry in the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Sobhraj, along with two of his brothers, George and Ken, co-founded Zara Realty in 1982 in Jamaica, Queens. The firm, one of the city’s top providers of affordable housing, also owns or manages more than 3.1 million square feet of commercial real estate in the New York region.
In 2007, after years of independent charitable giving, he officially founded the Jay and Sylvia Sobhraj Foundation with his wife. The foundation has donated more than $2 million to various causes over the years in the United States and Guyana.
This includes the new psychology program at the University of Guyana, five student scholarships a year, crucial equipment for the Guyana police force, and more.
In Queens, the foundation, in partnership with the America Sevashram Sangha temple, runs free preparatory classes for students to take the Specialized High School Admittance Test (SHSAT), which allows entry into the city’s top academic high schools. Ordinarily, families pay thousands of dollars for the classes, which help candidates qualify for four of the top public high schools in the city.
The foundation also donated a computer lab to Richmond Hill High School in Queens.
Mr. Sobhraj will receive an honorary doctorate of the University Degree (D.Unv.UoG) at a ceremony on Nov. 10, 2018, at the university.