Riksum was born in the foothills of the South Asian Himalayas and grew up in Montclair, New Jersey. He comes from a family that has worked in public service for generations, as civil servants, members of the foreign service, and community leaders in the kingdoms and principalities of the Himalayan region. For as long as Riksum can remember, work was synonymous with service.
“As I was looking for a career, I always wanted a place where at the end of the day I could say that I did something meaningful,” Riksum said. “Born into a family with strong ties to public service, I like being in the background. I don’t need to be the center of attention, but I like being an integral part of getting things done.”
Despite wanting to avoid attention, Riksum has impressive academic achievements including two perfect SAT scores, membership in Phi Beta Kappa, a prestigious undergraduate honor society, and fluency in multiple languages, including English, German, a variety of languages spoken in the Himalayas, and Hindi/Urdu.
Riksum assumed for many years that he would use his achievements to enter the foreign service, but by the time he arrived at graduate school at Columbia University, he had become interested in security studies and public administration. He decided to work in global operations for private nonprofit organizations, while volunteering intensely outside of work.
“I have always been obsessed with processes, the way things work, and making things more efficient,” he said. “I have classically an operations mindset.”
While in graduate school Riksum became involved with emergency medical services and the Red Cross. As a disaster responder for the Red Cross, he has responded to more emergency calls than any other active responder in New Jersey—the vast majority on Friday and weekend overnights.
“There is a mentality in first responders that when other people run away from danger, you are stepping forward and serving the community,” he said. “I like being part of that community and especially working the overnights, because during night shifts you can make a real difference in someone’s life.”
The Red Cross responds to most major structure fires and natural disasters. Riksum is on the front lines every weekend, providing immediate assistance including food, clothing and shelter.
“There’s an incredible amount of resilience from people who have lost everything,” he said. “Most people, you know they will be okay, that ultimately it will be okay. But during the pandemic, the amount of human suffering has just been mind-boggling.”
During COVID-19, Riksum has lived through an intense, sustained experience that he has not had time to process. Early on, he was one of a few people who responded to emergencies at all hours, because others were not comfortable being in close contact with people. He was proud to be asked to serve as the volunteer program lead for disaster response for New Jersey in 2021.
“I have successfully kept my team safe in a really strange and ever-changing environment,” he said. “Disasters and emergencies don’t stop for a pandemic. We had to operate in a hectic environment standing up large scale responses including large congregant shelters while keeping people safe from COVID-19 as well as the usual dangers people face in a disaster.”
Before Vital, while becoming a leader in emergency response, Riksum spent six years at a small nonprofit, ARCHIVE Global: Architecture For Health. The organization was largely conducting research on the relationship between the built environment and public health, especially in malaria control.
Riksum then came to Vital in the summer of 2020, attracted to the organization’s wide scope of work.
“I wanted to experience something at a different scale and hone my operations skills in a larger organization with a different type of impact,” he said.
At Vital, Riksum’s role centers around the team’s safety and security. This has included working to prepare Vital offices for in-person work during the pandemic, developing contingencies and protocols for many types of emergencies, assessing Vital’s relations with external partners during conflicts and more recently, managing Vital’s global travel portfolio.
Riksum is most proud that everyone has stayed safe, during both a pandemic and a time of unrest in several areas where we work, including Ethiopia and Myanmar.
“We have had some crises that we have dealt with, and we have done well so far,” he said. “We have been agile at anticipating threats that may be out there for our teammates, especially with COVID-19 and travel. We want to protect our people as much as possible, but not be overbearing or create an administratively burdensome process.”
Riksum manages the demands of his work and volunteering by mostly living his social life through the intense joint experiences of his weekend work. In his occasional free time he reads non-fiction, builds model airplanes and spends time with his family.
In the future, Riksum would like to earn more responsibility and possibly one day lead an organization.
At Vital, he would like the opportunity to travel and improve Vital’s security operations internationally. And he is excited to welcome the growing number of staff who have returned to the New York office in recent months.
“Global Operations is a close-knit team. A few of us, including [Senior Facilities and Operations Manager] Adriane Lacey and others have been in the office through the entire pandemic when it was empty. We feel a deep sense of pride in what we’ve done, but we don’t know it yet in the context of everyone else,” he said. “It is good to see people come back to the office, whether they are new to the space or returning after two years. We have worked hard to make that possible and keep our colleagues safe globally.”