Varkey, founder and chairman of Dubai-based GEMS Education, one of the largest private school operators in the world, would be the Goodwill Ambassador for Education Partnerships for UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
He has been recognized for "his contribution to forging innovative public-private partnerships to ensure that underprivileged children across the world receive a good quality education," according to a news released by UNESCO.
The son of Indian expatriates who moved to Dubai in 1959, Varkey took over the management of his parents' school in 1980 and transformed the family- run institution into a multinational company.
GEMS Education today educates more than 100,000 students from more than 150 nationalities.
"By uniting parents, educators and governments under the cause of equal opportunity to schooling, Sunny Varkey is not only influencing teaching methods, but also helping to provide greater access to education, especially in Africa," UNESCO said.
Collaboration between UNESCO and GEMS Education includes training more than 10,000 school principals in Kenya, Ghana and India, as well as helping to improve STEM (science, technology, engineer and maths) education in Lesotho and Kenya.
GEMS Education also operates through a not-for-profit group, the Varkey GEM Foundation, which was founded in 2010 and is chaired by former US President Bill Clinton.
Varkey, a 2009 Padmashree award recipient, joins a celebrated roster of UNESCO goodwill ambassadors, who are focussed on raising awareness about the agency's goals in the fields of education, culture, and science and communication.
The roster includes Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela, US jazz musician Herbie Hancock and Cuban ballerina and choreographer Alicia Alonso.