Jim Simons' gift to Nepal

American billionaire philanthropist who helped support Nepal’s hospitals dies at 86

James Harris (‘Jim’) Simons, the mathematician and billionaire philanthropist who set up a foundation to improve Nepal’s healthcare system, died in New York on 10 May, aged 86.

Jim Simons was an award-winning mathematician who pioneered quantitative investing and gave away much of his billions to support mathematics education, scientific research and various humanitarian causes.

But his life was marked by family tragedies. His elder son, Paul, was killed in New York in 1996 in a traffic accident, and his younger son, Nick drowned in Bali in 2003 after a volunteering stint in Nepal. 

Nick Simons had written letters home from Nepal about his experience in rural health posts, and was determined to become a physician so he could help the underprivileged in poorer parts of the world.

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Nick Simons with a friend in Nepal in 2003. He died soon after while swimming in Bali.

After Nick’s tragic death, Jim Simons and his economist wife Marilyn travelled to Nepal several times to set up the Nick Simons Institute (NSI) to back up government hospitals in rural areas with training, equipment and budgetary support.

Since it was established in 2006, NSI has invested more than $100 million in Nepal’s health sector and now supports 45 district hospitals and health facilities. Most of the institute’s work is behind-the-scenes and not visible to the public, like its help with training nurses and anaesthesiologists, maintaining biomedical equipment, and in retaining qualified medical staff in remote rural hospitals by topping up salaries.

Jim Simons once told Nepali Times: "Rural health care is not a new problem in Nepal, and there are lots of people addressing the issue. What makes NSI unique is that it will do this job better than it has ever been done with an emphasis on quality and training.”

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Marilyn and Jim Simons in Nepal in 2012. Photo: KUNDA DIXIT

Indeed, the Simons made several visits to Nepal in 2003 soon after their son died, talking to health experts to see where support would be most catalytic and meaningful. They decided to do this not by running their own hospitals, but by working with the government in developing sustainable solutions in rural healthcare and scaling it up.

"With the establishment of the Nick Simon's Institute in 2006, Jim was clearly a game changer for enhancement of rural health in Nepal.  Also what is unforgettable about Jim was his amazing sense of humor in telling a story, his sharp intellect, and how he did not suffer fools lightly," says Buddha Basnyat, a physician who is in the executive committee of NSI.

The Simons often said they would probably never have been involved in Nepal’s health sector had it not been for their son Nick, who had found fulfilment helping Nepalis and wanted to return to live and work here.

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Marilyn and Jim Simons in Nepal in 2023 with Patty Weisenfeld of Nick Simons Foundation. Photo: KUNDA DIXIT

Jim Simons went through three phases in his life: as a mathematician, an investor and a philanthropist. As a maths professor, he found solutions that are still used to solve problems in physics and astronomy.

He then set up Renaissance Technologies that used his talent in mathematics to analyse complex financial data and forecast global share markets. That is how he made billions, much of which he re-invested in improving STEM education in American schools, in exploring the universe, or trying to find the causes of autism.

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Health expert Aruna Uprety at a school algebra class in western Nepal.

After the death of his sons, Jim Simons sought solace in solving mathematical puzzles in his head. One morning at the leafy Summit Hotel in Kathmandu, the proof came to him in a flash of a puzzle that had bedevilled him for a long time. 

‘Jim was an exceptional leader who did transformative work in mathematics and developed a world-leading investment company,’ the Simons Foundation said in a statement announcing his death on Friday.

Jim Simons

Besides NSI, the Nick Simons Foundation was involved in other health-related activities in Nepal, including building the new maternity wing at Patan Hospital and supporting Nyaya Health Nepal (NHN) that runs Bayalpata Hospital in Achham District. 

Jim Simons once said: “Nick opened up a whole new world to us. We have met so many wonderful people who otherwise we never would have known. Nepal is a gift that Nick gave us.”

Kunda Dixit


Kunda Dixit is the former editor and publisher of Nepali Times. He is the author of 'Dateline Earth: Journalism As If the Planet Mattered' and 'A People War' trilogy of the Nepal conflict. He has a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and is Visiting Faculty at New York University (Abu Dhabi Campus).