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B-schools turn to villages for lessons in CSR

Corporate Social Responsibility, Higher Education

At the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (IIM-L), students pursuing the two-year master’s in business administration (MBA) programme will soon be reading up case studies about the Maoist rebellion and tribal displacement caused by large industrial projects.The business school (B-school) also plans to adopt a village so students can interact with its residents, learn about their problems and help solve them.

“While our students will teach the villagers, they will learn the challenges they face in solving real-life situations, from sanitation to the family budget,” says Sushil Kumar, an IIM-L professor.

Kumar is in charge of teaching a newly introduced subject to students called “society, governance and management”.

It’s one of the initiatives taken by top B-schools to coax students to move beyond the examination of capitalism and corporate profitability and think of concepts such as the common good and social equity, from the problems of urban slum-dwellers to those of displaced tribals.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become something of a buzz phrase as companies realize they need to be perceived as good citizens, rather than as pure money-making machines, especially following the economic crisis that led to the worldwide slump.

Shaking off the consequent bad rap that executives got has led to several initiatives, including a rethink by management schools, which are seeking to broaden the minds of those most likely to run such firms one day.

“We are devising case studies on these issues to make our students aware of realities in India,” says Kumar. “They need to be socially conscious and ethical apart from learning regular managerial acumen.”

Kumar says many IIM students tend to be from the affluent upper classes and need to get a reality check by learning how the vast majority of the poor live.

The move is in line with the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s emphasis in recent years on inclusive growth and the aam aadmi (common man) that will ensure the under-privileged reap a fair share of the benefits of India’s rapid economic growth.

B-schools have realized that a sustainable economy needs a moral component and corporate success needs acceptance from the people at large, says Narayanan Ramaswamy, executive director (education) at consulting firm KPMG.

At the Management Development Institute in Gurgaon, on Delhi’s outskirts, director B.S. Sahay says managers need to understand the social fabric of the country.

The institute has introduced a new subject called business ethics and will teach students CSR, he says.

The trend is a relatively recent one in the B-schools of India where the stress traditionally has been on corporate and management practices.

At the end of the last academic session, India had 1,940 management institutes, where a total of 179,561 students were enrolled.

At the top of the heap are the elite IIMs, of which there are nine, with four more to be added in the next two years. At least 240,000 aspirants sat for the common admission test for around 2,600 seats across the IIM system in each of the past two years.

IIM, Kozhikode director Debashis Chatterjee says his institute has administered an oath on values to the new batch of 330 students. The new batch has been counselled not to take up jobs with companies that neglect CSR.

Chatterjee says it is also trying to identify a few villages where students can do an internship with support from non-profit groups active there.

Inclusive education is the goal. Top management schools such as IIMs have a responsibility to promote a sustainable society and their students should be aware of issues such as social equity, climate change and their impact, apart from rural life, that other institutes tend to overlook, he says.

IIM, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), India’s most prestigious B-school, has been offering a “rural immersion” subject for the last two years, requiring groups of students to travel to the villages to learn about life there, says Abraham Koshy, chairman of IIM-A’s flagship postgraduate programme.

“The shift is from class to mass-based learning and we at IIM-A will give a lot of focus to it from now on. At a time when India is turning into a global economic power, management schools have to produce managers who can think of the aam aadmi,” Koshy says.

The Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business is working on issues pertinent to ordinary people, dean Ajit Rangnekar says. “From affordable housing to viable healthcare delivery mechanism, we will come out with solutions. We are now working with the Andhra (Pradesh) government on sick industries.”

At the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, the new batch has been told that managerial decisions in corporate boardrooms “should be able to help the housewife who battles inflation or the employee facing a job cut”, director P.T. Joseph says.

Prashant K. Nanda, Mint, August 16 2010


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