Dr. L. S. Ganesh, Dean of Students, IIT Madras is a Professor in the Department of Management Studies, and is a widely sought speaker on the themes of Education, Technology, Entrepreneurship and Development. He coordinates the unique MS (Entrepreneurship) programme of the Institute and until recently was the Advisor of the Cell for Technology Innovation, Development and Entrepreneurship Support (C-TIDES). Many of his students consider him to be among their most inspiring teachers. He loves work, meditation, philosophy, music, and dreaming.
Dr. L. S. Ganesh tells Marie Banu how social entrepreneurship can be an effective way forward in changing the societal patterns in India.
IIT Madras has been instrumental in spreading the concept of social entrepreneurship through various lectures and introducing an elective on social entrepreneurship as well. About introducing the idea of for-profit social enterprise — how have the students responded to this? Do you observe any attitudinal changes?
We offer a minor stream consisting of three courses from the theme of Innovation and Social Enterprises with the idea of promoting, if possible, technology-centric social enterprises, in which technology plays a significant role for a social cause. That was the objective. Of course, we are also okay with business model based social enterprises and that is why we started the minor stream. There are no prejudices or biases in whatever I have seen among the students who are participating.
We now have the fourth batch of students, and I find the students appreciating the “hybrid spectrum” ranging from pure profit play on the one end to the fully donation based enterprises at the other. They focus ultimately on the effective transfer of value to the intended beneficiary.
Some of your students have pioneered social entrepreneurship projects. Can you share with us some successful projects?
Definitely! Thirumalai, a first batch student of the minor stream, took the course out of great passion and continues to work for the cause of rural communities since then. Although being a student of our MBA programme, he did not sit for placement. As he had already worked for a few years with a multinational company, he could dedicate his post-MBA career for a social cause, particularly focusing on ideas of value addition for the agricultural products produced by a rural community. They were simple folk, and at first could not relate to his idea. But, once they caught on, things have stabilized in the community. He has now moved on and is working with government agencies. He is formally associated with the social sector and is concerned with evaluation of the impact of social projects.
Shanmugam, who graduated with an MBA this year, has already set up a dairy centric social enterprise at the foothills of Yercaud near Salem.
We also have BTech+MTech dual degree students, who are working in the area of social entrepreneurship with a focus on the transportation sector. They have an interesting business model idea and have also invented some technologies for green energy transportation. They are in the very early stage of business and are trying to understand the business, technology and market by learning from people in the transportation industry.
Do you think Social Entrepreneurship is the way forward in changing the societal patterns in India?
It is definitely an effective way forward. The reason is that we are trying to provide value to a very large population and, most importantly, as we have been conversing, never take away the dignity from a challenged person. You may do a hundred things, but never take away dignity. This principle has been well entrenched in all our students and is a good way to go forward.
The minor stream is popular, and we do get a handful of students from other departments attending the class out of sheer passion and interest.
How do you think technology can be used in social projects?
There are many examples of the use of technology in social projects. One of the most recent is the ‘Avaz’ device invented by Ajith Narayanan, an alumnus of IIT Madras, which is to help certain physically challenged people to communicate. In fact, it was included among the Technology Review 35, an annual list of 35 top technologies, and was named “Innovator of the year 2011” by MIT. It is a remarkable recognition for a technology product that was conceived, developed, made, and sold in India.
There are many other such exampleswhere technology plays a significant role in social projects.
It has been said that management students should create value in markets, and build transformational organizations. Do you think this is true? How many of your students have been successful in this?
When a student graduates with an MBA degree, we should talk about entry level management positions. Obviously, expecting a fresh MBA graduate to transform an organization is a tall call and I think it is unrealistic. But, if the question is whether they are recognized for their contributions to their organization, I would say, yes, to a very large extent. Many of our MBA graduates have won company awards — Best Employee Award and Team Awards — consistently year after year. This is hard evidence that there is something good that is happening in terms of their work.
If people are rooted in these four themes/questions:
(a) Effectiveness – Am I accomplishing what I am supposed to?
(b) Efficiency – Am I using minimum resources while being effective;
(c) Excellence – Am I struggling and pushing my limits; and
(d) Ethics – Am I doing all these without violating any of the known and understood codes of ethics;
I am sure we will all witness large scale desirable transformations around us. Very often, we are challenged on all the above four.
There is a lot of pressure among students to perform well. How does IIT management help them to de-stress themselves?
There are a lot of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in which the students directly participate or are a part of the audience. In fact, yesterday we had an opera by a Norwegian troupe and our Central Lecture Theater was full. It was healthy entertainment and our students thoroughly enjoyed the programme, perhaps even without any idea of the language used in the lyrics.
We also have yoga and pranayama workshops. IIT campus has a fitness centre and offers one of the finest set of facilities in India for sports and games, both indoor and outdoor. We have a swimming pool, two squash courts and a number of basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts along with hockey and football fields and a stadium. Our campus also has the famous IIT-Chemplast cricket ground.
Students should make use of these facilities and grow healthy in body and mind. They should balance their time between academics and extra/co-curricular activities. We have many clubs — Astronomy club, Ham club, Auto sports club, Music club, Electronics club, and so on. It is possible for a student to lose himself in the kind of facilities we provide here. However, it seems that there is also a sizeable population stuck in social networking and computer gaming.
For aspiring IITians, what is your advice for their parents?
Studying in IIT is a blessing, as it is one of the fine institutions in our country. Historically, IITians have done well and the government has done well in promoting these institutions. The challenge is that we have only sixteen IITs to accommodate the 10,000 plus young men and women out of the 600,000 plus applicants who take the entrance exam after plus two.
One need not get obsessed with gaining admission into an IIT. There are very good institutes in our country which are good in economics, medicine, law, and social sciences. The simple lesson that I would like to share with parents is this: “please spur your children to be the best in what they do.” I agree that they do need constant guidance and encouragement.
It is difficult for teenagers to understand life, economic stability and family stability. It is very difficult for 16-year-olds to understand these unless they are soaked in some of their family’s affairs. This is the truth.
Parents should infuse the spirit of excellence in their children. If you are painter, be the best painter; If you are a carpenter, be the best; if you are a farmer, be the best; if you are a mechanic, be the best; in short, “be the best”. The point is that the world must have enough space to absorb excellence and must not tolerate mediocrity. We need to be a nation that is excellent and is reputed for the highest quality of thought, word and action.