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Archive for April, 2013

Thought Leadership at IIM Calcutta 2012-13

My Convocation Address, 6th April 2013
as Chairman, Board of Governors, IIM Calcutta

For the past few years I have taken the Convocation Address as an occasion to take a look at the contribution of our faculty to thought leadership in the field of management. I normally do this by using the week end before the convocation to read through the research papers published by our faculty that the year, picking a few to showcase at the Convocation. When I first started this practice there was a few dozen papers and my task was easy. Last year that number jumped to nearly a hundred. This year, I ensconced myself in Kotagiri a remote hamlet in the Nilgiri Mountains and opened my laptop and panicked!  My task this year was to read  66 research papers and chapters in journals and books, 68 papers in international conferences, 14 papers in national conferences and 29 Working Papers- adding up to more than 2000 pages in all!

So, if you find me a little bleary eyed, you must forgive me. As I staggered my way through this tremendous intellectual outpouring, I noticed several distinct patterns.

First, I could see that the big bet that we had placed four years ago that by expanding our doctoral programme we could step up our research output was starting to pay off. This year, there are six papers presented by our doctoral students in prestigious conferences in Venice in Italy, Beijing, Odense in Denmark, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Rome and Chicago.

Second, you can see that some of our faculty members are starting to address research questions that go beyond the Industrial Age and relate to the Information Age. Prof Ram Babu and Prof Uttam Sarkar, for instance, take a social network approach to study the interdependent structure of global stock markets. Prof Rahul Roy and team use social network analysis techniques to assess content quality in Wikipedia, Prof Megha Sharma on how to price Cloud Services and Prof Sumanta Basu on pricing Infrastructure-as-a-service offerings and  Divya Sharma, a doctoral student on a ranking algorithm for Online Social Network Search. These papers show that IIM Calcutta faculty are in the thick of the most exciting development of our era- the move to the Information Age.

IIMs are sometimes criticized for not spending enough time and effort in addressing the development problems of our country. Several research papers this year show that this view is not true. Prof Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and his co-workers ask the question, “Can Institutions be Reformed from Within?” and prove through their work that even high inertia organizations like the Rajasthan Police that can be improved by incremental administrative interventions. Then there are two studies by Biju Paul Abraham, Bhaskar Chakrabarti and co-workers which take a close look at the workings of the MNREGA scheme and provide some insights into what works and what doesn’t. Avantika took a look at human resource management in service delivery in healthcare organizations; Prof Somaprakash Bandopadhay has a paper on architecting a low cost peer-to-peer mobile phone network which can be deployed in disaster relief operations; Bhaskar Chakrabarty studies why there is a low level of participation by local farmers on decision-making regarding the allocation of a critical resource like water. All of these studies provide vital insights that will help improve the delivery of public services.

Working co-operatively on research projects with other academic institutions in India and abroad force-multiplies the creativity of both sides. I am happy to see many examples of this kind of co-operation this year. Prof Raghabendra Chattopadhay’s work on the Rajasthan Police that I referred to earlier was done in co-operation with scholars from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University; Somprakash Bandyopadhyay’s work on peer-to-peer networks for disaster relief was done with scholars from B. P. Poddar Institute of Management. There are many more such examples: Parthasarathi Dasgupta’ with scholars from Academy of Technology & APC College, West Bengal; Prof Peeyush Mehta with scholars from the Indian School of Mines, Prof Debashis Saha with Kalyani Government Engineering College, Rohit Varman with  Suffolk University &  University of Rhode, Somprakash Bandyopadhyay with Dept. of Economics, Lady Brabourne College, Balram Avittathur with the University of South Carolina, Ramendra Singh with IIM Ranchi and Debashis Saha with Jadavpur University, Neotia Institute of Technology Management,  and Prof Asim Pal with the Haldia Government College. We also have examples of faculty collaborating with business organizations to produce research papers: Sumanta Basu with HCL Technologies, Ashok Bannerjee with the Thought Arbitrage Research Institute are two examples. I am particularly glad to see our faculty work with other Indian institutions- we are a public institution and we have a duty to stimulate creative work in these institutions.

All of this is very exciting, no doubt, but what excites me the most is when we see work which questions current deeply held beliefs in management theory. It is only then that the frontiers of knowledge are pushed back. And we have many different examples of this type of work this year. Here are some examples.
Prof Amit Dhiman examines that staple of corporate life, the Annual Performance Appraisal to understand its underlying political dimensions. Prof Ritu Mehta examines the unstated assumption in this era of globalization- are Indian consumers that identical to consumers elsewhere in the world? Prof Rajiv Kumar examines what exactly goes into making that oft-used concept “tacit knowledge”. Prof Nimruji Jammulamadaka studies the SKS Microfinance episode and asks whether the classic Private Equity culture can work in contexts like microfinance. In another paper she takes a critical look at the world of NGOs. Prof Raminder Singh delves deep into the notion of “Jugad” and demonstrates that it is not only a way of ‘making do’ but also a way of survival for consumers at the bottom of the pyramid. Prof Rohit Varman asks whether the Marketing discipline, which is usually seen as operating in the technocratic realm, is also used to advance ideas and ideologies of many kinds.

For those who think that our faculty researchers are lone voices in the wilderness with scant attention being paid to it by policy makers we have the example of Prof Sudip Chaudhuri’s work. His book, The WTO and India’s Pharmaceuticals Industry, was extensively quoted in the Supreme Court’s historic judgement earlier this week on the Novartis cancer drug patent case. Sudip’s long standing work on the dynamics of pharma patents has no doubt shaped policy thinking on this matter at the highest levels in India. He is now turning his attention to the problems of Indian manufacturing and I have no doubt that his work there will shape policy thinking on that as well.

, finally, to give you a sense of the international reach of our thought leadership, here is a list of cities in the world where our faculty were invited to present research papers at conferences: Atlanta, Auckland, Bali, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Dubai, Florida, Hannover, Honolulu, Istanbul, Kyoto, Lausanne, Lisbon, Lyon, Melbourne, New York, Osaka, Paris, Pattaya, Phoenix, Porto- Portugal, Pretoria-South Africa, Queenstown- New Zealand, Rio de Janiero, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sussex, Umea-Sweden, Venice, Vitnius-Luthuania, Washington DC, and York, UK…all in the last 12 months!

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