The comment that our normally mild-mannered and scholarly prime minister was reported to have made in an interview with Science magazine, that “There are NGOs [non-governmental organisations], often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces…”, continued to ring in my head for several months. Was there more to NGOs than I had thought so far - at best, an independent third voice in India, bringing specialised expertise to areas such as health care and environment; at worst, idealists clamouring for a way the world ought to be rather than what it was?
I stayed in this stage of puzzlement for a few months till I encountered an article by Professor Nimruji Jammulamadaka of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, in The Critical Review, a scholarly journal devoted to politics and society. The article, “The Needs of the Needy or the Needs of the Donors?”, takes a close look at 5,000 NGOs operating in about a thousand mandals, or administrative divisions, in Andhra Pradesh and running close to 2,000 projects. The focus of her investigation was to establish what factors - or independent variables - explained the number of NGOs in each mandal. In other words, if some mandals had more NGOs than others, what factors explained this. Her first finding was that NGOs begot NGOs - that is, if a mandal already had NGOs operating in the area, there was a greater chance of more NGOs being formed there. Her second finding was that the more extensive the activities of Christian missions in a mandal, the greater the chance of finding other NGOs there. Her third finding was that the easier the availability of funding (mostly from international sources) for some mandals, the greater the chance of NGOs being founded there - the Naxal-prone areas of Andhra Pradesh, for example, do not attract much funding and, thus, have far fewer NGOs. All these findings lead Professor Jammulamadaka to the question in her title: do NGOs get created and sustained to cater to the needs of the needy, or do they exist to cater to the needs of their donors?
A marker of the Indian NGO world is the transnational links that these organisations have forged that offer them increased leverage and autonomy, thereby allowing them to enter into conflicts with governments. But this has its hazards as well, says William Fisher of Harvard in his article titled “Doing Good? The Politics and Antipolitics of NGO Practices” (Annual Review of Anthropology). By depending on this kind of international funding, constituencies become “customers” and members become “clients”. This process of co-option of NGOs by development agencies, he says, is by now so advanced that NGOs may be destined to become little more than the frontmen for such interests.
The classic definition of an NGO is that it is a non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group, driven by people who share a common interest, perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, and who bring citizens’ concerns to governments’ attention. In this sense, an NGO is merely an organisation form that “civil society” takes, a third voice, distinct from government and business, and includes a range of “intermediary institutions” - professional associations, religious groups and citizen advocacy organisations - that give voice to various sectors of society and, when done right, enrich public participation. But as someone pointed out, this could also include the Ku Klux Klan.
As I reflected on this insight, a sudden and more worrying thought struck me. Is it possible that these large numbers of NGOs (remember that Professor Jammulamadaka’s study had found 5,000 NGOs in just one state, Andhra Pradesh) act as a platform for what Leela Fernandes, professor of political science at Rutgers University, in her book, India’s New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reform, calls the “New Middle Class” - an increasingly assertive group that “began to engage in a form of backlash protest politics against a democratic political field that they perceived as having been captured by previously marginalised social groups”. This newly assertive group, she says, is largely made up of the English-educated urban professionals. Are NGOs in India, then, merely a voice for this group?
A Reader Comment by email
I read your article in the Business Standard “ The Third Voice “, and I think the findings from the papers you quoted are entirely not true or have been arrived at by insufficient research or what we say “ convenient research “. There are 1.2 million NGO’s in the country and only 30,000 of them receive foreign funds . The Prime Minister’s office had retracted the statement after his report was published in Science. The author or the journalist who interviewed the Prime Minister Mr Pallav Bagla had indicated that the PM had only stated it in the context of the nuclear plant at Kudankalam. However the agitation continues there and no foreign funds have been detected. The real issue is that civil society reflects and voices the problems of the people and many such activists have spent years in the rural areas with a vision to transform India. I for one, am an engineer from BITS pilani and have worked for 30 years in rural India for elderly who are neglected by their own children.
I am attached a soft copy of my book on civil society which will help you understand the good work being done in the sector across India even in Naxal areas. When we worked in Chandrapur, Maharashtra even the Naxals never touched us or harassed us. However media is not or never interested in writing on such work and will only cover the negative stories of civil society.
I hope you will write a piece more positive on the work being done by the sector . The bulk of the sector works with out foreign money ( 90 % of the NGO’s do not receive foreign funds or from mission organisations).
Best regards, Mathew
Mathew Cherian, Chief Executive, HelpAge India
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!
According to the scholars Martin Hilbert and Priscila López writing in the February 2011 issue of Science magazine, up until the year 2000, much of the world’s data was stored in “analog” formats and on paper ( reports, books, newspapers and magazines) and film (x-rays, photo negatives, movies, TV programmes). That year marked a turning point when the world switched to storing stuff in digital form on PC and server hard disks, memory cards and the internal storage of cameras, mobile phones and camcorders. Since this shift, they say, the amount of data captured and stored has increased exponentially.With this torrent of data, or Big Data, have come battles about who holds this Big Data, for what purpose and whose benefit.
The value of data is contextual. A nurse encountering a baby with high temperature will conclude that the baby is unwell and requires care; she is using data in a rules-based way. If the number of babies being brought in with elevated temperatures suddenly increases, hospital administrators may temporarily allocate more nurses to the paediatric department. This is a tactical use of data. At the Health policy level of state or country what is of value are broad patterns in data across hospitals or across years.
Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite of the Australian National University in Canberra, warn of an emerging era of “Information Feudalism”. They say that in Europe in the Dark Ages, the period after the fall of the Roman Empire, the established patterns of order and security broke down and small landholders unable to protect themselves against the attacks of brigands and barbaric tribes offered their land and services to more powerful neigbours who they thought would protect them. Land and liberty was thus swapped for physical security. Thus was feudalism born. Feudal lords gained enormous wealth and power and the social subordination and services of the majority, the peasant serfs. The Russian novel, “The Brothers Karamazov” dramatizes the power of these feudal lords. A peasant mother is forced to watch her young son being torn apart by a pack of hunting hounds because her boy had accidentally injured the paw of the master’s favourite hound.
Drahos and Braithwaite provocatively suggest that business people who are pushing for ever tighter copyright and patent laws through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) are the modern day equivalent of feudal lords. If in the medieval era power lay in the hands of those who controlled land, in our present era, the source of power lies in the control of information and data. They warn against the emergence of Information Feudalism because of the transfer of knowledge assets from the intellectual commons into the hands of media conglomerates and life sciences corporations rather than individual scientist and authors. This, they argue, has the effect of raising the level of “private monopolistic power to dangerous global heights, at a time when states, which have been weakened by the forces of globalization, have less capacity to protect their citizens from the consequence of the exercise of this power”. It was the loss of Rome’s capacity to protect its cizens that provided the conditions for the emergence of feudalism.
There is an inherent clash of interests between businesses push to make profits from data and citizens need to protect their privacy and the national need for security policy makers must balance these competing interests. They can do this by ensuring that the underlying legislation on copyright and patents reflect this need for balance and that there is an adequate investment in the information and communication infrastructure. Most of all ensure that there is an incentive for sharing data for the greater good.
There are constructive ways to use Big Data available with public agencies. New York City, for example, has made 350 data sets from 40 different public agencies under its control available to the public via application programming interfaces (APIs). Citizen programmers are using their imagination and free time to create free Apps that citizens can download onto their mobile phones and tablets. The “Water-on-the-Go” App, for example, helps users find the various locations in the New York City where clean tap water is available at a token cost for thirsty citizens. This free app supported a city government initiative to encourage citizens to drink water in preference to soft drinks (a typical can of which contains 150 calories, the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar) and reduce the use of plastic bottles. For examples of other imaginative apps that work off public data: http://nyc.gov/cityapps).
Why this maelstrom of protest against a piece of legislation that started out declaring loftily that its goal was “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation”?
For an answer to this you need to only glance at the armies assembled for and against it.
The supporters of the bill include all of Hollywood (studios, actors, directors, musicians and technicians), the American music and theatrical establishment and the largest American trade union body in America, the AFL-CIO, among others.
The opponents are the the Silicon Valley crowd- Google, Yahoo!, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, and, of course, Wikipedia besides the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch.
Each side has framed its position in civilizational terms: the Hollywood crowd say they are fighting “Piracy” and the Silicon Valley crowd say they are fighting for “Freedom of Expression.”
Mr Murdoch has thrown his weight behind this anti-piracy movement with his tweet- “Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them”. A second tweet criticized Obama for “throwing his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who oppose a pair of anti-piracy bills”.
I haven’t heard the word “piracy” thrown around so much since I as a thirteen year old buried my nose in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. a book populated with one-legged sailors with names like Back Dog with a parrot on his shoulder and mysterious oil-skin-wrapped maps with X’s marked on them that could lead to treasures buried in far-off tropical islands.
It was a master-stroke when music companies, in America first and then the world, pinned the word “piracy” on all that people did without their approval with music. What caused their ire was the appearance of the CD, the compact disk. Music companies watched in consternation as their revenues plummeted; young people were sharing copied CDs. Then the internet came along adding to the misery of the music companies.
The digital era brought on what can justifiably be called the golden age of piracy, a term that history books have hitherto reserved for the 17th century, a time when people like Blackbeard and Morgan the Pirate roamed the Caribbean, flying the skull and cross bones flag, pouncing on Spanish ships carrying gold from South America to Europe. The English authorities looked the other way until the attackers overstepped and started attacking British ships; the word “pirate” was invented to describe and prosecute them. From our vantage point of the early 21st century we would probably condemn not just the pirates but also the Spanish galleons- after all they were carrying gold and treasure that they had looted as colonialists from the South America.
We feel a similar ambivalence about the current imbroglio about media piracy.
The framers of the Stop Online Piracy bill have proposed things which will bring a gleam in the eyes of authoritarian regimes world-wide. They have, for instance, introduced the concept of a ‘‘U.S directed site” and defined it as “an Internet site or portion there of that is used to conduct business directed to residents of the United States”. So, off with the World Wide Web! Web sites will henceforth be seen to be “directed” at one or the other country and face liability in the country it faces. The original bill even required these servers to stop referring requests for infringing domains to their assigned IP addresses, which is the equivalent of telephone directory enquiry service not responding to requests about offending people’s numbers. Filtering of websites has now been introduced as a discussable topic.
The communication theorist and Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler has educated us that the internet has three layers. The bottom “physical” layer has the computers, and wires to carry messages, the middle “logical” layer has the computer code and the top “content” layer has the digital images, text, music and movies. Battles about who will control what layer have going on for some time but the battles about the physical and logical layers are conducted in technical conferences and have little mass media value. The current battle is about who will control the most visible and glamorous layer, the content layer.
He gestured at the podium where sat the minister, the minister of state, the secretary and additional secretary of the ministry of communications and information technology of the Government of India.
Even as I was trying to phrase my response briefly enough to be whispered back to him, the organisers called the meeting to order.
As the afternoon progressed and voices’ volume kept rising, I could not help but wish that the meeting was being held not at the Indian Habitat Centre in Delhi but in the Bengal Club on Russell Street in Kolkata. That venerable address was once the residence of Lord Babington Macaulay, who, as every Indian schoolchild knows, is the man who engineered English into being the language for India’s higher education system. What is slightly less known is that he is also the author of the Indian Penal Code, that vast compendium of dos and don’ts governing our unruly democracy — and which, among other things, threatens to fine or imprison whoever “sells or distributes, or imports or prints for sale or hire, or wilfully exhibits to public view, any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation, or figure”.
Macaulay finished his masterpiece by 1837 and, bored with things in Calcutta (now Kolkata) by then, returned to London. The East India Company officials, who were busy with other things, forgot all about Macaulay’s Indian Penal Code. Then the Indian “Mutiny” struck. After quelling the revolt by force, including shooting some of the mutineers from their cannon, the British found it necessary to legitimise their rule not merely through the East India Company’s ad hoc rules, but through an organised body of law. Someone dusted off Macaulay’s work and enacted it in 1860, three years after the Mutiny.
From then on, governments in India have used a clause (known in the legal trade as Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code) to curb various attempts to titillate the Indian mind. A favourite target was D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Glancing through the legal history of the early 20th century, I am struck by the fervour with which the British government clamped down on the book throughout its empire.
Independence from the British did not dampen this fervour. In 1962, Ranjit Udeshi, otherwise a law-abiding citizen, was convicted by the Additional Chief Presidency Magistrate in Bombay of the offence of selling Lady Chatterley’s Lover in his Happy Book Stall on Colaba Causeway, down the road from where I live in Mumbai. He was asked to choose between paying a fine of Rs 20 and a week’s imprisonment.
I was brought back from this reverie into the – by now – cacophonous meeting at the India Habitat Centre, by the protests of various Internet-related businesses that they lacked the expertise to take the call that Section 79 of the Information Technology Act requires: that if anyone objects to anything being done on their sites, the site owners have to decide whether to stop such action.
Here, again, I could not help but think how Section 79 is in fact preventing Internet site owners from the fate that befell poor Ranjit Udeshi of Happy Book Stall. By beginning with the words, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any law in time being in force…” the Section had, in one stroke, cancelled the application of Macaulay’s masterwork of 1837 to the Internet. Internet businesses, including cybercafes, now stand protected because Section 79 classifies them as “intermediaries” — not holding them responsible for what people view and upload.
A pony tailed moppet in a polka dot dress and matching hair ribbon starts out in 1966 on Bombay bus panels and for the next half century amuses us with its puns on current affairs. During a racing season it is “Thorough Bread”, during the Enron Electricity Board scandal it is a blacked out billboard with “Enr On? Or Off?” The sign off: Utterly Butterly Amul.
These and dozens of other ads fill the 330 colourful pages of Ad Katha,a sumptuous book just published through the energetic efforts of Bal Mundkur and Gerson Dacunha and written and produced by Anand Halve and Anita Sarkar. Leafing through this book is not just a trip through the golden age of Indian advertising but also an enquiry into how many of the cultural symbols that we now see as “Indian” came about. Bal Mundkur was the swashbuckling founder of Ulka Advertising, arguably the first financial and creatively successful Indian ad agency. Gerson Dacunha was the moving spirit for many years behind Lintas, the ad agency for Lever, that great training school for Indian marketing professionals.
The ads showcased in Ad Katha are markers of not just of an increasingly confident and creative advertising industry but of Indian society itself. The Cadbury Milk Chocolate TV ad marked the end of the sati-savitri portrayal of Indian women, the Amul billboards and bus panels a sign of the arrival of an irreverent Indian media where no issue or person is beyond a playful dig.
The 1970’s was a period when the dream of Nehruvian State-led industrial progress was starting to fade and dynamic Indian entrepreneurs were taking the stage. People like Kersey Katrak, Bal Mundkur, Sylvie Dacunha, Gerson Dacunha, and Frank Simoes were helping these entrepreneurs establish distinctive Indian voices for their clients. “A woman expresses herself in many languages, Vimal is one of them”, heralded the nascent Dhirubhai Ambani empire. “Livva little hot…sippa Gold Spot” established a soft drink mega franchise.
remember sitting in the Placement Office at IIM Calcutta in 1971 feeling miserable at the choices before me: a life in the steel industry in Jamshedpur and one supervising labour in a cigarette factory in Calcutta. Trusting my twenty-one-year-old’s instinct I looked away from these options, took a plane to Bombay and, in what was considered a revolutionary choice for an IIM grad in those days, chose to work in a Bombay advertising agency.
Ad Katha traces the origin of Indian media’s free spirit to Hicky’s Bengal Gazette of 1780. The eccentric James Hickey, says the book, made this pioneering newspaper, “the channel of personal invective” and no individual, including the Governor General’s wife was spared.
Among the many other gems in the book is this early 20th century ad for the Ford Motor car, which asks, “Why wait until after the Monsoon to buy a car” and assures us that “ Ford closed cars are built to withstand all kinds of weather conditions…the bodies are all-steel…in a few seconds the spacious windows can be quickly closed to keep out the rain…”
Advertising in India today, says Gerson Dacunha in an essay in Ad Katha, is a Rs 30,000 crore (US$ 6bn) industry which makes it three times the size of its sibling, Bollywood. It is this revenue that finances India’s newspapers, magazines, TV channels and internet sites and allows our noisy, quarrelsome and democratic system to function in defiance of powerful governments and even more powerful private vested interests.
The mysteries of Indian consumer behaviour are well captured in this story in the book ( I think this one comes from the autobiography of Prakash Tandon, the legendary head of Lever) of an early market researcher who, questionnaire in hand, asks an Indian housewife who no doubt had her head covered demurely by her sari,
“Madam, who does the shopping in your house?”
“Husband buys”, say the housewife barely meeting the market researcher’s eye.
“Even personal items for yourself?” asks the sceptical market researcher
“Husband buys”, murmurs the woman again. She then waits for a few moments and murmurs, “But I tell him what to buy?”
Then it found itself in the path of the transport network which carried saltpetre from Bihar to the Bengal coast and from there to Europe; demand for saltpetre had shot up in Europe as an essential ingredient in ammunition in the wars being fought there. Francois Bernier, the French physician and author of Travels in the Mughal Empire, an account of life in Aurangzeb’s court, notes that he was given a bill of exchange to be cashed in Kasimbazar which he visited, testifying to its role as a financial centre and where merchants from Gujarat, Lahore, Multan, Delhi, Agra and the Deccan settled there.
When the Maratha invasion of Bengal in the 1740’s disrupted some of these networks the Kasimbazar merchants enrolled themselves into another social network, that of the Dutch, English, French, Danish and Belgian merchants who had by then appeared on the horizon. This new network was global and spanned Europe, Africa and Asia. Kasimbazar became the hub through which saltpetre, sugar, rice, poppy and cotton cloth flowed.
Thus, the ‘small world’ of the Kasimbazar merchant was embedded within many different social networks: an Information Network that carried news about the impending arrival of ships and convoys and information about the reputation and credit worthiness of merchants, a Prestige Goods Network that dealt with luxury or prestige goods which could be transported over long distances because of their high value to weight ratio, a more local Bulk Goods Network which dealt with low value necessities like food and a Political Military Network which dealt with the business of making and breaking of alliances.
The story of Kasimbazar’s networks is one of many networks described in a remarkable book, Networks in the First Global Age 1400- 1800, edited by Rila Mukherjee and published by the Indian Council of Historical Research. It contains contributions from Indian, French, Iberian and American scholars and studies networks such as the one centred in the Portuguese city of Porto which linked the Asian and Atlantic networks, the one in Ladakh which linked South and Central Asian markets, the social networks of Milanese merchants in Castile and many others. Its central assumption is that to understand the flow of events of history you need to study the networks in operation and the nature of the connectivity in these networks. This is a dramatic departure from earlier historical methods which would have viewed, for example, events in in the ‘small world’ Kasimbazar, as deriving from its role as a small town in a larger empire, the Mughal or to view it as a participant in events in a period of history, the 17th and 18th centuries.
This use of the Network perspective is part of a larger movement that started out in France with the work of people such as Bruno Latour and Michael Callon and is now sweeping across many disciplines. Actor Network Theory, as it is called, holds that human beings are not to be given a privileged status in the world being analysed but are seen to be one of the actors along with other objects. In the Kasimbazar case, the commodities being traded there, its location on the Ganges, the artefacts in use such as Bills of Exchange, the transportation systems such as oxen and river boats all pushed and pulled against each other in shaping the Small World of Kasimbazar and its role in the larger networks that it was embedded in.
Thus, a plan to improve a mathematics textbook, for example, looked at from the perspective of the Actor Network theory would be different from conventional efforts. A maths textbook can be viewed as an object that is embedded in a Curriculum Development Network, made up of policy makers, teachers, maths experts; a Publishing Network made up of writers, editors, printing machines, ink; and a Distribution Network made up of schools, textbook committees and so on. Attempting to produce better math textbooks would necessarily involve tracing the way a maths textbook comes together by the incentives and priorities of each of these networks.
Our cup of joy is overflowing in this, the 50the year of our founding!
First, we show up as Number 1 in the All India Management Association survey of management schools for 2011. We have all through our 50 year history been in the Top 3 but it is especially sweet to be in the top spot in our 50th year. This reaffirmed our belief that concentrating on better pedagogy and better curriculum matter more than anything else for an educational and research institution like us.
We had the best placement record of all IIMs last year as judged by the starting salaries our students commanded. We don’t spend a lot of time aiming for this but nevertheless it is gratifying to get such an acknowledgement from important stakeholders like recruiters
Then, our faculty published more articles this year in international peer-reviewed management journals than all other management school in India. This proves to us that the decision we made three years ago to fund our own research has paid off.
Then we have commissioned a quarter-of-a-million square feet of new classroom and hostel space in our campus this year to ease the pressure of having nearly doubled our student intake in the last four years. You can see all these beautiful new building around you outside.
Finally, this past year, 10% of our revenue came from online education, a percentage higher than the Harvard or Stanford business schools. In the coming battle to deliver high quality higher education at an affordable cost, this is a very big step forward.
A second reason why our cup of joy is full: our state Chief Minister is with us today- welcome Madam. You have proved yet again that what Bengal thinks today, the rest of India thinks tomorrow. By focusing the national attention on the need to sensitively and justly deal with the great and millennial transition from agriculture to industry that our country is going through, you have helped refine our country’s approach to this issue. Madam, your predecessor, Bidhan Roy was the man who energized the Sarkar Committee which recommended the setting up of the IITs and IIMs in India. So, welcome to IIM Calcutta, Madam.
A warm welcome to our Governor, Mr Narayanan. You have dedicated your life to making our country a more secure place to live in. You have our heartfelt appreciation for this life work of yours , sir. Welcome to IIM Calcutta, Mr Narayanan.
Topping up our cup of joy is the visit today to IIM Calcutta of our beloved scholar-Prime Minister. Sir, we watch with admiration as you tackle the many complex issues that face our nation. We particularly admire your exhortation that we grow our GDP fast, and your insistence that we do it in a way that the benefits of growth include all Indians. We want you to know sir that at IIM Calcutta we have a large group of scholars from diverse fields such as Economics, Statistics, Sociology and Operations dedicated to research in just this: how to mathematically model the welfare impact of public policies.
We only wish we had a little more time with you today to show you some of that work. In any event, we want you to know sir that our appreciation of the dilemmas of inclusive growth is not merely emotional but intellectual as well.
Welcome to you sir, our scholar-Prime Minister!
The Jet Airways flight from Bombay to Delhi had hardly started taxiing for take-off when the attractive 40-something woman seated next to me, glancing at the stack of IIM reports on my lap, flashed a friendly smile at me and said,
“What do you feel about Jairam Ramesh’s statement that reputation of IIMs and IITs are not because of their faculty and research but because of their excellent students?”
I turned around to take a closer look at my co-passenger. She was trim and fresh-faced even at this unearthly hour and wearing what looked me like a Ritu Beri outfit.
“Isn’t such a public debate healthy?” I countered as I tried to figure out what kind of answer would make sense to her.
“I think such statements by Ministers bring down the image of institutions that we Indians are proud of,” she declared.
* * *
Reputations of higher educational institutions are a complicated thing to unravel. What makes these reputations, whether it is the research output of the faculty or whether it is the latter life success of its graduates or even the iconic style of its campus is something which truly deserves a debate. It is as esoteric a subject as figuring out what sets a company’s stock price: over the long run it has something to do with that company’s past profits and future prospects but it also seems to matter whether that industry is in fashion right then. Some academic researchers have even concluded that picking stocks to invest in by throwing darts at a board listing all the companies trading on the stock market and picking those that the dart sticks on is as good a way as doing rigorous analysis. That is to say, random chance, does as well as analytical rigor.
Something similar could be said about the rankings and reputations of Business Schools. The rankings that Indian and international magazines put out from time to time usually ascribe a weightage of about 20% to the ‘quality’ of research output. By far, the highest weightage across all such rankings, and often adding up to as much as 40% is for the salaries awarded to its graduating students. And since, in recent years, international Investment Banks and Management Consulting companies have offered the best salaries, those institutions that place their students in these sectors tend to get the best starting salaries and hence the best rankings in surveys.
Judging the research output of an IIM is an art form. The current method is to count the number of research papers published in international peer-reviewed journals which is somewhat like judging a person’s health by looking at his weight-to-height ratio. Too high a weight-to-height ratio probably means you need to exercise more or eat less, too low a ratio probably means you are neglecting your food. But for the vast majority of us who fall in the middle range, the ratio may not reveal much.
Most of the IIMs, at least the older and settled ones, neither publish too little nor do they dominate the international sweepstakes with their output. Most published papers in the world seem to be the result of the mandatory doctoral work of Ph.D. students. So, a sure way to increase the research output of the IIMs is to substantially increase the number of Ph.D.’s we produce across the IIM system. That should increase the research output dramatically.
But then, there is a raging debate in international academic research circles whether publishing in reputed international journals really amounts to anything.
Two academics, Julian Birkinshaw and Michael Mol, took a look at the fifty most influential ideas in management of the last 150 years, things like Just-in-Time inventory management, the Six Sigma quality system, and the Balanced Scorecard method and point out that all of these breakthrough ideas originated within real-life business settings not from within academia. The role of management academics in these innovations appear to be to merely document them and spread the word about them.
* * *
“Well, what do you think?” asked my attractive traveling companion, bringing me back to earth from my reverie.
“I think that the IIM faculty do a great job of picking the right students for the IIMs, they run the entrance exams and interview process strictly on merit and in a country where most things can be bought, an IIM seat cannot be bought, so the credit for even the student quality should go to the faculty. And do you know that 75% of the students come from families with family income less than Rs 70,000 a month.”
‘But still, should ministers say such things in public?” she asked
“I think such public debates are good”, I said, realizing immediately that I was repeating myself. “Are you worried about these issues because you are an alumnus of an IIM or perhaps a faculty member?’ I asked.
“No!” she said, drawing herself up in her seat. “My husband owns a business.”
“See!” I said triumphantly, “Jairam Ramesh’s statement has drawn even you into the debate about research at the IIMs and IITs. Is that not a good thing?”
She gave me a side-long look, checking whether I was pulling her leg, then opened the copy of Bombay Times and buried her head into it.