Now, budding MBAs to get rural dose
MUMBAI: Catch an MBA undergrad in his best suit, spouting Wharton's wisdom with a Gandhi cap. The powers-that-be have just decreed that our management gurus of tomorrow could do with a strong dose of agrarian realities. 

So this year onwards, management undergrads will have to pack their bags and head for a rural project, a must-do if their business school is to get a state ranking. 

Till recently, management students in the state could pass off gardening as farming and blood donation as community activity. 

The neglect and disinterest was apparent, given that the state doesn't have an Amul milk revolution or an IT-driven rural marketing initiative like e-chaupal to boast of. 

But Maharashtra's directorate of technical education has now decided that the "educated manpower and natural resources" at its disposal need to be used in remote, undeveloped areas. "We need excellent managerial skills to exploit our strengths," says Dr N B Pasalkar, director of technical education of Maharashtra. 

He even sees it as a two-way learning process. "For students," Pasalkar says, "it's important to know the ground realities of our villages, which may be different than what the books teach". 

So his department has started rating B-schools and a good rural project forms an important criterion in the ratings. 

The move has been appreciated even in corporate circles, given the existing gaps in knowledge about the needs and desires of various segments of the rural population. 

"It makes pre-eminent sense to get first-hand experience in the village," says Kishore Chaukar, managing director of Tata Industries. 

A post-graduate from IIM (Ahmedabad), Chaukar has a fair bit of experience working in a rural set-up. He worked with Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation for 10 years with late Gandhian Manibhai Desai, who strove tirelessly for the betterment of rural India. 

Chaukar handled cattle upgrading programmes and water management schemes among many other projects. 

Stressing that management knowledge can be put to effective use in villages Chaukar says, "Students can learn how to make use of rural manpo-wer, their skills and capabilities and learn ways to improve quality of living in villages." 

"Take the example of Fabindia," avers IIT-IIM graduate Gaurav Deepak of investment banking firm Avendus Advisors. "An American importer identifies the diverse crafts and traditions of India and opens a successful retail chain in India." 

Deepak says working in a village would increase our understanding of the diversity of this country. "Lot of undergrads will be decision-makers at some point. And that's when their knowledge will count. If not anything it will make one humble and a better person," he adds. 

Pasalkar is acutely aware that though Maharashtra is home to the commercial capital of the country, the state hasn't been able to set too many examples in taking ventures or entrepreneurship to villages. 

In comparison, Madhya Pradesh is seeing humble farmers confidently marketing their soya produce (one lakh tonnes) without the presence of pesky middlemen due to a digital revolution called e-chaupal which started in 2000. 

This initiative by Indian Tobacco Corporation with the collaboration of ICICI is already benefiting over 3.5 million farmers. 

Gujarat's Amul or White Revolution does not require a lengthy introduction. The village milk producers' co-operative is part of national folklore—a voluntary association of milk producers in Anand who wish to market their milk collectively. 

While Pasalkar hopes that in the long run his decision could throw up a Kurien or John Bissell (Fabindia), there are some obvious difficulties. 

Managing partner of EMA Partners, a global executive research firm, warns that students would take it as a compulsory project that has to be got over with. Like in the case of doctors' rural internship. 

"These days we have dual working couples. Taking a career in village may not suit the other half who has a prime job in the city. Lack of job opportunities in town is the main reason for reluctance in moving out of the city." 

A start, however, has been made. A shirt-tie-dhoti combination will still make for an unusual B-school uniform.



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