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Thursday, June 19, 2014

'Thank you, sir'

'sir, whatever I am, it is because of you'
'It's ok'
'sir, you taught me so many things, I have totally changed'
'if you have any problem, you can come back to us, we are all here to help you people'
'sir, I came to you to thank you as it is our last day'.
'ok, thats fine'

This conversation was between a student and a teacher on the last day of formal teaching. The student is going to appear in last semester exam after around 10 days. As the student entered the room, he saw few students sitting in the teacher's room, so he sought permission. 

'sir, can I come'
'yeah come, how are you'

As other students started leaving the room the conversation had started in the way mentioned earlier. This student who joined the university some 22 months back in the first semester of masters in commerce program, was a shy lad. He had problems dealing with friends, making presentations and many times was seen sitting alone. Though he had few friends but still he was not very open with them. He had recognised that he has some problem and he has to work on it to improve. And while he was taught organizational behaviour, he tried applying some of it in dealing with friends. 

One day, when he was in first semester, he went to his teacher and asked 'sir, can you help me', 'I am not able to mix with friends, I am not able to speak in public, I am not able to make new friends, in fact I find it difficult to interact', 'sir you tell stories, I like them, please help me deal with my problem'. This young boy had taken a step, many would think thousand times to take. The teacher started working with him. There were many sessions on many afternoons, when his friends would be going back to their respective houses, this boy would be busy listening to stories by teacher. The teacher would share his experiences. He would tell stories, some real, some fictional. For him he was a sample for experiments. Teacher's room was a lab, student's house was a lab.

As time kept passing by, the relationship between them became quite friendly. By this time, the student started sharing his personal life, about his parents, brothers, etc etc and about his friendships, neither he told the names, nor teacher was interested in. So without names many things got shared. The teacher was experimenting with very simple exercises, like asking him to give some time to himself, think, just think, who you are, what you are, why you are on this earth, what are you doing, why are you doing, what is your role to your parents, to your teachers, to your state, to your nation, to society at large, just keep thinking, give some 15-20 minutes time daily, to yourself. Then start writing what you think, keep writing. Then spend some time reading what you wrote, correct it.

Some time the student would write something on a shabby paper, and show it to him. He handed him over a diary and asked him, to keep writing what he feels and if he think he can share it, show it to him. The student wrote many stories, many time he wrote what he felt, what he just experienced, what was his reaction to events that he thought he should talk about. There were discussions on what he wrote.  Once the student told the teacher 'sir I have a presentation to make but I am feeling nervous, how to go about it'. The teacher told him prepare your presentation and read it in front of a mirror at home. 'When you read book, read aloud, if possible in front of a mirror'. Whether the student strictly followed it or not, he improved his presentation in the class. He came to the teacher and told 'sir my presentation went well.' It gave a satisfying smile to that teacher since his experiments were reaping fruit. His lab was able to register a patent.

After number of sessions, experiments, follow ups, during the period of around 20 months. Today he had come to the teacher to acknowledge his contribution in shaping his personality and for that teacher, what could be a better moment than this. As the student was leaving the room, he came closer to the teacher and touched his feet. It is quite unseen an experience in this part of the country. This acknowledgement by the student was an achievement of the teacher. Not many students acknowledge, yes not many teachers do as well.

Today I taught my Ph D students how apt Peter Drucker was in coining the term 'knowledge worker'. Drucker wrote in 1969 in 'The age of discontinuity' - 'knowledge workers cannot be satisfied with work that is only a livelihood.' The teacher was not doing teaching for livelihood but was playing his role as a teacher, trying to be best at that. We are all given different role to play, we need to play that role as perfect as possible.

'Thank you, sir', he said, as he left his teacher's room.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Five challenges the new regime faces for the growth of MSMEs in India

Few years back while I was reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, a thought kept penetrating my mind as to whether the transformations that were illustrated and explained really resulted in making the world flatter. There was a feel which was somehow hindering the entry of such belief that really the world is getting flatter, whether opening up of the economy has really helped India in appropriate distribution of wealth. Isn’t it a reality that big corporate houses and huge multinational corporations are killing small businesses and the opening up of the economy is in fact resulting in consolidation? This thought kept me busy for few months till I happen to read the views, comments and research papers by Harvard scholar, Pankaj Ghemawat and the world is flat began to sound more like an illusion, a fiction well defended and attributed to the success stories. I began to read comparative literature and kept an eye on the growth of Indian industries, especially small and medium sector and government policies related to this sector. This provided me a kind of learning, I cherish.

Small business or industry is the backbone of any economy, hence the government policy has to concentrate its energy to this sector in order to have equitable distribution of wealth and recognize their contribution in the larger macro-economic hemisphere. It does not require an in depth research to conclude that India has a big market for different kind of products and services. It has lured the world which has resulted in the entry of many multinational corporations to have their operations and respond to the needs of the market. So far as economic growth indicators are concerned India has been performing well which has boosted purchasing power of consumers. There is more money in circulation. In this background it is extremely important to encourage young aspiring entrepreneurs for initiating their ventures through providing them incentives and moral support. Almost all big companies started small. Small business (Micro, small & medium enterprises) sector which contributes to 8% of the GDP through around 45% of total manufacturing output has huge potential to explore and expand. India is at crossroad at this juncture as a new government is expected to occupy office in coming month. If the hope of industry is to be read, market emotions are looking quite bullish. Whoever occupies the office has to put efforts to positively respond to the market expectations. Some of the challenges are listed here.

First, the governments are mandated through Article 43 of the constitution of India to promote cottage industries on an individual or co-operative basis in rural areas. It is observed that the working enterprises operating in rural areas are increasing marginally as compared to the ones operating in urban areas. This is a positive trend and it is required to develop systems, practices and procedures to encourage rural entrepreneurship and provide them with appropriate infrastructural support. The operations of the middlemen have to be regulated so that the exploitation of entrepreneurs is avoided. A supporting platform at the lowest level of governance needs to be created so that the problems are resolved quickly. 

Second, the government has to provide entrepreneur friendly environment and reduce unnecessarily long procedures which restrain a budding entrepreneur to take up initiative. A culture of trust and entrepreneurship has to be developed among youth. Entrepreneurs have to believe that India is a land where they can develop enterprises of their choice and they get a strong feeling as to their belief in the future of their motherland. In order to be an achiever, first they have to be believer. And it is the responsibility of the government to assure them support through providing facilitating environment to make them believe in the power of their dream. 

Third, the availability of finance is being addressed through different government agencies and many schemes, though it is required to see that the approval, disbursement and use of finance is smooth without spoiling the culture of good business. The government has to initiate a mission towards developing networks of people to create and co-create products and services not only for domestic market but for the international market for which export enhancing economic policies have to be framed. 

Fourth, employment and employability are the key issues which the government has to take up seriously. It is not just the number of employed people which is important, rather for sustaining enterprises, the employability is more important. Skill development institutes have to be developed in all parts of the country to assure employability. This is also possible through involving industry houses in imparting training to the unemployed youth. There are many training institutes run by the government at national as well as regional level. Though the national level institutions have done well in imparting training and building networks, however, I have reasons to believe that the training institutions run in the name of MSME institute at district level are not performing their task to the cause. They merely operate as a government department and conduct regular formal training programs, which are more on the paper than effectively contributing towards building entrepreneurs or providing them required skills/training. I suggest that public private partnership in building the institutions of repute in different regions of the country needs to be explored and experimented. Developing relevant skills among the youth and relating it to the need of the market is a challenge which is required to be addressed at local level.

Fifth, the policy should not be just to expand industry and enterprise on concentric basis. It should lead towards equitable distribution of wealth. It should reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. A culture of co-existence and mutuality of small and big enterprises has to be developed in order to look into their interdependence, rather than big and mighty enterprises dominating over their small yet valuable counterparts. Necessary regulatory framework needs to be developed in this regard. 

These are just few challenges apart from many others which shall unfold as one gets into deep. In order to see that the world really gets flatter, the policy which leads to consolidation of business should be discouraged. Apart from having supportive policies it is equally important to have their effective implementation, consistent monitoring and periodic review.

India has produced many successful entrepreneurs in the past and many big business houses of today were initiated as small venture in yester decades or centuries by their forefathers. Their commitment to see India as a developed nation and to contribute to the growth story of India has proven through economic growth indicators that we have done well so far and can do really better in the times to follow. However the concern of devaluation of human values in business, the practices of seeking small favors to compromise the sanctity of nation, and to look at the enterprises with merely meeting selfish ends has somehow created misplaced notion towards entrepreneurs and enterprises. And that is the biggest challenge any government shall have to address if it really remains in power and want to enjoy respect in the eyes of the people of the country.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

What NER expects from the new government - for building capacity and competence

North Eastern Region (NER) of India has been on the back front so far as visible economic indicators are concerned. However it has huge potential to grow. There are several inherent limitations as well. But while these limitations pose challenge for growth, it becomes more important to concentrate on the potential that this region has and by focusing on this we can deal with the limitations in a better way. Having spent more than two decades in this region, having interacted with policy makers, stakeholders, members of the civil society, and read related literature, I would like to put forth my views as to the initiatives that the new government at the centre needs to take. These are required for capacity building and tapping the potential this region has.
  • Need for inclusion of some chapters related to the life, people, and places of the north eastern region in the primary and secondary standard syllabus (CBSE & ICSE) so that the students of all regions are aware of this region. This could reduce many problems that people from north east face when they go to other parts of the nation. It shall build a sense of attachment, belonging and responsibility among them.
  • Need for a Music University or similar institution for North East Region and preferably it should be based in Shillong as Shillong is the music capital of NE. There is huge talent, interest and drive in the youth for pursuing music as a career, however an institution of national repute is missing. Establishment of Music University or some such institution shall enthuse these young children to put their energy in positive ways and shall go a long way in portraying the music talent of this region to the world.
  • Need for Training Centres for different sports. The youth of this region are good in sports and given the opportunity they would really perform better in sports. In the absence of appropriate infrastructure and training centre/s they are not able to nurture their talent. I am sure if their energies are diverted towards this, much of the problems could be solved. 
  • Need for an institution to study Culture, Craft and Creativity for this region. This institution could ideally get involved in documenting rich cultural past, their practices and the lessons, nature of craft, innovations to develop the craft for market and to nurture creativity. 
  • There is huge scope of developing institutions in the area of agro-based industries. Some innovation centres could be initiated to channelise the fruit production and processing units.
  • Development of industrial network in this region through improving general infrastructure. 
I feel that if these suggestions are followed, the capacity and competence of the people of this region shall get enhanced they would be able to play more important role in nation building.