“We must build on the resources represented by our young professionals and by our nation’s farmers. Without their involvement, we cannot succeed. With their involvement we cannot fail.”
These are the great words of Dr. Verghese Kurien who founded the one-of-its-kind, Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). It was indeed a unique and an enriching rendezvous with Prof. Hitesh Bhatt, Director IRMA. Under his leadership and guidance since 2017, the Institute is reaching new heights and bridging the gap between urban and rural Indian professionals.
Prof. Bhatt is a B.Tech from IIT Delhi and completed his M.S from Georgia Tech, USA. He has around 18 years of corporate experience and more than 20 years of academic experience.
Our team spoke to him about his views on the potential of rural India and how IRMAns contribute towards it.
Team MBA Rendezvous : This is to quote the Milk Man of India, the great Dr. Verghese Kurien, “India’s place in the sun would come from the partnership between wisdom of its rural people and skill of its professionals.” How would you envisage the potential of Rural India?
Prof. Hitesh Bhatt :
I believe there is a lot of potential. We know that a majority of population lives in rural India in almost 600,000 villages. A lot of institutions need help. Unfortunately, we do not have enough people to man those institutions. IRMA’s mandate has been very clear since its inception in 1979 that we would like to develop individuals who would go and professionally manage such institutions. They could be cooperatives, FPOs i.e. Farmer Producer organizations, a corporate which looks at strategic sourcing from rural areas or could be a corporate that provides services to rural India, for e.g. Pidilite. A company like that provides products that help rural people with their livelihoods. IRMA makes it happen for these people by way of our processes.
Coming to the crux of the point you are making, the potential of India has to be unleashed through people living in rural India and not only urban India. That’s where the market is, that’s where the production centers are. And if we treat rural areas only as consumption centers and not production centers then we will have a serious problem at hand. In such a scenario Rural India will not transform into a really Developed India.
Team MBA Rendezvous : What is your perspective of MBA education for rural sector?
Prof. Hitesh Bhatt :
I feel very happy to say that of late some very good schools in the domain have come up, such as KIIT School of Rural Management, Bhubaneswar and Institute of Rural Management, Jaipur. It only tells us that what Dr. Kurien thought in 1979 has become a common word in the 90’s and 2000’s. Also, AICTE has recently started working with NCRI- National Cooperatives of Rural Institutions - where they are making it possible that all the universities which are granted by the Government of India to offer Bachelors and Masters Programme in Rural Studies. IRMA is likely to play the role of a nodal agency which will help its University departments to offer this Programme. So, instead of taking people with Bachelors or Masters in regular streams such as Arts or Commerce, they will do a B.RS and M.RS from these university departments and will immediately get a job placement which has got a value for them in the market and will transform the country. This is very important.
We keep hearing about the need for doubling the farmer’s income. This will not happen with increasing just the rural produce from farming sector per say. A lot of focus will be needed on the non-farming sector also and not many people are aware of this. People talk about reducing the stress of the farmers; it is not going to happen unless we are looking at other sectors which are going to support these people to come up in their lives. And I think IRMA and other institutions on similar lines are much better placed.
Dr. Kurien believed that a graduate from IRMA should not only talk about all the functional things like Finance, Accounting, Operations, Marketing and Economics, but he/she must also know about managing rural people and institutions. This is because we not only teach them in classrooms, but also send them outside to study at the ground level. Students are groomed, mentored and trained there at various component levels. When they come back to the class, they are able to share and discuss their collective learning with each other.
To answer you specifically, a typical MBA for the growth of India is partly going to help. But an MBA or its equivalent from IRMA will completely help. So my understanding is that if today, a student is at a crossroads but says that I want to help in building the nation, then IRMA is a better prospect than going to IIMs and that’s what we tell our students as well.
Team MBA Rendezvous : How does IRMA facilitate rural organizations and institutions to professionalize their management?
Prof. Hitesh Bhatt :
We do this is in more ways than one. Firstly, we make sure that our people who graduate from IRMA get placed in rural-based organizations such as Agha Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) or Seva Mandir in Udaipur. We are fortunate that such organizations give first preference to people from IRMA, for e.g. the CEO of AKRSP is an IRMAn and some other top members in Seva Mandir are also from IRMA. This is one way of doing it.
Secondly, we have our Management Development Programmes here, so that the in-service executives, who cannot come to the classrooms for longer duration of time, can come to us for very specific modules of training and we cater to them to meet their corporate demands related to rural India. These people come here for duration of 3 days to 3 weeks and they go back fully equipped from here.
Thirdly, we engage here in consulting and research projects. For e.g. an organization may tell us that they would like to have a particular project or research carried out by us. So our faculty and/or students will take up that research and a body of knowledge will be built up. In addition to this some corporate come to us for some project work, and not specifically research, where they want us to deal with a specific problem they may be facing, like, attrition. So, our faculty colleagues will go to their set up and do that project for them. These are some of the ways we engage with them and it’s working out very well.
Next, we also allow related organizations to sponsor their candidates for our 2 year flagship course i.e. Programme in Rural Management (PGDRM). They can sponsor a candidate and he can be here for 2 years and then go back. Suppose they say that they cannot send the candidate for 2 years but 1 year, we give them a Certificate Programme in Rural Management.
Also, we are starting an Executive Programme in Management [PGDMX(R)]. This is meant for working professionals with more than 5 years of work experience and want to go upwards or laterally after honing their skills with us. The PGDMX(R) starts from January 2019.
Lastly, we have a component called the Summer Internship Segment (SIS), where we allow our students to go to these organizations and let our students work with them for 2 months. This is how we do our bit.
Team MBA Rendezvous : How does IRMA create new rural management knowledge and theories?
Prof. Hitesh Bhatt :
I feel really proud to say this that IRMA has an intelligent and prospering mix of faculty members. Right now, we have 25 of them and the number is expected to grow to 32. They are a melting pot of knowledge and experience in terms of teaching, training, research and project work and consultation. They write and publish cases which are published in various reputed journals and because of this, the body of knowledge grows.
My faculty colleagues actively participate in various conferences and workshops that take place both in India and outside of it. They participate in such events and share and increase their knowledge. Majority of my faculty colleagues go overseas at least once a year to present papers or to learn from other institutes in the form of different exchange programmes. The fundamental difference between IRMA and any other college of our league is our sincerity and diligence. Profit-making is not our motive and hence we have to finance all our activities ourselves. We still prefer that our faculty colleagues spend a lot of time on research so the body of knowledge can enhance. This further ensures that our class interaction becomes even more richer and valuable to the students.
Although our fee structure has increased from Rs. 6 lakh to Rs. 11.5 lakh for the flagship two year programme in the last four years, it’s still much lesser than some of the other top colleges. Also, people say the ROI of IRMA is best in the country. And that is the value we are talking about. On one hand, we have students accepting job offers worth Rs. 46 LPA from big corporate setups and on the other hand we also have students who choose to work with grassroots-level organizations and accept offers worth Rs. 3.5 LPA. Our students are free to choose the kind of organizations they want to work for and they proudly and happily make both types of choices. Our Faculty members are paid at par with the Faculty of any other top B-School in India. We take care of our faculty colleagues and we share what we earn. Such an environment motivates our faculty to increase our knowledge base.
Team MBA Rendezvous : How IRMA Influences public policies for rural market?
Prof. Hitesh Bhatt :
We have members from the Ministry of Rural Development on our board and we are in touch with the contemporary issues on which the government is working on and this helps us in offering projects in related areas. Also, through conferences, workshops and publications, we put out our thoughts and ideas to the external World. And that’s how we do our bit in influencing the public policies for rural market.
Team MBA Rendezvous : As additional test why IRMASAT is conducted on issues of social concerns and is crucial for admission at IRMA?
Prof. Hitesh Bhatt :
Until last year, a candidate with any score above 80 percentile in CAT had to apply for IRMASAT examination and upon clearing the IRMASAT cutoff only, were they shortlisted and called to IRMA for interview and group discussion. Due to that, there were people with 97-98 percentile scores who were missing out on it, and we do value such people with high percentiles.
Starting this year, we will allow candidates with no less than 85 percentile to come down to IRMA. We will also be making profile-based calls. They will be called for GD/PI and will be asked to write the IRMASAT examination that very day. This will be an online exam and there will be 2 batches of 60 candidates each. The score of this exam will be calculated then and there. All the components – Written Exam Score, GD, PI & IRMASAT Score – will have a specific weightage. Apart from that we will take into consideration the career and academic profile and gender diversity. Then we will make the final list.
The idea behind this change is that we do not want to lose on to people from backgrounds like agriculture and people working in NGOs. We want to pick up as many diverse profiles as we can and put them through a common test and get the best for IRMA. We do not want to and will not dilute the mandate of Dr. Kurien. Our base will remain the same, but we will expand our reach.
Team MBA Rendezvous : From student's perspective, how IRMA offers blend of rural ethos & urban glamour?
Prof. Hitesh Bhatt :
That’s a very good question you have asked. We aim to offer our students best of both the worlds. If I talk about the urban glamour aspect, just this week our students were addressed by Mr. Girish Menon, CEO of ActionAid International UK, who is our alumnus. He talked about how to position an organization which depends solely on charity. He spent a lot of time explaining us how he changed ActionAid International UK from an organization which was perceived to be working in very general areas to an organization working only with women and girls.
We also had Dr. Nachiket Mor, Country Head and National Director of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with our alumna Ms. Bindu Ananth to deliver a workshop on how to use Physics knowledge and system dynamics in rural health services. This kind of exposure is what one can expect only at IRMA.
Coming to the rural ethos, Phoolbasan Bai Yadav will be coming and addressing our students at the upcoming TEDxIRMA event. She is from Chhattisgarh and a Padma Shri recipient. She has been working towards the transformation of 1500 villages and development of socially and economically backward women of Chhattisgarh. Dr. Abhay Bang who is a revolutionary doctor came for our last convocation and interacted with students and gave them a real picture of rural health practices in India. All this exposure we are giving our students with only one intention in mind – dissemination of knowledge.
Our students are given an equal exposure of both theory and practice. This is done by having 3 out of classroom segments sandwiched between 5 class segments.
IRMAns are purely driven by passion. I can proudly say that IRMAns are not only functionally sound, but also are well grounded professionals.
To Learn more from Professor Hitesh V. Bhatt, Visit Here
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