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Is marriage between NGOs and b-schools working?

In an effort to inculcate 'social awareness' in MBA students, Indian b-schools have been sending them on mandatory or optional stints to Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs). SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), Mumbai, for instance, has a six-week compulsory stint while International Management Institute (IMI), Delhi has a three-week schedule in an NGO. School Of Inspired Leadership (SOIL), Gurgaon sends students to NGOs once a week for an entire year and Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), Mumbai has a similar schedule, but for six months. All b-schools say that these stints give their students a better understanding of the society, but not all NGOs agree.

Anshul Gupta, founder of Goonj, a pan-india NGO based out of Delhi, says that the student-NGO initiative has become like the mandatory National Service Scheme (NSS) program. “You do it either for the extra marks or if the institution forces you. Most students choose an NGO closest to their residence and not for its cause. Also, the institutions do not give them an orientation." Agrees Anuja Kishore, HR Executive, Teach For India, a Mumbai NGO focused on education for the under-privileged. “Students are not enlightened by the b-schools about the nature of their work. Hence they do not understand our needs." Both Anshu and Anuja add that students come with the mindset that they are going to revolutionize the NGO but not learn from it. “They think the social sector is bereft of talent. What they do not understand is, even we have professionals who have worked with us for years," says Anshu.

SK Mitra of the Jabala Trust, Kolkata, which works for the upliftment of the underprivileged and physically challenged says that students work for too short a time to make an impact. Their ideas tend to be theoretical. Highlighting the gap between the needs of the NGO and the ideas of the students, he gives an example of students from a b-school in eastern India. “While we wanted new areas for expansion, the students only suggested ways to improve our existing operations." On a similar note, Anuja recalls a batch of 40 students from a b-school in Mumbai, of which the project of only one student could be used. “It was a cultural document, highlighting different aspects of Indian culture for our overseas volunteers." The other area of failure that Anshu, Anuja and Mitra point out is reluctance to work in the field and very little or no follow-up from the b-school after the stint.

But not all NGOs have a problem. M Chandrashekar, the placement coordinator of Samarthanam Trust for the disabled, Bangalore, says that thanks to the students, he has access to talent that he could never afford to hire. Speaking about students from IIM Bangalore, he says, “We had many projects running in a haphazard manner. These students restructured them under six different verticals like education, health, et cetera. Our operations now are streamlined and efficient."

Likewise, Chandini Bedi, Head - Quality Management, Navjyoti Foundation, New Delhi singles out students from SPJIMR and SOIL as successful experiences. “Prior work experience of the students coupled with the strong institutional focus on the programme helps," she says recalling a business model for their self-help group developed by SPJIMR students. “Not only was the model very effective, but also the students consistently tracked its implementation." Nupur Dwiwedi, HR head, Deepalaya adds, “Three IMI students redid our HR rules and another student took care of the documentation for our ISO accreditation."

Both Mr Chandrashekaran and Nupur agree that it is up to the NGO to utilize these students well. To ensure only the right students come to their NGO, Nupur sends the requirements of the NGO well in advance to the institutions. Chandrashekaran deploys the students based on their profile and interest. They however, feel a three or six-week stint is too short for a student to understand the NGO. As a result their ideas are theoretical. “SOIL students are better. As they are with us for an entire year, their ideas are practical," Nupur says.

Working effectively with an NGO finally comes down to sincerity and enthusiasm, which is an individual trait, observes a student from a b-school in Eastern India and who runs an NGO. His b-school gives the option of a summer internship in an NGO instead of a corporate. He says, “NGO stints are generally taken up by students, who cannot secure a corporate internship, so draw your own inference!"
SPJIMR Mumbai, has moved the traditional summer corporate internship to autumn, in favour of a mandatory stint in an NGO. “Working with an NGO is sometimes futile. We can do little to address systemic failures in a short time," says one SPJIMR alumnus. All the SPJIMR alumni PaGaLGuY spoke to unanimously recommended the switching of summer and autumn internships, as a summer corporate internship would be advantageous, both in terms of roles offered and the final Pre-Placement Offers (PPOs).

Dr Parimal Merchant, Director, Center of Family Managed Business, SPJIMR, defends the concept of mandatory summer NGO internships. “We moved the corporate internship to autumn, so that students have one trimester of specialisation. This gives them an edge over other summer interns, who do not have that knowledge," he says. When told about the problems faced by the NGOs, Dr Merchant agrees that there is sometimes an expectation mismatch between the NGOs and the institution. “NGOs should know that we are going there as external consultants, not regular volunteers." As for the duration, he asserts a period of 6 weeks is enough for the students to understand and implement. “Any longer, we will begin to think like them," he says.. Dr Meena Galliara, Chairperson, Social Enterprise Cell, NMIMS Mumbai, says the stints have to be made compulsory as students do not have exposure to social work. “I will rate our NGO work between 6 and 7 on a scale of 10," she says.

IMI, Delhi limits NGO work only to its PGDM HR students. “Students of the other programmes cannot dedicate three weeks to this initiative," justifies Dr Richa Awashty, Co-ordinator for NGO work. Weekly interactions with the students during their NGO stint, constant feedback from the NGOs and presence of a member from the NGO during the final student presentation, are some of the steps IMI is taking to make the NGO stint a success. “We welcome students who want to work with the NGOs but only if they dedicate an entire month to this," she says.. SOIL's NGO stints are not only compulsory but also constitute a fourth of their curriculum, informs Kanupriya Sekhri, the course co-ordinator. “Flexibility in choosing their NGOs and a focus on 'social awareness' of the students during the admission process are factors for our success with the NGO program," says Kanupriya.

In a contrasting approach to these schools, Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI) School of Business and Human Resources, Jamshedpur has made NGO internships completely voluntary. Dr Madhukar Shukla, Professor, XLRI says “We invite NGOs for recruiting summer interns before the corporates come to our campus. The student has to sign out of the corporate internship process, to be eligible to work with an NGO." He believes this process ensures only the genuinely interested people work with the NGOs. IIM Bangalore, meanwhile treats the NGOs at par with corporates during the summer internship. “ NGOs make presentations, so that they can recruit students," says Sapna Agarwal, Head, Career Development Services, IIM Bangalore. She points out that the NGO stints are completely voluntary and it is the student's discretion to work with an NGO. In both schools however, less than 1 percent of the batch opt for NGOs. “I am sure it will increase in the coming years, " says an optimistic Dr Shukla.

As Dr Galliara says, social work as a profession has always been looked down upon by the society at large. Both b-schools and NGOs concede that it is very difficult to change this attitude. Making NGO stints voluntary, increasing their duration, giving students a proper orientation are some of the suggestions given by the NGOs to make this programme effective, and all of them stress the need for it to be successful.

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