A ringside view of development

The New Indian Express

View News Link

With the aim of proving that women can make a successful foray into the field of technology, Runa Sarkar graduated as a chemical engineer from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani. “In those days, one understood very little about what a professional course is or what it meant. You just listened to people around you who kept glorifying engineering and medical professions and the career prospects they brought about. Despite a love for botany I stayed away from biology in higher secondary because of my fear of cockroaches and frogs,” shares the academician.

Sarkar, who offers an unconventional course on Green Manufacturing and Economics of Corporate Sustainability at Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta, chose to specialise in environmental engineering for her master’s degree. The transition from chemistry to sustainability has been unique for Sarkar, who provides a different perspective on development, the word often used as an excuse to execute mega projects. “Actually, now several institutions offer courses on sustainability. Nevertheless, I will be brash enough to say my courses are different, as they try and look at the problem of sustainability hands-on, and develop and disseminate tools as to how to address these issues in the context of a working manager in a firm. We usually take the policy environment as a given and see how best to develop firm strategies around it,” says Sarkar, who read for PhD at IIM-Calcutta.

Her experience as business manager at TATA KORF Engineering Services and assistant professor at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, enabled her to review environmental policies and development from both sides of the fence. “There is a need to engage, not only with a wider audience, but more importantly enhance the depth of engagement with existing stakeholders before the government zeroes in on a policy. Several policy measures have been proposed but are experiencing roadblocks. The government needs to address these issues,” says Sarkar, who believes that being open to learning is the cornerstone of academics. “The unexpected questions that fresh graduates raise led me to examine my assertions, cast doubts on my assumptions and forced me to rethink the problem on hand. The anecdotes shared by experienced students were added to my class examples and gave me leads for research and case studies. I do remember how, while teaching a course on the Economics of Business Policy, the students’ questions on recent events in the cement industry in India and their attempts to link it to the theoretical models that we were talking about led us to work on a paper on a framework to detect cement cartels, and also led us to the conclusion that large cement companies were indeed demonstrating cartel-like behaviour,” recalls Sarkar, chairperson of the one-year postgraduate programme for executives (PGPEX) at IIM-Calcutta.

The programme is targeted at executives with more than five years of work experience in a managerial capacity. Admissions are based on GMAT scores, academic background, professional experience, personal interview, statement of purpose, essays and two letters of recommendation. “In comparison to similar programmes initiated by other schools, our PGPEX course is unparalleled with respect to its academic rigour and personal focus. We have over 800 face-to-face academic contact hours as compared to others, which have a maximum of around 700 hours. Our class sizes have been kept small with a cap at 50 to ensure that each person receives individual attention,” shares Sarkar, who has introduced structural reforms in many courses she has been associated with. “My involvement in the PGPEX for Visionary Leadership in Manufacturing started when I was a faculty at IIT-Kanpur and continues till date. It is a one-year full-time residential programme with modules offered and evaluated by IIT-Kanpur, IIT-Madras and IIM-Calcutta. At IIM-Calcutta, I have initiated several changes to the PGPEX programme, including an overhaul of their international immersion module, where participants are immersed in different cultures and learn, hands-on, how to do business in a different country. This year, half of the PGPEX batch is going to UK and the other to Germany.”

Straddling academics and administration is not a cakewalk. However, it does provide a perspective on the roles played by different divisions of the academia. “Of course, taking up an administrative role in addition to my academic role as a teacher and researcher is a challenge. It has been a steep learning curve, as I have learnt to appreciate the other facets of an academic programme, which we take for granted when just delivering a lecture. Although there are days when I am exhausted and overwhelmed by responsibilities, most of the time it is a rewarding experience to be closely associated with so many lives, which is harder to achieve when you just teach,” she says.