Rural management degree-holders have never had it better. Here's what some alumni of the Institute of Rural Management, Anand, are up to:
Ajay Shastry had a 14-year stint with Olam International Ltd, Singapore, an international supply chain manager and processor of agricultural commodities and food ingredients. He was country head for Olam Indonesia Ltd before he quit to venture into the mining sector.
The Pune-based top executive-turned-entrepreneur is now a partner in Southern Africa Ferro Alloys Ltd (SAFAL) since 2010.
"We are putting up a ferro alloy plant in the southern Africa region," he says.
IRMA was a natural choice for this graduate in dairy technology who has tackling many a challenge in tough times. "I had the opportunity to build a business model from scratch - modelled on direct contract with over 50,000 farmers in a hyper-inflationary environment in Zimbabwe. I relished the challenge of successfully building the business from scratch in a difficult environment to a leadership position in the industry space within three years. Rural management education proved critical for me to understand and overcome the challenges."
He adds, "The rural/allied sectors allow one a lot of freedom to innovate and put your ideas to work. The feeling of ownership is immense. The diversity and richness in work is of a different order. There is no monotony in working in such sectors - every day is a new challenge."
According to him, rural management is the "most relevant" education for a country like India. "The size of agri-business (supply chain, agri inputs, seeds, agri equipment, the development sector and allied agro industries) is substantial, which is poorly understood in youngistan and hence poorly catered to." A career in rural management/agri-business/development sector is not only challenging and satisfying but the option also "provides a less cluttered professional space for a healthy career growth," he says.
Giving an identity
Rajiv Khandelwal is director of Aajeevika Bureau in Udaipur, which offers support services to unskilled labour and migrants. His non-governmental organisation's key services include photo identification cards issued to this group of people who can then use these to access banking services and for employment purposes.
"I've enjoyed the recurring challenge and the high change one can bring about in complex, often adverse, situations in which our rural communities are caught. My current work addresses a pressing contemporary issue of our country - viz rural to urban migration - and bringing solid solutions to resolve these keeps me on my toes and my mind buzzing," says Khandelwal.
And for young professionals, there are "immense opportunities" in the rural sector, particularly in the non-profit sector. "The non-profit world is going through a serious transformation with highly specialised organisations in the field of public health, education, employment, livelihood generation and financial services serving both rural and urban poor. A new genre of social enterprises has emerged that brings social good with business and technology sensibility. Young rural management professionals can begin from working at the cutting edge, implementation level for thousands of options (that) exist. It would be unfair to compare the rural, non-profit sector to career and money options in the corporate world - the two are different trajectories but the options of doing high impact, socially relevant work are now as wide as the options of working in the corporate world," says Khandelwal.
Seva and sustainability
Neelima Khetan has come a long way - from working at a Gandhi ashram in a tribal area to heading the corporate social responsibility section of Coca-Cola.
She has worked with Pradan (Professional Assistance for Development Action) and Seva Mandir, both NGOs, focusing mainly on issues of livelihood, education, women's empowerment etc.
Her present role as general manager, CSR and sustainability, Coca-Cola, involves looking at how the business can be socially sensitive, responsible and sustainable - for example, "how we use water, making efforts to replenish water."
Khetan says her biggest achievement is, "(I) have come to appreciate the value of grass root work, and have come to recognise the possibilities - as well as the limits - of modern management education in transforming society."
Work in such domains requires loads of patience, she says. A person who wishes to get into the rural development sector must, first of all, have patience. "And the other quality is respect for others. You should have the ability to listen to everybody and the ability to learn from everybody," she adds. You may not get too much money, but the work is really challenging and satisfying because of the complexity and scale of some of the problems you handle, such as malnutrition, education to all, and immunisation. "There's an opportunity for you to really make a difference," she says.
Shirish Sinha is using his training to share knowledge for improvements in agriculture, foundries and housing design. He is senior thematic advisor - climate change at SDC - Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Delhi. At this bilateral organisation, they design, develop and support programmes in the area of energy and climate change, sometimes in association with NGOs and sometimes with governments. Under one of the programmes, Sinha says, "we have helped develop or improvise technologies used in foundries and glass-making to make them more energy efficient. We also continue to work in central India, especially in Maharashtra, for resource-efficient best practices." Most of their programmes are being focused on capacity-building - to build a new cadre of climate scientists.
Talking about the career prospects, Sinha says, "For the next few decades, the rural economy would shape some of India's development...Future growth potential is in rural areas."
A different niche
After training at IRMA, you don't just get channelled into agriculture and allied sectors. You can carve a different niche for yourself as Padmaja Sreenivas did. She is an accredited achievement motivation trainer.
A graduate in economics from Delhi's Lady Shri Ram College, she considered the IRMA offering as an "MBA with something more, which the rural focus in the course would bring in."
"Apart from a good grounding in management thought and principles, what I came back with from IRMA was a more sensitive understanding of people, situations and circumstances different from my own. I feel the time spent in the rural stay segments of the course has given me the ability to empathise with others less fortunate," says Sreenivas, currently a partner in Delhi-based HR consultancy Potentia.
The economy could do with more people with such a background and outlook. "Over the last decade or so, the opportunities in the rural segment have multiplied. Today, we need more and more young people trained in rural management, who are aware of the production and consumption ecosystems of rural India. These managers can then make sure that the commercial relationship between companies and rural producers and consumers is fair, ethical and mutually beneficial. Without the right training and sensitivity, willy-nilly exploitative and insensitive business transactions will be entered into, which, in the long run, can only harm business interests, the economy and the country," says Sreenivas.