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Colleges are using internships with NGOs to teach mgmt students about CSR

The idea is to give young adults a chance to both serve a community and learn from it.
Hindustan Times | By Vanessa Viegas
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2020 07:37 PM IST

When you imagine internships at the MBA or a Master’s level, the usual idea is of some big corporate office, with real-world targets and a team of suits to coordinate with. It’s a sanitized world, geared towards work experience and ultimately a recommendation letter to secure a pre-placement offer.

That’s just one half of the picture. Today, colleges are giving equal weightage to community service as part of the MBA learning experience. They’re stressing on internships at non-profit institutions. And they’re combining learning objectives with community service.

Symbiosis International University, Bhavan’s SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), Lovely Professional University, and the Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship (XIME) have all embedded community learning and social internships as part of their coursework. They allot around two to four credits each for the programme.

“We are focusing on the service-learning approach because ultimately whatever the students are learning has to apply to society,” says Vidya Yeravdekar, pro chancellor, Symbiosis International University “Post graduate education today it’s not just about imparting training of a particular subject but creating a wholesome individual.”

Community engagement:

For most students, these internships are the first brush with working with an non-governmental organisation. “The work done must be an extension of the specialisation the student is pursuing, only then can they make meaningful contributions,” says Yeravdekar. At Symbiosis, students go for their Social Responsibilty Projects (SPR) to an NGO of their choice for a period of one-month.

Over the past few years, she says, there have been more students entering the social service sector and taking up CSR initiatives within their organsiations. “Today it’s no more about just earning fat salaries, but about achieving more meaningful personal and professional goals.”

So colleges play a bigger role in sensitising students about the larger context of what India is about. “Social responsibility cannot be taught inside a classroom,” says Chandrika Parmar, associate professor at SPJIMR. “Learning about an issue and actually meeting people who have been affected by it are two different things.”

Arguably, the duration of these internships is too short a period to make impactful change, but the idea, most colleges say, is for students to learn to listen and empathise with all stakeholders of society. “Most NGOs have existed before our students go there and will continue to thrive after they leave; the point of the exercise is to enable students to think through different worlds, through different value frameworks.”

At the SPJIMR, the Development of Corporate Citizenship, or DoCC programme works as bridge between college and community. “It’s not just about giving to the community but also learning from it,” says Parmar.

Apoorv Lall, who’s pursuing an MBA in marketing at SPJIMR was sent for a one-month internship in December to a village 55kms off Jaipur to work with Gram Chetana Kendra. The non-profit focuses on child education and protection and women empowerment. His work involved helping women self-help groups draft a pricing model for their chilli, turmeric and coriander powder startup. He also had to draft a blueprint for a water bottling plant that the women can run, and help the NGO make its annual report. “My biggest learning was being able to understand their culture and lifestyle, seeing how caste divides our county and how water can be such a critical resource,” says Lall. “I will be joining Amazon at the end of my coursework, where the next frontier is reaching the smaller towns and villages. The internship helped prepare me for it.”

At XIME, the Socially Useful and Productive Activity (SUPA) programme is a part of the course syllabus for all PGDM courses. “This is an attempt to instill social sensitivity in the students and allow them to use their management skills for social upliftment,” says professor J Philip, founder and chairman of the institute.

At the Lovely Professional University, community service was initially a voluntary activity, but has been a regular course since 2015, after the college found the service helpful to the participating villages, NGOs and slums. Vishal Pandey, who’s pursing an MBA at the university, was required to come up with campaigns for breast-cancer awareness, cleanliness drives, road safety and hygiene for Nangal Majja village near the college campus in Punjab. “The internship lasted for about a month, but most of my classmates continue to engage with these villages until the end of their course,” says Pandey. “Our biggest learning has been to be able to work in an unstructured environment, to learn to convince people who think really differently from us and to be able to work with very little.”

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