We can create our own Harvard: Indu Shahani
mumbai uncovered dna 11th Anniversary Special
Dr Indu Sahani, who HAS takEN up some brave new roles after 25 years at HR college, tells sohini das gupta it’s time our approach to education changed
You’ll be taking on three major roles as an educator. What’s the story behind the shift?
About three years ago, Radha Kapoor, the young Founder and Executive Director of Indian School of Design & Innovation (ISDI), told me she wanted to start a design school in India. I readily agreed. It was delightful to see Radha and my son Siddharth come out as successful co-founders of this uniquely modelled institute, where I serve as the President and Chairperson. Our idea was to not import yet another foreign education model, but to expand our own tremendous capa
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About my next role, in 2015, I met Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP, on a flight. He complained that at a time when he needed professionals for 63 of his companies, India, with its 1.3 billion population, wasn’t giving him any. What ensued was the idea of the ISDI-WPP School of Communication, where I’m set to act as the President and Chairperson. The school’s curriculum is drafted in consultation with WPP, so the extent of academia-industry interaction is incredible. This year-old institution can already boast of its Media and PR students being flighted by the industry to take on full-time placements after they pass out.
While I’ll continue to evolve and innovate in the mentioned capacities, the thrust would be on my new role as the Founder-Dean of the Indian School of Management and Entrepreneurship (ISME). During my time at HR, I’ve created managers, bankers, accountants, but not as many entrepreneurs. I believe the time is right for entrepreneurship, as the government is enthusiastic about start-ups and incubators. But what about the academics that need to structure this new exciting wave? I decided that we don’t need a Harvard to train us—we can create our own! Hence, I trained and updated myself in the area of entrepreneurship teaching after almost three decades of academic experience. I want to develop classrooms that defy the traditional concept of teachers as disseminators of knowledge and students as mere receptacles—where courses have no set curriculum and pre-reading of text ensures that the class time is utilized in discussing and debating market strategies, innovation and live cases. I have used the tried and
tested server of Mumbai University’s distance learning course to provide structure to these academic innovations, while securing the freedom to introduce innovations in pedagogy.
What do you mean by freedom to innovate?
Imagine yourself as a budding cricketer or tennis player enrolled into the course. Our system will tell you, “Go play all your matches, don’t worry about attendance. Instead, submit a paper on management lessons in sports”. Rather than inviting companies to campus, we house 109 leading corporates within the campus. I dream of students walking out of a classroom, into the elevator and into the perfect job.
Name one truly creative initiative by ISME
A young programme manager thought of applying the TGIF (Thank God its Friday) concept in class. Only now,TGIF can stand for ‘Thank God its Flipped’, a perfect acronym for ‘flipped classrooms’ where students educate teachers and peers about issues they’re conversant with. For example, I only knew the basics of BREXIT, my students taught me the rest.
You really believe in the power of the youth
Absolutely. Look at Radha, Siddharth and Rakhee (Kapoor Tandon), three co-founders under the age of 30. I couldn’t have done what I’m doing without these young minds that observed, emulated and walked the journey with me. Education is revolutionized when the young take charge.
What is the most significant lesson for a student, irrespective of their discipline?
To me, it’s the lesson of compassion and sensitivity. The DNA of our young demographics should be passion with compassion. We created many social entrepreneurs at HR, pushing students to secure funds for our peons’ medical insurance and their children’s education.
Indu Shahani is known as the favourite principal, the youth icon. What’s your secret?
I didn’t try for it. I knew I’d build things on the sole pillar of student empowerment. I have always believed that my students run my college, hence the board in front of my former office reflected an open door policy: “Faculty—knock; Students—push the door”. So that every morning when students jump out of bed, they are excited about coming to college. And you know what? They have never let me down. The young constantly inspire me. I would like to be remembered as the “Student’s Principal” in her signature saree.
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