Article (September-2017)


Building a higher education institute - The entrepreneurial way

Sanjay Padode

Designation : -   Secretary

Organization : -  IFIM Institutions, Bengaluru


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If life is the greatest teacher, what should our educational institutes be teaching? This question intrigued me for many years.

My early days
I started my career as an entrepreneur; post my engineering graduation, 28 years ago. When I joined my engineering college, there was a great sense of pride in me as I had lived up to my parent's expectation by enrolling into a premier engineering college of the country. I also felt relieved as the preceding two years had been stressful. It was just after my tenth boards that I discovered my passion for innovation and the only route available to nurture this passion was engineering education. The stress was caused by anxiety as I was an average student who had built an aspiration to study engineering with the best brains of the country. I thoroughly enjoyed my five years at BITS, Pilani as I could explore and discover my strengths and weaknesses whilst pursuing my quest for innovation. My faculty, seniors and peers taught me the ways of life, especially in dealing with people. However, as I moved from one year of course work to another, it became apparent to me that it would not be possible for me to continue innovating after graduation. The career options available at that time, were a job in a corporate or a public sector. The entrepreneurship ecosystem was non - existing and the only other dream that most of my peer were chasing was the "the American Dream".

Journey of entrepreneurship
The "American Dream" seemed like a better option as that had some hope for me to continue innovating. However, that was not meant to be, as something better happened. During my internship in the last term before graduation, I was lucky to meet my cofounder. His luck complemented mine and we met an interesting gentleman from State Bank of India who encouraged us to build a system for the bank and helped us in incorporating our entrepreneurial venture. Thus, began our tryst with entrepreneurship.

For the next 20 years, I was immersed in learning from life. Our ventures were not immune to the challenges faced by any business. There were good times and bad times. There were times when the social and family pressures forced one to question our choice of being an entrepreneur. The pleasure of learning and the reward of solving problems helped me continue my pursuit.

Finally, that journey ended with a reasonably sound financial reward and a lot of satisfaction as I was fortunate to have done what I always wanted to do.

Aspiration - the driving force
I had the fortune to work with a couple of thousand talented people during the 21 years of my entrepreneurial journey. However, I remember just about a handful that were as aspirational as me. The lack of aspiration in my colleagues made me curious and I began questioning and probing my colleagues and friends in parties and social gathering to find out the reason for subdued aspiration. I was disturbed by the fact that most people measured aspiration with wealth, power and worldly pleasures. For some time, I started to believe that perhaps aspirations can be quantified in material achievements and so I spend precious time in acquiring these material gains. Shortly, I realized that I was happier in continuing my quest for innovation as the material acquisitions only provided transient moments of happiness.

I soon realized that people spent a lot of time chasing outcomes instead of the experience. However in reality, we spend more time experiencing things in life and spend only a fraction of our life to bask in the glories of our outcome. Thus, it became very apparent that the right aspiration is the key for making life worth living.

What drives aspiration?
The realization that aspiration was the most important driving force, led me to think "What drives aspiration?" A good amount of introspection helped me realize that it was my upbringing that helped me realize my aspiration early in life. I was given the freedom to discover my passion and that my family and teachers played an important role in the same. I was fortunate to have teachers, parents and friends who always encouraged me to experiment with new ideas. A lot my ideas were stupid but I was still allowed to try and self - realize the value associated with them. Most of my ideas fell into the category of stupidity but some brought joy to others and provided me with a sense of achievement.  When I began to compare with others, I soon realized that the rest were always caught up chasing material outcomes such as marks, career and may be prizes. Thus, it became apparent that one can discover true aspiration through -
1. Experimentation without the fear of failing.
2. Appreciation of efforts made towards experimentation.
3. Learning from healthy criticism.
IFIM institutions and me
This realization soon transformed into a determination and I chose to innovate again but this time in education.
The best place to start was with the Post Graduate Management Program at IFIM Business School. The business school was autonomous and hence had the freedom to evolve its own curriculum. I began to conceive ideas that would evolve our present day rigid examination driven education system into a free and open environment which would encourage students to discover and pursue their passion rather than be forced to follow a predetermined path of learning.
The greatest challenge for bringing this change was the traditional mindset of the existing faculty. Thus, the change was executed organically and as the outcome of the change started to emerge the resistance started to deplete. Over the last six years, the inertia to change has been converted to momentum for change. IFIM Business School became the first to introduce a major in entrepreneurship. The faculty of the institution are now driving startups not only to satiate their quest for creating knowledge but also to enjoy the thrill of an entrepreneurial journey. We are the only business school in the country which offers a Bespoke Management Program wherein a student is free to create student's own learning pathway to align it with their individual aspirations and passion. The curriculum offered by the school provides a healthy blend of 40% practice and 60% theory in its course work. The practice courses allow the students to experiment with new ideas and/or apply their theoretical learnings to practice. The adaptation of this curriculum helped IFIM Business School establish its identity amongst the 3500+ business schools in the country enabling it to emerge amongst the top 30 in the country.
The success of this encouraged me to expand beyond a Post Graduate program to include under graduate programs in commerce, management, journalism and computer applications by setting up IFIM College. Since these under graduate programs did not offer us the autonomy to change the curriculum, we innovated again to work around the constraints and changed the pedagogy to enable and encourage an open and free environment of learning. The augmented curriculum and the innovation in pedagogy encouraged us further to impact the integrated curriculum for legal education and thus emerged the IFIM Law College.
The growth of IFIM Institutions would have been different if we had pursued the conventional way of building education institutions. Though filled with risks, our innovative ways and the courage to try "new" helped us attract world class faculty and staff who were keen to innovate and impact change in the system. This added to the momentum and I believe that what we are doing at IFIM today is challenging but very enjoyable. Also, the fact that we could attract and retain the best, automatically mitigated the risk associated with the change.
Entrepreneur is a true student of life
The ability to explore, challenge the conventional and come up with novel ideas with enormous perseverance and passion are the characteristic of an entrepreneur. Adversities and challenges are fuel for an entrepreneurial mind. The legacy education systems defy these tenets of entrepreneurship by forcing a student to learn from a container called the syllabus, thereby reducing the appetite of the student toexplore and be adventurous. In short, the legacy education constrains the students and prevents their natural learning from life. I believe education must facilitate learning just like entrepreneurship does. An education institution must be a sandbox which allows students to experiment, innovate and discover their passions whilst protecting them from fatal errors. This will allow life to continue its role as a teacher whilst the "teachers" could become the catalyst for enabling learning.