27 Jun 2019 19:33 IST

Rural internships turn SPJIMR students into sensitive managers

SPJIMR students with residents of a village in Warangal

The 4-week stints are transformative, making the interns empathetic to another side of society

Every year, for over two decades now, management students of the Mumbai-based SPJIMR troop off for an internship of four weeks in rural India with an NGO or the rural CSR arm of a corporate foundation. When students of other top B-schools are enjoying plum internships at the city offices of top corporates, SPJIMR-ers rough it out without the creature comforts they are used to, helping NGOs make their processes and systems more efficient and effective or drawing up marketing plans for rural craftsmen to sell their wares in the cities.

SPJIMR is among the top ten B-schools in the country, and its rural internships initiative had its genesis a couple of decades ago. The Centre for Development of Corporate Citizenship, established in 1994, was the vision of the late Dr ML Shrikant, erstwhile Dean of SPJIMR, who wanted management institutes to go beyond their basic purpose and make a definitive contribution to society. Ever since, each and every MBA student at SPJIMR, without exception, is required to undertake several weeks of social project work that will provide him/her an opportunity to be sensitised to rural issues, operate in an unstructured setting and realise the universality of the management discipline.

Solving different problems

Dr Nirja Mattoo, Chairperson, C-DoCC, says, “Dr Shrikant strongly believed that management students should have exposure to the under-privileged and learn how to work with them. It also makes them more sensitive as managers. While rural problems are unique, students can apply managerial learnings to solve these problems.”

As she explains, DoCC is an integral and mandatory component of management education at SPJIMR. Incorporated in the curriculum of the programme architecture in the first year of the PGDM (the two-year MBA), as a 2.5 credit course, and PGPM (one-year MBA) as a one credit course, students are exposed to an immersion programme in the rural areas and do their internship of social projects for four weeks and two weeks respectively with NGOs, corporate foundations and government agencies. Using the ‘learning by doing’ approach, the students get an opportunity to apply management skills and techniques to the unstructured environment in the development sector.

Celebrating Holi with children at an orphanage school in Warangal


Giving an example of the kind of work the students do, Dr Mattoo says it could range from how to scale up an NGO’s size and make it financially sustainable; or draw up marketing plans for women self-help groups’ products; or it could be financial, on how social sector organisations can invest their money or raise resources. “All the disciplines they learn at B-school, from finance to marketing and strategy, are put to use. It shows that management principles can be universally applied and not just in the corporate sector,” she adds.

Experience across sectors

Over the past 25 years, the DoCC has partnered with 700 organisations, sensitised 4,700 students and engaged in 3,477 social projects. While students have worked across 26 States in the country, they have also expanded into countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Colombia. Projects have been undertaken across sectors such as education and health to micro-finance, social entrepreneurship and the environment.

Mudit Gupta, an alumnus, says working in rural areas teaches one to sustain livelihood with limited and scarce resources. “The internship enables one to understand the issues faced by another side of society and to derive an approach to fix these problems. It provides an opportunity to pay back to society. Gupta, who had interned with an NGO in Kher Taluka of Pune district, says the experience helps him in his present job as project manager, particularly with the people management aspect. “It has helped me to look at a team member’s problems in a very effective way and that has resulted in efficient team-building.”

Corporates who have worked with SPJIMR interns believe they have made a difference. Rishi Pathania, Head, CSR, of fertiliser company UPL Ltd, says the students themselves have benefited in many ways. They become conscious and aware of rural realities; they get equipped to work in remote locations with limited resources and, third, develop empathy for people and society. “We have also seen some wonderful takeaways when students have developed solid practical skills, learnt to manage people and situations and have proposed some realistic ideas,” says Pathania.

For UPL’s CSR programme, the students are involved in two thematic areas: sustainable livelihood and national and local area needs. “The major outcome is that students have come out with a roadmap for concrete activities in projects for women entrepreneurs — a finger millet processing unit, skill development, and a school sanitation project, among others — which has helped us in better implementation of projects. Many of the ideas and suggestions that we get from CSR interns are included in our CSR action plan,” explains Pathania.

As SPJIMR students step into the corporate world, perhaps their sense of empathy for the underprivileged can make a difference to their work and lives.