One of the most effective ways to prepare students to be more responsible leaders is to give them opportunities to get engaged in activities in their communities. At Goa Institute of Management in India they have created a compulsory core course which provides students with the opportunity to get engaged with the local, less privileged communities.
I recently had the chance to speak with Prof. Ranjini Swamy, Prof. Amiya Sahu and Prof. Singhal from the GiveGoa coordination team at Goa Institute of Management about their initiative.
1. Briefly describe the GiveGoa initiative and why it was developed.
The purpose of the GiveGoa initiative is to promote social responsibility among the students of Goa Institute of Management (GIM) through service to less privileged communities, thereby contributing to the goal of an inclusive society. It was operationalised as a compulsory 4-credit course in the first year. The course had two components: a 3-credit experiential project and 1-credit classroom learning. The institute chose to make the course compulsory and assign credits for two reasons: (a) The goal of creating socially responsible managers required that all students be provided opportunities to be responsible; and (b) Unless the institute highlighted the importance of the course (through word and deed), students might not be motivated to expend the effort. This lack of motivation among students could adversely affect the institute’s reputation among stakeholders.
The impact of the initiative could be manifold: For the students, this was an opportunity to take responsibility for the welfare of others and thereby learn what it takes to be responsible citizens and managers. For the local community (disadvantaged sections), this was an opportunity to access resources and opportunities that were supposedly meant for them but often did not reach them. For GIM, this was an opportunity to collaborate with other institutions, set an example of socially responsible behavior for its students, and help inculcate responsible behavior among students.
2. How was this initiative executed?
We worked with client organisations, such as banks and NGOs, to provide students with projects that both addressed client concerns and also helped make a positive difference in the lives of disadvantaged sections. We developed and offered students about 50 projects at the beginning of the year. Student groups chose three projects they would prefer to work on. Projects were largely allotted based on their preferences. Each group was assigned a faculty guide and a mentor from the client organisation. Six member groups then worked over 20 days (spread over the academic year) on the project.
Progress was assessed through a variety of measures including transport records, weekly reports, presentations and reaction sheets. A student relations team (comprised of first year students) tracked student reactions on a weekly basis while a transport support team (similarly comprised of first year students) examined transport safety and punctuality. A faculty-led team reviewed the feedback from student teams every Saturday and responded to any problems detected. We sought to enhance objectivity in project evaluation by involving multiple stakeholders (the clients, faculty guides, students, and an independent panel of faculty) to evaluate different aspects of each project.
3. What challenges did you face?
Like all new initiatives, we had our share of challenges. An important challenge had to do with establishing our credibility among the stakeholders:
- Client organisations needed time to understand how our objectives could be aligned with their needs. Our desire for engaging the students in community action often conflicted with the client’s need to meet its short-term business objectives. What was to be given importance?
- The community was skeptical about what students could or would do for them, given their limited experience. Some community representatives even suspected the students’ motives.
- Faculty remained skeptical about how this tied in with management education and whether any significant contribution could be made in a short time frame.
- Finally, students believed this was a PR initiative to get mileage for the institute; that the intention to benefit society, if existent at all, was weak.
Another challenge had to do with balancing the expectations and values of different stakeholders. There was a need to balance the short-term, commercial interests with the longer-term interests of the clients and community. Dealing with these challenges required greater clarity in our minds about the purpose of the GiveGoa initiative and its relevance. It also required enhancing the involvement of stakeholders in developing, implementing, and evaluating projects. Importantly, it required extensive communication with the stakeholders in order to arrive at mutually beneficial projects.
4. What has the impact been of this initiative?
We asked our clients whether they would like to work with us again. Most of them have requested the continuation of these projects. Many large organisations have expressed interest in collaborating.
In a survey of students in mid-2012, more than 75% of the 132 respondents said they got a better insight into the circumstances of less privileged people. About 65% said they felt more concerned about the less privileged sections after the projects. About 55% said they would like to take up the concerns of the less privileged sections in the future. We are in the process of repeating this survey.
In 2013, students already appear to have become more aware of the circumstances of underprivileged people. They voluntarily initiated several activities such as the organisation of a flash-mob-cum-street-play as part of the international initiative called “One Billion Rising” to highlight the need for women’s empowerment.
5. What advice do you have for other schools thinking of doing something similar, and what’s next for the programme?
The true worth of education is the promotion of responsible behaviour towards all stakeholders. These behaviours cannot be inculcated exclusively through classroom instruction; practice and reflection are critical. Service learning projects can be a powerful instrument for inculcating responsible behaviour among many students, provided it is designed well.
We are in the process of setting up a Centre for Social Sensitivity to generate, disseminate, and use knowledge to benefit the disadvantaged others. We expect to achieve this through longer-term partnerships with our stakeholders. Adherence to the Principles of PRME would be essential to realise this.
The Centre would generate knowledge about the challenges facing disadvantaged sections in accessing essential services and about why these are occurring. Through workshops and seminars, the Centre would explore how the managerial challenges in providing these services could be better addressed. Over time, the Centre could develop training programmes to disseminate the knowledge gained and offer consulting services to share expertise.