Students Take a Role in Strengthening Local Communities – Great Lakes Institute of Management India

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 11.03.23Experiential learning provides a unique opportunity for students to engage in responsible leadership topics outside of the classroom. Students at the Great Lakes Institute of Management in India have a required experiential learning project called “Karma Yoga” where students work with a number of local villages adopted by the business school. I recently spoke with Arulsamy. S, the General Manager of the Karma Yoga Leadership Experiential Project, about the school’s approach and the impact the project has had.

What is Karma Yoga and how did it come about?

Dr. Bala V. Balachandran founded Great Lakes Institute of Management with the goal of providing world-class management education at an affordable cost, to the best and the brightest students from across our country. In the past 10 years, Great Lakes has become one of the top 10 business schools in India, respected not only for the education we give, but also for creating young managers and leaders of competence and character.

We have a mission towards our students to make them more responsible towards the society in committing themselves to inclusive growth and development. This is the foundation for creating the unique experiential leadership development cum social value creation programme called “Karma Yoga”. The Karma Yoga project provides a unique way for students to connect with on-the-ground realities and experientially learn transformational leadership.

Why is it important for the students at Great Lakes Institute of Management? What impact does it have on them?

The main objective of Karma Yoga is to connect the students with on-the-ground realities and experientially learn transformational leadership, with a mission to enhance the self-esteem and self-efficacy of the local communities to enable them to lead a better quality of life through this empowerment.

It is an opportunity to practice leadership roles that entail collective action, where the learner has some responsibility for outcomes that matters to others. The field experiences have greater developmental impact than others in shaping the students’ effectiveness as a leader. Through observing and analysing the conditions of the disadvantaged rural communities, they examine the ways in which such communities can gain power and improve their situation.

How does this Experiential Learning Project work in practice?

Ever since Great Lakes came to the present platinum-rated green campus at Manamai, we have embraced the community we exist in and have adopted the neighboring twenty villages that form our immediate community for the Karma Yoga programme. Over six hundred students have been serving for the social, economic, and cultural growth of the community through a variety of successful initiatives. The students visit these villages regularly on Sundays throughout the year. Initially they conduct the participatory rural appraisal to incorporate the knowledge and wisdom of the local people, before guiding them in to take up development initiatives.

The class is divided into teams and each team is assigned one village or a part of a village. The project involves each student visiting the assigned village and spending time to build a relationship with a group of people in the assigned village. The objective is to enhance their self-efficacy and self-esteem (i.e. empower them) and to bring about enduring change in their lives by addressing their real needs. Every village will have one student as Village Coordinator, one first-year student as Village Associate and one second-year student as Village Representative.

All students are required to take part in this project during their first term. In the second term the project is optional, but students can choose to continue working on their projects for at least 10 hours a month for additional credits. Those who complete this additional work will be awarded a separate certificate of holistic development upon graduation.

Students contribute blogs about their work and keep a website regularly updated with a summary of their activities in the different villages. They also submit a video about their work that is part of a Karma Yoga community video festival.

What are some of the projects that students are involved in?

Our students are engaged with different projects through participatory approaches and methods to make communities and individuals healthy, employable and enterprising. They are creating awareness on health, literacy, vocational skills and entrepreneurial abilities through teaching, training, health and sanitation camps, kitchen gardening, games & sports meets, environmental awareness campaigns and entrepreneurship workshops.

One group on a recent trip to their village did a clean up of the village temple area. They found the need for more dustbins and regular garbage collection, and are currently speaking with the local municipality to arrange this. Another team of students, who adopted a settlement known as Perumal cheery colony, conducted a health camp where more than 90 people got a health checkup. It is a poor neighborhood where there is no primary health care system and they cannot afford to pay for treatment at private hospitals. Our students also organised an eight-day workshop in a village known as Lingapuram, where they trained students in the basics of Microsoft office.

What have been some of the challenges? Successes? 

The major challenge is the time that the students have to plan and execute projects within the stipulated time. As sometimes the curriculum schedules clash with their timings of village visits, they find alternative timings on their own and reach out to the communities to plan and implement activities. The other major challenge is the language barrier, when they do not speak the vernacular of the local people, since the students come from all over India. We make sure that each village team will have one or more students who can speak the local language.

The major success of the Karma Yoga project is that it has brought positive change among communities through the leadership of the students. The students are trying to identify a new order with new voices and new leaders, propagating values of accountability, transparency, fair competition, social justice and economic empowerment among the communities. Each village visit strengthens the bonding relationship between the students and the communities, and creates an opportunity to experience the on-the-ground challenges and to find a way forward in helping those who are in need of a change.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

Schools should come forward to integrate such programmes as part of their curriculum with a focus on sustainable development. Development perspectives should be encouraged rather than charity based programmes. Students should be given a democratic space to observe, plan and execute programmes without any force from the school authorities. The spirit of voluntarism with commitment should be the guiding principle of socially responsible management education.

What is next for Karma Yoga?

The next level for Karma Yoga is to share the information with the rest of the business schools in India, and network among them to create a common platform to strengthen responsible management education.


To read Great Lakes Institute of Institute of Management’s first SIP report click here.



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