Pranay Shah runs a management consulting practice -- Praxis International Consulting Services -- in Pune. It focusses on strategy, planning and venture capital.
He is B Tech graduate from IIT Bombay and has for 20 years in the United States in North Carolina with multinationals Sara Lee and United Health Care.
Pranay believes that with the turn of the millennium, we are in an interesting and challenging transformative time. We can all see the world as one now -- virtually and otherwise. And the challenge is to understand the responsibilities of freedom and build a strong value based world.
In an interview with rediff.com, Shah speaks about the Pan-IIT meet and the challenges that face India. Excerpts:
'Inspire, Involve and Transform India.' Can you dwell upon the significance of the theme for this year's Pan-IIT global conference?
I think this is an excellent theme and consistent with IIT thinking. All three elements are critical -- Inspiring, Involving and Transforming.
However, the nation-building agenda should be adopted as a process and not an event, and so we need a more permanent theme for the IIT alumni to rally around in the context of nation building. The current theme is a good idea for this, or one that also indicates a global improvement perspective as well.
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Maybe we should offer an interactive course to students, faculty and alumni on this subject.
It is critical that there be adequate follow up after the conference so that the effort is a process and not just this event.
How do IIT-ians plan to give back to their country and to transform it?
By applying themselves individually and together towards nation building initiatives in a systematic manner as they have done in many organisations. I believe that IIT-ians will take the longer term view and work with persistently, collaboratively and patiently.
A networked organisation will be build to sustain the theme and results -- much of this has been started by these Pan-IIT events.
IIT-ians are the pride of India. What do you think is the biggest contribution of IIT-ians to India?
IIT-ians share some common values -- even those from different IITs demonstrate these similarities. These are basically a down-to-earth approach, good work ethics and an application of our mind to problems and challenges by understanding the fundamentals ('fundas'). . . with a natural desire to help and give.
The greatest contributions made by IIT-ians are when they reflect these values. What IIT-ians can do is to continue to strengthen and model these values in all they do.
When you made it to IIT; what was that experience like?
Initially, the experience was a humbling one -- after having being viewed as a bright student in school, I realised all those at IIT were 'toppers' from their schools. Also, it was great to be with students from all parts of the country as well as from all income classes.
IIT helped us view all as human beings first. Then, lasting bonds were created via our experience in our engineering branches, hostels, from just being an IIT-ian. While the studies were challenging, the experience of the various other activities -- music, sports, card games, movies and visits to the city. It is this fuller experience and the common bonds that are memorable.
What are the challenges that India faces in the new millennium? How can IIT-ians help address these challenges?
The challenges India faces are first of creating a strong foundation of values to build on. While democracy provides a strong base -- focus on responsibilities and not just rights are critical. With the rapid growth in consumerism, being able to build these lasting values is important. With this is the issue of disparity.
So a key challenge is to pay attention to the lasting values of education and affordable healthcare for all, and at the same time to ensure that the rapid pace of growth is appropriately channeled.
India also need to respect and learn form others consciously -- and in a selective discerning manner.
IIT-ians have the ability to contribute because they want to make this a better India and world. That quiet passion along with their knowledge and experience will be applied in a thoughtful, systematic and caring manner.
What advice would you give today's IIT-ians who are tomorrow's entrepreneurs?
Again, first that values and ethics are an important base from which to build financial and other business results. Focus on innovating to improve the system -- not to beat it.
Also, understand that being an entrepreneur is to believe in an idea and be willing to risks to follow these strong beliefs.
An entrepreneur should also be willing to fail and try again. As entrepreneurs they should have a vision as well as a plan. I would encourage tomorrow's entrepreneurs to tap the network of IIT-ians and gain from their knowledge and experience to focus their efforts.
Budding entrepreneurs should learn from the examples of those who have build businesses and organisations by believing in themselves and their ideas. Today's IIT-ians also have a world view to operate with, and they need to understand how they can be part of a global economy and not just focus on India.
Many IIT-ians have preferred to go aboard rather than work in India. Do you think this trend is changing now? How can India retain its talented people?
First, those IIT-ians who have gone abroad contribute in many ways. Especially in a world where the globe is inter-connected, a virtual world as (if not more) relevant as the geographic one, the issue is more how can all IIT-ians wherever they are contribute to India and the world in a meaningful manner.
Tagore wrote of being awoken to a freedom "where the world is not fragmented by narrow domestic wall" - this is how we should think. The world in one interconnected system.
People will move to where they are valued for their work and who they are. As we build more of this in India -- we will retain more people.
Should India have more IITs? Why?
Yes -- there are probably less than 300,000 graduates of IIT at this time. An extremely small number in the context of a population of over 1 billion people. So we do need more IITs. . . however, that means more institutions that maintain the integrity of the admission process, and the high standards.
It is this that has helped develop IIT graduates develop and grow as positive leaders. Build the brand with thought and care -- not just the numbers. This will help create tremendous value as it has already.
In what ways have the earlier Pan IIT events helped? What projects has it worked on?
This is the first Pan-IIT event I will be participating in -- so I look forward to being a continuing part of this event. I want to thank all those who have selflessly dedicated themselves to building this virtual organisation, nurturing it and understanding the power we can harness towards the great goals of nation-building with a view to improving our world. This effort is truly reflective of IIT values and IIT-ians.
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