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'Education is the biggest driver of economic growth'

Victor Menezes, ex-Sr. VC, Citigroup
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February 20, 2007

Victor Menezes, an IIT-trained engineer-turned banker who retired in 2005 as senior vice-chairman of Citigroup, last month donated $3 million to IIT Bombay Heritage Fund for building a world class convention centre.

Menezes, who graduated from IIT Bombay in 1970, laid the foundation stone for the convention centre on the IIT campus on January 29. The ceremony was attended by faculty and staff members as well as current students and alumni of IIT.

"I am happy to give back n a small way to my alma mater," Menezes, who is the co-chair of the IITBHF, said on the occasion. The Convention Centre will have a state-of-the art auditorium with a capacity of 300, a seminar hall, classrooms and meeting rooms, and ample space for foyers and informal meeting areas. The top two of the five floors in the centre will be occupied by the 'Manuel Menezes Centre - Civil Engineering Annex.'

In a brief interview with Senior Editor Suman Guha Mozumder in New York last week Menezes talked about IIT Bombay, his dreams about the institution and what prompted him to give back. Excerpts:

You made the decision about donating $3 million to IIT Bombay Heritage Fund last year. How did you reach the decision? Was it on impulse?

It was not impulsive at all. I was co-chairing the IIT Bombay Heritage Fund for many years and I was involved in terms of trying to raise funds. When the director described this project I thought I would get involved. I graduated from IIT Bombay in 1970. So, I had a lot of time to think about it.

How close is IIT Bombay to your heart?

Very close. I got a tremendously good education there. I keep saying that all of us got a priceless education virtually for free from IIT Bombay. I think it is important for us, the alumni, to give back to this institution that provided us this excellent education. And this year it is the golden jubilee year for IIT Bombay and so it is a great year to get involved.

How exactly this convention centre is going to help IIT Bombay?

It will have an auditorium, several halls, several classrooms and I think it will focused on discussions both within the institute and between industry and the institute. I think it will be a catalyst for developing several new ideas and a lot of innovation. There are not a lot of places in Bombay for things like this.

And I think if you provide a facility like this, it will be very useful. It is not just one department, it coves all departments, the whole institute, and it will cover people outside the institute as well.

I would expect it would be used for lectures by prominent professors and scientists and people from the industry to interact with the IIT. I feel very much it would act as a catalyst for the intellectual development of IIT.

There has been a view that while IIT Bombay, or for that matter IITs in general -- has been an excellent undergraduate teaching institution, it has not been that excellent when it comes to original research and innovation. As one of the most illustrious alumni of IIT, do you have any thoughts on this?

I think there is some very interesting work going on in terms of innovation. There is an innovation centre now in IIT Bombay. I think the trends are moving in that direction. But that could be accelerated.

In fact, my hope is that this convention centre will accelerate that process -- a combination of innovation and application to industry.

In today's globalised world, where research could be done anywhere, can IITs become like US institutions of higher learning where both research and teaching go hand in hand?

My belief is that is where we should go. The IITs have developed a reputation as premier undergraduate factories. Bu the reality is that the future is going to be determined by the quality of intellectual property it develops and the faculty and to get good faculty you need to have good facilities and you need good career opportunities and you need to focus on that as well.

I believe you are among few IIT Bombay alumnus who have given back to your...

I do not think so. I think a lot of people have given back to IIT Bombay. IIT Bombay has developed a very good alumni network and many prominent alumni have given a lot of money.

Any thoughts on how this giving back process could be facilitated?

Couple of things. One is that I think building the alumni network is very important. The IIT Bombay has created a global network of 32,000 alumni who they keep track on and communicate with. I that is very important.

I think it is important to keep track of the alumni and help them and encourage them. Look at what MIT and Stanford do. They get a huge amount of money from alumni and IIT alumni have done very well over the years and they have some money. The IIT should develop professional alumni relations. The IIT Bombay Heritage fund is the great place to reconnect in our golden jubilee year.

A few years ago, when you keynoting the annual Wharton India Conference, you talked about the importance of having a dream for young processionals. At the end of your most illustrious career, do you have any dream as far as Bombay IIT is concerned?

I think I would like to see it being positioned as the premier research and educational institution on global standards. The dream is how to take it there and make it really a globally competitive institute.

Can this model -- I mean what you and other Bombay IITans have been doing -- be replicated in other IITs?

Absolutely. I think there is a lot of interest in the IITs and I think the alumni are in a position to help. I think we should do that. I think certainly it would apply to the other IITs.

You have seen the best of both the worlds in the sense you have got your education in both India and the US and have spent decades in the US during your professional career. Do you have any thought on this talk about foreign investment in higher education, like universities? Do you think it is going to help the cause of education in India?

I do not know much about it. But I think the reality is that for the country to continue on this growth rate, we are going to need to continue to invest very significantly in education, both at the primary level and at the university level. And if there is capital available to do that, then I think we should encourage that.

Education is the single biggest driver of economic growth rate in my view. I think India has done very well, but the world is changing and I think to keep up with it, we have to invest a lot more in education and we should get the help from wherever we can.

Do IITians have any role to play in this?

Perhaps. I think our primary role should be to try to make sure that IITs continue to be globally competitive. And clearly if we can help in other areas, we should try and look at that.

If I can slightly digress from this. You talked about India's growth rate just now. There is a view that despite the talk of trickle-down effect of growth, there is another India where millions of people have been left completely untouched by this growth story. Do you have any view as to how to kind of reach people in this other India?

I do not think this is relevant to this discussion. But I am involved with the American India Foundation which does a lot of work in this area. You have to try and reach out to programs in education and livelihood and health.

AIF has been doing a great job, but can it do what is doing single-handedly or there is need for partnership with the government?

The problems are too big for the AIF to do anything single-handedly. So what we do is try to find innovative NGOs that we can work with in the areas that we focus on and we work with the government to try to come out with solutions. I think what we can do is to show best practices in this area that makes a difference in peoples' lives.

Lastly, you have made donations for worthy causes on many occasions earlier. Where does this philanthropic streak come from? Is it something that you got from your family?

I think philanthropy is a big word. I think it is best to give back to institutions and people that have made a difference in our lives.

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