Why SPJIMR? A Different Take – Koustubh Laha

In 2013, an engineer with high-flying dreams graduated from BITS Pilani. With a perfect undergraduate life and a CGPA of 7.4, he was placed with Oracle Financial Services Software (OFSS) as a Senior Technical Associate during 3rd day of campus placements. He had also cracked IIM Kozhikode (IIMK), a premier B-School that provided a 2-year MBA course. The icing on the cake was a pre-placement offer (PPO) from a startup where he enjoyed working during a 6-month internship program that was christened Practice School-2 (PS-2) by BITS Pilani. Here he was, standing at the cross-road, wondering which path to take. You may note that there were three roads instead of two mentioned in Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’. Additionally, it was not a yellow wood but a harsh economy that had just started taking baby steps after the recession period of 2009-11. What did he do then?

The philosophy of ‘Practice as a means of teaching and learning’ or experiential learning is highly undermined in our education system. It starts from kindergarten right till undergraduate degree, sometimes even till your masters, where simple rote learning enables you to pass with flying colors. Is that success? It is often seen that companies, after recruitment of candidates, expend immense capital, both in terms of time and money, on training the selected candidates to connect the dots between classroom knowledge and applications in the real world. I had faced this problem myself, not as a candidate, but as an off-campus and an on-campus recruiter while I was working with the startup after graduation. Experiential learning seemed to be the onus of the recruiter. I was fortunate enough that I had realized the gap in knowledge as an undergraduate engineering student during my PS-2. Better late than never. And thus, the startup and not IIMK in 2013.

In 2015, when it was time to embark for my masters, I was looking for the same two words: experiential learning in every B-school brochure. Conventionally, almost every other B-school sent out its students for a two-month summer internship after the 1st year, without any training on their specialization subjects such as Finance, Marketing, Operations, and HR. Is this just a formality or was there a better way to do it? Can anyone innovate, break the conventions, and identify if there was a better way to join the dots?

While working in the startup, I was in close contact with a member of a non-profit organization that addressed the needs of the weaker section of the society, and in the process provided an opportunity for its members to enhance the knowledge and skills that assisted them in personal development. Economic theories such as ‘trickle-down effect’ closely relate to the pyramid we exist in. But, how much focus are we giving to the base of the pyramid or at the ground level? Are your actions in the real world socially relevant?

I would love to grab an opportunity to apply my knowledge and make a change in the lives of the weaker sections of the society. However, this opportunity rarely knocks on your door after you get into the corporate life. And if it does, you will just be faced with more dilemmas than a starting point. Thus, it needs to be a part of a period where you are dedicatedly investing time in developing yourself. We are spoilt brats in school. Sometimes it even continues till engineering. That leaves the masters as the only opportunity for this. The next big question: which B-school’s MBA program is socially relevant?

The answer to both are in S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), the name of a premier B-school I came across while I sat down to choose one. As per the website and the brochure, I realized that the two-year PGDM program is a complete innovation in masters of business management (MBA) education. You spend your entire 1st year as a mentor to a kid (aptly named a Sitara) residing in the bottom of the pyramid. Your goal: Bring about a visible change in your Sitara’s life and equip him with skills to rise up the pyramid. At the end of your first year, you undertake a Development of Corporate Citizenship (DOCC) project that lasts for 6 weeks. This tests your ability to apply the knowledge you gained in your 1st year to solve problems of NGOs operating in socially and economically disadvantaged sections of the society. No summer internships. SPJIMR breaks the convention by introducing autumn internships that take place during the second year when students have completed a majority of their specialization courses. For instance, a finance student goes into the industry for internship after completing major finance courses. Two ticks – experiential learning and socially relevant. This is exactly what I was looking for. What about you?

(Koustubh Laha is a PGDM 2015-17 student at SPJIMR, Mumbai specialising in Finance. Previously he was a senior associate at Hourglass Research.)