‘TISS is a movement’

Print edition : June 26, 2015

S. Ramadorai. Photo: VIVEK BENDRE

For S. Ramadorai, revered in industry circles for catapulting Tata Consultancy Services into the billion-dollar league, heading the Governing Board of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) was a natural choice. The TISS is much more than a mere institution, it is a movement, Ramadorai tells Frontline in a rare post-retirement interview. Heading the highest authority at the institute that shapes the path forward for Asia’s first graduate school of social work, to create innovative and inclusive pathways for nation building, Ramadorai says that there is much work to be done because “never before has the country felt a greater need for social scientists and social workers”.

What is your role as the chairman of the Governing Board of the TISS?

As the chairman of the Governing Board one must engage with the various campuses of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, engage with the governing board through the Director, and formulate a strategy with them to ensure that the institution achieves its set goal.... I have been here for the last couple of years. It’s a pleasure being part of this movement and seeing younger people graduate year after year.

Is there any particular reason why you chose to take up chairmanship at the TISS? You are guiding quite a few other organisations, apart from some business entities.

What impressed me most and excited me, whether it is the chairmanship of the TISS or the national skills development corporation which the Government of India requested me to take up, is that it is all for social impact. You have done your corporate life, you have been a part of that for 43 years, you have made money, given it back to shareholders and society. I look at the scale of opportunity and the impact it can create, and that’s what excites me.

You took TCS from a $400-million company to a $1-billion company. I am sure you have heard this in every single interview. What is a comparable vision that is possible in an institution like the TISS?

The comparable vision for this kind of institution [such as the TISS] is the inclusion dimension—social or financial or youth employment. You can measure the impact by what we do on the ground. We can set up a matrix for it to say that we have touched so many lives. Looking at the example the [Maharashtra] Governor gave [in his convocation address], that of a place going from rain surplus to rain deficient, and then social workers’ intervention making sure that water reaches everyone. This is measure impact made possible by people who pass out of this institution. The people who graduate will take up social work through corporates or through NGOs and be part of creating this impact.

Development through measurable action-oriented activities on the ground creates a multiplier effect in every single walk of life. The mindset is how do I engage, apply, measure, improve and create impact.

How do you converge your various roles at the many institutions?

The centre of what I do is the youth of this country. Whether it is the Skills Mission, the TISS, or whether it is technology, whether it is business, all of them converge to one single goal, namely addressing the needs of the youth. If we include everything as part of this, you are touching the lives of the youth and consequently their families.

The TISS, and even social sciences work in India, is not spoken in the same breath as the work being carried out at, say, an IIT or IIM or the IISc. Why is this so?

All of us are responsible for this. We have not said or realised that the liberal arts are as important as the other subjects of study. The realisation comes later, some of us realised this in the course of our corporate jobs. I think the nature of solving complex problems begins with a healthy mix of science, engineering and social sciences. We need to do a lot of advocacy. It’s the responsibility of all stakeholders, including NGOs, the government, institutions and students to take the advocacy part forward. Now, there is a realisation that social sciences are becoming aspirational.

What specifically should the TISS focus on in the coming years given the fact that a large number of issues and problems are staring at the country?

Every region where the TISS has a campus—be it Mumbai, Tuljapur, Hyderabad, Guwahati—has a unique characteristic. So we must bring that core competency into that part of the country. It does not mean that the competencies should be confined to that region alone. Second, all the campuses are connected so that the knowledge database is shared with everyone and the expertise is available across the country. I think in the future it will be a collaborative method of problem solving.

Mental health is a major problem for us [in India]. Public health is another major problem. If we don’t address prenatal care, the under-five children, then we cannot address skills or anything else. Education, vocational skills, all of this is connected together.

How can social work education contribute solutions to emerging social and health problems in India?

I think community participation, how we engage with the community, is a responsibility all of us carry with us. The impact you make, whether to create livelihood means or to solve a community problem through the expertise and knowledge each of us has, is what nation-building is all about. Inclusion of all kinds is what the TISS is trying to inculcate in its graduates. It’s social inclusion, financial inclusion and opportunity for all, so that nobody is left behind. That is the ultimate aim. This will go a long way in contributing to the solutions.

R.K. Radhakrishnan

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