At 49 he quit his job to join an NGO. Now he runs an institute that offers an exclusive development studies programme
Let’s play a game of word association. Middle-class family, B Tech, MBA, settle abroad — what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you read these words? This is typically what most people in India do to attain a ‘comfortable’ life and a well-paying job. Ravi Sreedharan followed this path too and worked abroad in the corporate sector for more than two decades.
But ten years before leaving the corporate world, Ravi felt the itch to return to India and do some good for the rural areas in the field of education. At the age of 49, he decided to scratch that itch when he joined the Azim Premji Foundation, an NGO that works to improve primary education in the rural sector.
Yet Ravi felt that there was more that he could do. After gaining invaluable experience from the NGO, he left the foundation with the dream of making a difference in the social sector by addressing the shortage of leadership and management talent in the NGO space. That led him to venture into the development sector and Ravi, along with his team, set-up the Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), Delhi that offers an exclusive development studies programme.
With an aim to change leadership and management practices in the development sector, ISDM seeks to create professional leaders and managers for the social sector. Ravi notes that a business management degree might come in handy while running a company, but that alone will not work in the development sector, but a development management degree will create a whole ecosystem of management.
To run an NGO, one needs to understand the society and the forces that work in the society like gender, caste, and other issues that rural India faces. “Most people coming from the corporate sector wouldn’t understand these problems as they look at NGOs from a purely business point of view. But those well-versed in development studies can factor in all these forces. Coming from the corporate sector, my partners and I knew that we lacked the skills, so we had to work to build a huge collaborative effort to gain over 500 people interested in development management,” explains Ravi.
The moment Ravi and his team conceived the idea, the support they amassed was amazing. People realised that it was a requirement in today’s world. With massive monetary support from those around them, they were fortunate to raise enough money for the first three years, in just a couple of months. Bringing the youth into development management is critical, according to Ravi. “They recognise that the society is getting more complex and needs to be managed better,” he states.