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Lokvani Talks To Partha Ghosh

Ranjani Saigal


IIT Kharagpur Director and Distinguished Alumnus Partha S Ghosh (from Boston area), in the presence of Deans Stripathy & Baidurya Bhattacharya, President of IIT Foundation, Ranbir (Ron) Gupta, ED Erin Moran and other PAN IIT Alumni, announced setting up of Partha S Ghosh Leadership Academy at IIT Kharagpur with an initial seed grant of $1 million from Partha S Ghosh. This will be a unique unit in IIT Kharagpur that will foster leadership and champion causes on national and international impact. It is a first of its kind in the IIT system and will draw upon the deep experience not only of Partha S Ghosh but alumni and inspiring leaders worldwide. He talked to Lokvani about his motivation to establish this Leadership Academy.

What motivated you to establish the leadership institute at IITKGP?

Perhaps three fundamental drivers encouraged me to conceive this Leadership Academy/Institutue for the Nation and the World:
  1. Over the years being in the management consulting profession, -  first as a member/partner of McKinsey & Company and them my firm Partha S Ghosh & Associates, I have gotten lot of exposure to leadership issues both from micro-economic (business) and macro economic (government) perspectives, -  across more than two dozen nations. Increasingly it became clear to me that given the increasing complexities of geo economics and geo-politics, there is an emerging deficit of quality inspiring and compassionate leadership on our planet. In the capitalistic-era that we are now in, leaders have become too shot sighted and transactional in turn they are compromising with the longterm possibilities; so clearly there is a need to shape young minds who will be driven by a bigger purpose - to address what I call the 3E issues - Energy(Clean and renewable), Ecological(better harmony with nature) Equity(more equitable advance of civilization).

  2. Almost 30 years ago while I was a partner of McKinsey & Company, I have had the opportunity to design and develop a leadership program for the CEOs of Malaysian state owned enterprises which was sponsored by the Prime Minister Mahatir himself. My respected collegue Dr. Ken Ohmae who had a very good working relationship with the PM encouraged me to develop the program. Since then I have been a student of Leadership and perhaps organized more than five dozen workshops on Leadership around the world. Increasingly realized that Leadership is all about being a good student, being humble and taking full responsibility of a situation one is in; it is not about bossing, not about commanding and ordering, definitely not in believing that the boss is always right. The programs that I developed were increasingly being influenced by eastern philosophies in contrast to western constructs. Then when Prof. Charles Vest (Ex President of MIT) gave me the opportunity to covert some of my programs into short leadership course for MIT's IAP, I did bring together my observations, insights and thoughts into a Leadership model which fuses both Eastern and Western thoughts.

  3. India with more than 1.2 billion people, with philosophical richness from the past and many individual success stories around the world, still scores poorly in (i) Humans Development Index,(ii) GDP/Capita with widening gap between rich and poor) (iii) honesty index (iv) global economic presence (in terms of share of global exports) - clearly needs a new generation of problem solvers with leadership qualities that will enable them to come out of the current inertia of lack luster performance. India needs a place, a program which will help students and executives to immerse themselves in an environment which will provide the intellectual and spiritual ferment that will foster higher order thinking and living, in turn cultivate self confidence.
So I believe the "IIT system" provides the most appropriate platform, where I believe we could begin the leadership movement, - and being an alumni of KGP I thought we could prove- in the model at KGP, and then roll it out across the IITs.

IITs are considered the most impactful institutions of higher learning in India. What do you think has been the greatest impact of IITs?

I think we proved to the world that IITians are smart, competitive and can perform any where in the world. Perhaps have given to the world a picture that India could nurture world class skills in its centers of learning. But I do think our impact on our nation has been minimal. Have IITians changed the lives of the people in lower 80% of the nation? Possibly no. We need to develop the next era of IIT with the purpose to address grass root issues of the nation. We have to cultivate a problem solving culture and leadership instinct that will draw more IIT graduates to solve the problems of the nation - around  - access to clean water, access to low cost clean energy, social engineering models so that every village could become centers of economic excellence based its own culture and own language. "One global product from one village" should be the nation's moto and the IITians should be encouraged to make that happen, and perhaps should be embedded in the curriculum.

How should IITs morph themselves to train students to make use of the opportunities of the 21st century?

I believe IITs have to change along three vectors: (I) Cultivate more interest in original research so the best students will drawn to solve original problems of the world so the nation could command more patents, more Noble prize winners in turn a more compelling intellectual stature. (ii) Nurture in students genuine passion to solve complex problems - which are all staring at us in India, related to water, Sanitation, healthcare, literacy, low cost transportation and low cost energy. India need new economic and business models which are different from the west, and IITians should be able to give birth to new models that are India centric and then they should be taken to the world (iii) Stimulate more holistic thinking and systems engineering so that India could provide leadership to several cross border issues such as climate, global logistics, global inequality(?) and many others.

You are the founder of The Boston Pledge. Could you tell us about ‘this organization and the impact it has had so far?

As you know, since its inception in July 2001, The Boston Pledge (TBP) as an incubator of voluntary public service, is silently working on several different initiatives including (i)Entrepreneurship Development to facilitate bottom-up enterprising (ii) Annual conferences to raise consciousness of people on development issues (iii) Rural development (iv) Youth program to connect school students between privileged and underprivileged regions:


Entrepreneurship Spring Program(ESP) our flagship project launched in 2001, has helped people at the base of the pyramid write more than 1000 business plans of which about 15% are being mentored and nurtured towards becoming full fledged businesses. The process essentially entails organizing 3 to 5 hour workshopsfor the participants who are typically high school drop-outs and/or unemployed covering three distinct objectives including: Confidence building, Business skill building and business plan writing and development, covering about 6000 men and women. At the completion of workshops, they are encouraged to submit their business plans following the guidelines/formats provided during the workshops.


In parallel we launched the second initiative - annual conferences in the US on global issues related to equity, ecology and ethics to draw the attention of young professionals to raise their interest in public service. So far we have organized about 17 such conferences, each attended by 150 to 300 professionals


The third focused on Rural Development was launched in 2007 to help the development a small village (Lakhikantapur) 70 miles south of Kolkata to become model village in the Indian subcontinent. Over the past ten years TBP have contributed to development of a library and guide the overall socio-economic development of the village.  We are now building a rural Innovation Center in this village.


The fourth launched in 2017 is a product of the above  – TBP Youth program, which through a digital platform connect school students in developed regions with youth in rural areas in under developed regions. It is our hope this initiative will be able to raise substantive funds to make the digital platform fully operational there-by scale all the initiatives in a rapid fashion.

Impact of TBP thus far is naturally small, but what is important that we we stay the course. If we have 100,000 business plans written in the next 5 years and 20% get converted into real business at BOP we will good but satisfied.

You are a big proponent of the greatness of ancient Indian knowledge. Do you see any value in imparting that knowledge to the young students at IITs?

Absolutely. I have been very fortunate to be exposed to different dimensions of India's Vedic philosophy from a very early stage of my life. Though I may be familiar with 0.001 percent of the knowledge embedded in the Vedas and Updnaishads and Gita, but that knowledge itself I find is very powerful. In fact I want to see that leadership center find ways to impart knowledge from our past into the curriculum of the future. We need to do lot of work on this front, and will welcome the opportunity to discuss with you my thoughts on this in more details sometime soon.

What is your vision for India in 2040?

If India continues to move forward with current ways of thinking and working in place, we will be muddling along;  - in terms of per capita income, income inequality, negative trade balance,  we may not see significant change. The fractures in our socioeconomic fabric are too deep. Without fixing them it is difficult for any nation to truly rise.

On the other hand if we could make a few strategic moves, like major shift of resources to the rural sector with heavy injection of AI, biosciences,  so that people could think and  act in their own mother tongues to become world class personalities, India could indeed be a nation which the world could look up to. Of course I have five such strategic moves in mind which we could discuss sometime

Any special message for our readers?

I think we should all present India's intellectual and spiritual grace with more courage, humility and commitment to help the world/the US appreciate the real Indian values that developed on the foothills of Himalayas between the Arabian Sea and Bay of  Bengal and Indian Ocean through the ages. I believe that is the essential logic of India's promise for the world, which Viviekanada presented in the First parliament of Religions 125 years ago. We should stay the course and stay committed to economic uplifting all the people in the subcontinent of India.

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