Anurag Behar

 Anurag Behar

Chief Sustainability Officer, Wipro Limited

He had earlier led Wipro Infrastructure Engineering to a remarkable growth trajectory - the business has grown from USD 30 million to over USD 300 million in four years. The precision engineering hydraulic components that this business makes are at the core of the infrastructure growth of India, finding application in large industrial plants, airports, ports, mines, material handling, forestry, construction and earth moving equipment. The business is also the leading player in its segment in Europe, with significant operations in Scandinavia.

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The conflict between social and commercial purpose defines the nature of the business. But is this dichotomy necessary?

Commenting on microfinance is the flavor of the season. I will resist that temptation, but I will talk about “social business and social entrepreneurs” (SBEs), broad labels with which microfinance has been associated. I have been intrigued by a human angle in SBEs.

Over the years, Muhammad Yunus has held on to his original notion of SBE. In his words: “Social business is a cause-driven business. In a social business, the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that point.” You can’t find fault with him; he has lived and built Grameen by that notion.

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We will have to make sustainable agriculture as big a global priority as countering terrorism or driving economic growth. Whether Thomas Malthus will have the last laugh will be known in around 50 years. For most of the past few decades, powered by the confidence of the Green Revolution, we have been laughing at the Malthusian paranoia of population growth outstripping food production. World population has grown from around three billion in 1960 to around 6.8 billion today. But food production has kept pace.

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In a nation of 1.3 million schools, mostly in places where electricity finds it difficult to reach, reform has to be locally owned.

Kanivekoppalu is a small village in the Pandavapura taluk of Karnataka’s Mandya district. To reach it, you have to turn off the Bangalore-Mysore highway around 10km from Mandya, and drive north-west for 19km more.

The daylight was fading when we reached this village of 1,475 people, and we went straight to our destination — the sole government school that, with six teachers for 142 students, has a better pupil-teacher ratio than the national average of 39, and even the 30 prescribed by the Right to Education Act.

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The fig leaf of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and a few other decent institutions is woefully insufficient to hide the state of India’s higher education. The crisis is perhaps worse than the one in our school system. We may not admit it, nor talk about it as much, but we know it.

It may be illustrative to look at the IITs themselves: Are they truly outstanding, or are they just mediocre? No Indian institution figures in any “top 100 universities of the world” list, not even the IITs. They (and the Indian Institute of Science) start appearing around the 150 mark.

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The Deepwater Horizon is off the headlines, even though it continues to spew huge amounts of oil into the sea every day. Estimates of this amount have only been rising. One such estimate is that Deepwater is leaking the equivalent of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill every four days. The Exxon Valdez incident occurred off the coast of Alaska in 1989, and Exxon spent over $3 billion to manage and compensate for it.

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Eklavya learnt archery by himself. He looked like he could become the greatest archer in the land. Then Drona took his right thumb.

Not much is known of the life of Eklavya after he gave his right thumb to Drona as “guru dakshina”. But I am confident, in most earthly and non-earthly terms he must have grown to be a successful man. He knew “how to learn” and had the tenacity to pursue his ideas. What else do you need?

Learning how to learn, is perhaps the essence of good education. Tautologically, good education is that which facilitates the growth of an individual’s ability to learn.

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As a schoolboy I spent many of my summer vacations in the searing heat of Sarangarh. In this small town (“kasba” describes it best) in Chhattisgarh, bordering Orissa, I saw multiple instances of the practice of “untouchability”. Not perhaps in its most heinous form, but visible and clear to a child’s eyes; for example, someone merely touching the water pot made the water immediately undrinkable, impure. This was the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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