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On 21st May, I attended this ASSOCHAM event on behalf of Skyline. The purpose of this event being convened was to discuss matters on how India can grow while constantly innovating and being inclusive in approach. Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was the chief guest and star attraction of the summit.

One thing about which I feel quite strongly about in this regard is to do with patents and Intellectual Property Rights. How these have been swept under the carpet for so long is baffling. Similar is the case of Geographic Indicators (GIs). We need to strongly implement the rules and norms regarding the same.

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With regards to IPR though there are several grey areas. A couple of decades back a European multinational pharmaceutical giant developed a fungicide based on the neem (Azadirachta indica)  tree which grows abundantly in India. They even got themselves a patent which issued which meant shockingly that Indians could also not use the neem tree’s products for usage unless buying from the particular MNC which had patented this. Of course, this case provoked massive fury as neem is an integral part of Indian culture and traditional medicinal practices. The case dragged on for long before finally the patent was revoked. Post this case there was the trend of group IPRs, where an entire group would be given patent rights for helping discover a certain medicinal herb. Thus another European MNC worked closely with the Kani tribe in Kerala state and when a particular drug was developed, the entire tribe in the area was given the patent. This seemed very good on paper as apparently local people had been credited for uncovering age old secrets and this would lead to development at grassroots level. However, this case too took an unexpected turn. Tribals in other states of India who had been using the same herb and knew its medicinal properties demanded that they too must be compensated. And various other such claims came by. Thus even with the best of intentions, IPRs especially on the biological side pose major grey areas which need to be solved by stakeholders and policy makers together.

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The case of GIs is even more complicated. The best comparison would be with the concept of terroir in France to do with wines. In France it is believed that a particular grape can only grow best at a particular terroir which includes the soil, the climatic conditions and even the micro-organisms present in the soil. This gives the grape a unique taste. Thus the Cabernet Sauvignon dark grape variety is intrinsically connected to the Bordeaux region while the Chardonnay white grape variety is linked to the Burgundy region. In India we ought to classify regions with products more strongly. A lot of ordinary fare gets sold in the market as Darjeeling tea or basmati rice. In fact I have spoken to farmers and wholesalers who routinely say that the Himsagar variety of organic mango grown in Murshidabad district of West Bengal cannot be replicated elsewhere. Thus we have not developed the romance for products related to their geographies the way Europeans have. One fear could be that the local product will get unnecessarily expensive. While this is a genuine reason to worry, GI will also enable protection to producers of endemic local varieties.     

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 Thus we see that not only with manufactured products but also with agricultural produce, innovation has to be protected. Whether in the form of granting patents, IPRs or GI protection, somehow local innovation cannot be stifled. 

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On 20th May, I attended this AIMA interactive session on happiness. This I attended on behalf of Skyline. The primary speaker of this event was Dr. Rekha Shetty who flew down from Chennai for this session in particular. The session was particularly relevant as stress levels have reached all-time highs in our society leading to reduced happiness levels.

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This event reminds me of the famous action taken up by the monarchy of the tiny country of Bhutan some years ago. The monarch had seen first-hand western civilization and knew the allures of the same. So he took on a different approach altogether by declaring that the Bhutanese people will not ‘fall for that trap’. Thus instead of measuring Bhutan’s worth in terms of GDP, he encouraged the development of an index to measure happiness. In this index, Bhutan finished right on top, even though materially the people were not so well off. This example clearly illustrates the fact that modern materialistic pleasures only tend to heighten anxiety & tension and do not have proportionate linkage to happiness.

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However, in the Indian and the broader Asian case if we see, a lot of stress professionals undertake is not for themselves but for others they care for. In the west, a 20 year old is expected to fend for himself / herself, but in Asia the family takes care of children’s education and they all live together under the same roof for much longer time. In turn the children when they group up have the responsibility of caring for their aged parents as well as their own families. Women in Asia, though the trends are changing, are often expected to work on household chores rather than in offices / factories. This creates further financial pressures on the male earning members. Thus they take up jobs where they can earn as much as possible, even if the stress levels tend to increase. In such an environment, it is not easy for the earning members to take care of work- life balance and work towards their own happiness. The urge to earn more money is not for their own material pleasures, but indeed for the extended family.

The lack of happiness and increased stress have also impacted on several other health issues that have cropped up. It has been suggested that increased obesity levels and whitening of hair are stress related outcomes. The excessive usage of digital devices like smartphones and laptops has not helped either. The lure to click ‘selfies’ of oneself has been linked with greater levels of narcissism or alternately self-doubt. In fact Facebook gives us a window to others’ lives but people only put up positive acts in their profiles. Stress escalates when we see friends, batch mates or cousins posing with good looking specimens of the other gender at exotic foreign locales. 

This is where employers have to act. Organizations must avoid taking advantages of the helplessness that have engulfed a significant percentage of the workforce. This is especially true with migrant workers, both in labour as well as cushier white collared jobs. Also training and development as a field has emerged to cope with all this. Sessions like this and organizations which help in stress relieving are gaining greater prominence as there is an increasing need. 

On 20th May, I attended the EPSI meeting particularly focused on the proposed IIM Bill. I attended this discussion on behalf of Skyline. The reason for convening this forum was for private business schools to discuss a response to the government from the institutes which are offering the AICTE approved PGDM. As per the proposed bill, from henceforth all the IIMs including the new ones, will be able to award their graduating students the MBA degree instead of the PGDM which was the practice till date. In case this bill gets successfully passed, then this will leave the non-IIM AICTE approved institutes in a position of emptiness. The fear is that their PGDM will then lose credibility and students will suffer while applying for jobs or higher education. This problem will be more acute at the international level.

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My own opinion takes me particularly to some management institutes which are in further grey territory. In case the IIMs get the right to award MBA degrees, then a number of PGDM awarding institutes may also look to get their diplomas ‘upgraded’ to degree level. In that case where does that leave the likes of super specialized institutes offering management degrees in unconventional lines. Perfect example being the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) situated in Bhopal or the Indian Institute of Travel & Tourism Management (IITTM) which has campuses in Gwalior and Delhi among other centres. Both of these are operated by their respective ministries as nodal centres. Also included would be the privately operated IRMA located in Anand (Gujarat) and MANAGE from Hyderabad. IRMA Trains students in rural management while MANAGE works in agriculture management. Will IIFM for example be given MBA status? But then a conventional MBA will not suit students graduating from that institute as it takes away the unique aspects of the course. Is there any MBA classification which directly states on the certificate the super specialization? This is not a similar case to a student taking up marketing or HR specialization in the second year, but here the student from day 1 studies a particular unconventional stream. Will these students instead be clubbed under forestry course like students from FRI (Forest Research Institute), WII (Wildlife Institute of India) etc.? The same parameters and questions apply to the other institutes I named- IRMA, MANAGE & IITTM. So while conventional management institutes providing AICTE approved PGDM courses will face massive uncertainties of their own, the challenges exponentially increase for these super specialized institutes.

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Fields life agriculture, forest management, tourism, rural management, fashion etc. are major industries across the globe and many countries have devoted financial and technical resources to the betterment of these industries. India would not have had a green revolution had we not modernized agriculture, albeit done over a small corridor. Similarly if India is to develop over the next few decades, the growth cannot be lopsided with focus purely on cities. We need to take care of forests and rural areas. It is in rural areas where still the majority of Indians stay and work. And we need professional management in these fields. That is where the institutes mentioned come into the picture. The government needs to do something drastic to save the interests of these institutes. That will only be good for the broader economy.   

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