Considering IRMA?

Its the season of MBA entrance exams in India once again. Hundreds of thousands of students vying for few thousand MBA seats in the belief that its going to secure their future. I graduated from the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) in 2005. I loved my two years there and in this post, I am rehashing an older note I had written for IRMA aspirants. 

While IRMA was established in 1979 to supply trained managers to rural cooperatives and (later) NGOs in India in the 1980s, its graduates now work for a diverse universe of organisations. When I joined IRMA, it was only with the expectation that it would expose me to a sector that I would find interesting and meaningful to explore. I did not anticipate the daunting challenges the development sector throws up, nor did I assume that I would walk out of the campus and change the world. My naive reasoning was that selling soaps and shampoo was not something that could get me excited and keep me awake at night and I wanted to spend two years engaging with issues that were more interesting and most importantly, with people that shared this passion. 

However, soon enough, I learnt that depending on who was producing them, where they were being sold and who were sharing the proceeds, there is nothing less-meaningful about selling soaps or shampoo or cars, loans and insurance. So it doesnt matter whether we advertise IRMA as an institute that imparts education in rural management, rural development, social work or just management – if IRMA gives us a little of all of this or in varying degrees, we ought to be able to use the components as and when required – just like one uses multiple linguisitic and regional identities and affiliations with different institutions in our lives as and when applicable.

It goes without saying that every IRMAn is entitled to follow his or her chosen path, not only during the PRM, but also, obviously, after graduation. For sure, IRMAns are in anything and everything to do with rural areas and probably, not just there, but also in areas which have little direct links with rural areas. The IIMs dont say that none of their graduates can be NGO-wallahs, nor do the IITs. Today though, rural is big. Every marketer wants a piece of the pie. The possibilities are endless – in whichever sector one chooses.

Is IRMA then right to restrict placements? I think that as an institution, IRMA has the right to have a vision for itself and a direction it wanted to guide its programme participants towards. In the end, though, what IRMA does is to expect young aspirants to make a choice. Whenever anyone asks me about applying to IRMA or when they are considering their offer, I try to warn them that if they are not sure, they may get disillusioned. I am aware it may make it tough for the decision-maker, but I think it is important that people think through their choices at that stage (with whatever is the available information and whatever is the levels of conviction they can muster).  

This of course does not mean IRMA graduates and/or development workers should be placed on a pedestal. As I have said before, there is nothing intrinsically holier or self-sacrificing about working in the development sector. IRMA is not the only way in. And today, that’s not the only road out of IRMA either.


One Reply to “Considering IRMA?”

  1. “there is nothing intrinsically holier or self-sacrificing about working in the development sector”

    I completely agree. I suppose there is nothing that I find controversial about the institution having a vision and I think that is the way it ought to be, if any institution wants to carve a niche. It is not obliged to cater to the market and if it receives any funding from the tax payers money ( on the grounds that it is to be used for producing people with a specific set of skills for a specific target) then it is almost necessary that it ought to do. It is more like a take it or leave it offer.
    While I say this, I have no clue how things function in IRMA nor do i have any idea about management education. But it is the case all over the world. You go to Chicago, they do not teach you Keynes and exactly the opposite when you go to a Keynesian place. That is their signal to the market. Take it or leave it. I may be wrong here. But nice posts!


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