Inequality Accentuated


The latest scandal to plague that acclaimed paragon of justice, equality, liberty and virtue which is the United States is absolutely stunning. For we are talking here about the status of higher education, on which parents around the U.S. and the world have laid their trust on to facilitate a high quality, fair, and meritocratic education for their wards.

And it is damning to know that it is by a simple incident that the whole racket came to light – I will let you folks read up, but the FBI discovered the scam when an investor from Los Angeles revealed it to them, probably to get a reduced sentence for his securities fraud that he perpetrated on thousands of investors in his company’s stock.

This only demonstrates that sheer wealth and greed could easily blind the rich people, whose only ambition is to seek more wealth and unequal access for their children in an unfair world. The rich folks who benefitted in this higher education scam did not care about the losses that otherwise qualified candidates endured simply because the rich took away what should rightfully have gone to them in the first place.

The more shocking thing is that world beating universities such as Stanford, Georgetown, Yale, and other such universities could have been taken for a ride by their own admissions committees and athletic coaches. It would be very hard for them to claim innocence as these criminals who perpetrated the crimes belonged and worked for the universities. I am sure they would argue that they have been led down the garden path by coaches and admissions officers who probably colluded to get admissions for totally unqualified candidates and fake athletes who should have been thoroughly vetted.

This scandal, in which over 50 rich people have been implicated, is likely to lead to a class action suit by aggrieved and qualified candidates and their parents. The U.S. government is taking the right actions, and thank God, there is no interference by President Trump or his infamous Education Secretary, so far. Such happenings would have led to political action to shield the rich and famous and powerful parents from criminal action in third-world countries, for sure. To the credit of the FBI, they pursued the scandal over many months before culpability was clearly established and arrests could be made.

I am waiting to see if Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the Wall Street would defend these criminal parents. Not likely, but the other rich parents who have not yet been caught should be planning for escape from the clutches of whistle blowers and the FBI. And, there must be many such rich folks. They better be scared. Such scandals should not be allowed to taint the storied reputations of leading universities – I hope the universities acknowledge their lack of oversight and assume the blame for what has happened. That is the only honourable thing to do. A very long wait to do so would surely lead to emergence of a bad reputation for these universities (there must be other universities who are not yet caught in similar situations). The affirmative actions by the admissions committee has not only led to admissions for deserving Black/Hispanic/Asian candidates, but has also led to admissions for fake athletes who are sons/daughters of very rich parents and many of them with fake SAT scores. The SAT tests are going to be tainted as well, as the College Board allowed tests to be taken by purported candidates who did not actually take the test by themselves – they were helped by guides to change their test responses, or they allowed an expert test-taker to take the test on their behalf.

It hurts as my son just took the SAT test, before this scandal broke.

Well, the world is unjustly unfair. Universities were supposed to be fair and equitable, but that does not seem to be the case anymore. As my wife commented, such things should have been happening for a long time in various ways, but this is the first time people got caught. She also feels that this is not the end of the story, and the rich will continue in whatever way possible to execute similar actions, simply because they can afford to do so. Even if they are not paying a fixer to get admission for their wards, they can always spend lots of money in legitimate test preparation, which is denied to candidates with lesser means of course. Most test takers prepare on their own with test aids and tools, not spend hard-earned money of their parents to blow on test preparation agencies.

I am disillusioned to say the least. This was (and is) not the case when I took the Joint Entrance Exam for getting admission to the prestigeous Indian Institutes of Management (the IIMs) some three decades ago. It was extremely difficult to prepare and take these exams, there was lot of sweat to say the least. During my time, almost 100,000 candidates took the exam for just 600 or 700 seats in the three IIMs. Imagine if that exam were fixed by unscrupulous fixers and rich parents!

Well, the U.S. is having more than its share of troubles, of late. One thing I am totally impressed about is that the U.S. government does not interfere in the administration of justice. I do not know if the judges are impartial given that they are appointed by either one of the political parties (their respective governments) with widely differing ideologies. However, the execution of the process of investigation is commendable – there is absolute respect for the independence of investigators without undue interference even from their own bosses. We do not have such independence in many, many countries around the world.

Have a great weekend, folks, and think about the status of higher education and the scandal that is taking the world by storm,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th March 2019

“Keep Me in Your Prayers” – Actual Meaning


Courtesy: My esteemed School Classmate and Friend, Abdul Malik, who exhibited wisdom at a very young age and awed most of his classmates, and has kept us all in awe for the past over four decades

Since we always say “Keep me in your prayers” to each other, I thought of sharing a small story about the actual meaning of these 5 words. Just go on and read it and I am sure you will start thinking the way I am after reading this story.

A voyaging ship was wrecked during a storm at sea and only two of the men on it were able to swim to a small, desert-like island. The two survivors, not knowing what else to do, agreed that they had no other recourse but to pray to God.

However, to find out whose prayer was more powerful, they agreed to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the island.

The first thing they prayed for was food. The next morning, the first man saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the land, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man’s parcel of land remained barren.

After a week, the first man was lonely and he decided to pray for a wife. The next day, there was a woman who swam to his side of the land. On the other side of the island, there was nothing.

Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes and more food. The next day, like magic, all of these were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing.

Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he and his wife could leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked at his side of the island.

The first man boarded the ship with his wife and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God’s blessings, since none of his prayers had been answered.

As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from heaven booming, “Why are you leaving your companion on the island?”

“My blessings are mine alone, since I was the one who prayed for them, “the first man answered, “His prayers were all unanswered and so he does not deserve anything”.

“You are mistaken! “the voice rebuked him. “He had only one prayer, which I answered. If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings.”

“Tell me”, the first man asked the voice, “what did he pray for that I should owe him anything?”

“He prayed that all your prayers be answered.”

For all we know, our blessings are not the fruits of our prayers alone, but also those of others praying for us.

This is too good not to share…

My prayer for you today is that all your prayers are answered. Be blessed.

“What you do for others is more important than what you do for yourself”.

KEEP ME IN YOUR PRAYERS

Courtesy: My esteemed School Classmate and Friend, Abdul Malik, who exhibited wisdom at a very young age and awed most of his classmates, and has kept us all in awe for the past over four decades

Cheers.

Vijay Srinivasan

4th September 2016

Hygiene and Health


I debated about how I should name this blog post. Should it have been “Toilets, Hygiene and Health”? Or, should it just be “The Indian Toilet Situation”?

There was a recent case in South India (Tamil Nadu State) when a girl child aged 9 years died due to kidney troubles caused by holding off nature’s call for whole days at school. The school spared only 10 minutes for recess between classes and they had just 10 toilets for some 400 students. Girls are disadvantaged when there is not enough time to cater to nature’s call (as do boys but at least they have urinals though no one knows their situation). When the concerned girl complained of pains, doctors diagnosed problems with her kidneys.

Such situations are not uncommon in India where public toilets are in very short supply. The most disheartening thing is that young boys and girls in schools who are the future generation, suffer in a most humiliating manner when they cannot even get access or time to fulfil their most pressing need from a physiological point of view. Government and school administrations should be embarrassed.

Despite the call of the current Indian Prime Minister to build more toilets, there has been no perceptible improvement on the ground. India operates on a federal structure which means that it is not necessary that a State Government should heed the call of the Central Government. The only way is persuasion or defeating the ruling party at the next hustings.

It is time for the people who pay taxes to demand proper hygiene and toilet infrastructure services from the government and public schools and public office buildings. It is the government which has to serve the needs of the people, rather than the other way around. The argument that there are not enough receipts against needed expenses won’t fly as the budgeting process is flawed if it cannot cater to the fundamental needs of the citizens.

According to Centre for Water Resources & Management, India, only 47% of India’s population have access to toilet facilities. And only 36% of these toilets have septic tanks. Given that there are a number of toilet innovations from a variety of private companies in India, it is imperative for the government to buy and install these toilet facilities according to a set formula for population access in both rural and urban areas. While the government now collects a cess related to this program, it is difficult to see the results.

Enter the private corporations of India. Even if the top 50 listed companies of India direct 50% of their CSR budgets towards toilet building (which the government can match Rupee for Rupee), India’s toilet problem can be solved in flat 12 months. Eco and Bio toilets are available today at prices ranging from INR 18,000 to INR 30,000 and the prices will come down if demand is established.

I do not know what we are waiting for. But I do know that children, their personal hygiene and health are getting affected every day in schools, and we have to do something very urgently on a war-footing to solve this problem. Many of us have some discretionary monies available for charity, why don’t we contribute to this magnanimous purpose instead of other kinds of donations? It is proven that if the donor can see and feel the result of his/her donation, he or she will contribute more and continuously.

Time to change the toilet situation in India. Let us follow Prime Minister Modi’s vision but not the slow-moving government machinery. Let us leverage India’s phenomenal private enterprise to solve this problem.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th August 2016

Sports Status – Pathetic Management


Often we hear that the sports management by government sports bodies is very bad in the country.

We also keep seeing that corruption is part and parcel of sports in India, even in a famous national sport like Cricket.

Therefore, no body is surprised with the fact that India is not a superpower in sports.

If sports bodies are managed by politicians who are well-reputed for their role in some of the worst scandals that the country has seen in the sports arena, then one can imagine where India is headed. No chance of beating China ever, which has totally professionalized the management and administration of sports and has put in place an effective system for getting the best out of its sportspersons.

Today, I had the opportunity to see in close quarters what actually happens in a district-level tennis competition, in which my son was participating. I had to kill some 3 hours, and nothing is more interesting than observing the behaviour of parents, coaches, participants, and the organizers. I spent a good part of the time in trying to understand what was going on.

As I had expected, initially there was utter confusion – this is very normal in India, and one should not lose his or her cool, just wait patiently and the confusion would dissolve in a short time, which it did – only it took some one hour or so ! There was no proper coordination amongst the schools and the organizers (who were from the district tennis body). There was no chart displayed outside the tennis academy with names and timings of the competition. People were constantly walking in and out. There was a lot of noise, and if one official-looking guy walked around with a piece of paper in his hands, the boys ran after him, trying to figure out when their allotted time would come and who they are going to compete with.

I was comparing mentally with Singapore and even the advanced international schools in Mumbai – a feeling of efficiency and fairness comes upon you when you witness the preparations and the communication in these places. In almost all other places in India, there seems to be a lack of efficiency and a lack of communication – not a lack of energy, of course !

Well, one has to live with that – India is not going to change in many areas, and sports management is one such area. After a lot of confusion, and time loss, the pairings of competitors was done but not announced. We reached the venue at 8:15 AM on a Sunday morning, and the competition started around 10:30 AM !

The boys were of course not upset, they were networking with other boys ! The parents were visibly upset and complaining to each other. The coaches from some of the schools were present, and they were giving some advise to their respective wards. The organizers seem to be the most upset and confused – I thought how that could be, these are the folks who are supposed to be running the competition. I heard one of them responding to an irate parent as follows: “we are volunteers and not government officials – we have to do free work running around and doing the coordination. Please wait, we will sort out the matter”.

That, for you, is the status of one simple district-level competition, with some 60 participants or so. Imagine the situation when hundreds of sports people need to be coordinated and managed efficiently. Surely we are not up to the mark. Can we use some software here please ?!!!

Extrapolation to the general state of sports in the country may not be the right thing to do, neither is it the correct way to assess things. However, can anyone blame me for writing this post – only small incidents help to form the opinion wherein one is somewhat involved or affected.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
21st October 2012
Mumbai

Old Contacts


It is well known that it is always important to maintain contact with friends and associates who have impacted one’s life in some positive manner. This principle also applies in case one has positively impacted his/her friends – people do remember positive actions and support rendered at critical stages in their lives.

While “networking” refers to the generation of new contacts in business or industry, one cannot underestimate the importance of rejuvenating old contacts from one’s previous life. When I recently attended the IIM Bangalore Alumni Meet, I realized that I have not seriously attempted to maintain and renew my old alma mater contacts – seniors, classmates and immediate juniors. Of course, I am part of the Yahoo mail group of my class of 1987, but that does not really lead to the objective of regeneration of institutional contacts.

Events like the alumni meet do help in a significant manner, as emails follow after the meet. Phone calls happen, and who knows – there may be business looming somewhere in those calls. It could be mutually beneficial. So, why not invest in ensuring any contact is captured, contacted once in a while, and also met occasionally ? I am doing this now – though I should say that I have met old school contacts on and off over the years. However, after a quarter century, those contacts and classmates have arrived at significant junctures in their respective lives and a rejuvenation attempt, done sincerely, creates interesting possibilities for both sides.

Continuous and constant networking yields positive results, if done without an immediate personally benefiting goal apart from the mutual interest to know about each other and the respective areas of expertise. The same thing applies to old contacts – they just want to know how you are doing in your chosen field, and how they can be of any help in the future. Now, I have access to my secondary school classmates who have put together a great group online after so many years. It is always refreshing to see an email from your classmate who was known as a prankster in the secondary school, and kept everyone including the teachers guessing !

So, I am into this regeneration of contacts from yesteryears in a concerted and coordinated manner. This effort also applies to ex-colleagues from previous companies. Just yesterday I met an old colleague who worked with me for couple of years and has been a CEO of a startup in Mumbai. He is now moving on as CEO of another startup in Delhi, and it was great to meet him after some time and have a cup of coffee. There was no immediate consideration of any sort, but I offered help in terms of providing contacts to him in his new  industry, and he appreciated the support. After all, we are there to help each other and why not offer help if you do understand what is needed and can offer the help in a practical, beneficial manner ?

It was a great meeting, and I am continuing my non-stop efforts to meet other contacts. I am sure all this effort will eventually fructify into something very meaningful. The key issue of importance is the investment of personal time. It is critical to invest time and stay committed during the meeting to understand each other. Things will follow soon.

Hope this helps the budding youngsters who are going to shape the future of business.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th June 2012

Mumbai

Economics of Languages


All through my schooling, the primary medium of education was English. Though there were several mother-tongue based sections, I had always opted for the English medium of instruction, which means that all the subjects were taught using the English language with text books published in the English language by teachers who spoke in English all through the one-hour of class per subject. The exception, of course, was the mother-tongue subject (in my case, it was Tamil).

So, I was relatively weak in the Tamil language. Given that the Tamil Grammar was (and is) tougher than that of English, it was no wonder that I struggled. Though I could read and write Tamil quite well, I could not get high marks, comparable to the other subjects.

Though I managed to top my school in the secondary school leaving examination, I always thought I could have done better had it not been for the drag imposed by my relatively poor performance in Tamil language.

So, when I went to University and got a choice of second languages to select, I was happy to discover that there was indeed a shortcut to higher performance if I chose the French language. I was also surprised to note that it was easy to learn the French language, though speaking it took considerable effort and was not appreciated by the fluent French teacher. He coaxed the entire class to invest more time seeing French movies and listening to audio tapes but we thought that the movies were boring. Since there was no oral examination, most of us who chose French did very well, and I scored 99% in the final French examination at the pre-university level – I would have hardly obtained some 75% in Tamil !

Later on, when I moved out of India, I found that Mandarin Chinese was gaining dominance in South East Asia. I saw several non-Chinese learners of the language, which I thought was even tougher than Tamil. Nevertheless, there are what I call “economic learners” – people who try to learn a language for the economic benefits it offers to them for their future success.

In Singapore, I found that though Tamil was one of the three national languages, the Government of Singapore had realized that Indian languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, etc., had more economic muscle than Tamil. While it never disowned the teaching of Tamil in government schools, there was a relaxation extended to the non-Tamil speakers from India by the government so that they could all learn Hindi at some location during the weekends.

All this experience taught me that a language will only be successful to the extent that it is able to influence people with its economic might. Cultural impact will always be there, but that would not be adequate to sustain the glory of a language. One has to also see whether the world wants to learn that language for some benefit. President Obama mentioned recently about Hindi and Mandarin in one of his addresses, encouraging Americans to learn these languages which are spoken by nearly half of the world’s population today !

So, I am not surprised to learn that IIT (Indian Institutes of Technology) Mumbai has recently introduced Mandarin classes in its curriculum. Some management schools in India, such as Great Lakes in Chennai, have made learning Mandarin mandatory for their MBA Students. Surprising ! But it is a reality today !!

Conclusion is simple for most people (literary folks, please excuse !) : simply follow the right language to the money (and the marks, of course !).

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
25th Sept 2011
Mumbai

Ethics 101 in Schools


After the series of corporate scandals in the U.S. which saw alumni of reputed business schools jailed for fraud, perjury, and insider trading, ethics courses have been incorporated in business schools in the U.S. Many schools have now courses which are compulsory in the areas of ethics and corporate governance. The linkage between the scandals and the lack of such courses in the past is yet to be established, however.

And, we all know that teaching ethics to business management students does not guarantee that business will be free of scandals. Why is it critical to teach ethics to students, we might ask. It is important to provide basic education on ethics and governance models, lest the business schools are blamed for the outcomes.

I was wondering whether it is important to teach ethics to secondary school students in India, in the context of the corruption scandals which have swept India in the recent past. It might be necessary to embed ethics teaching in the curriculum of the secondary students, because the impact or more critically, the non-impact of corruption, will be damaging in the long term for India. The future business and political leaders of India need to be exposed to issues involved in corruption and handling matters involving a combination of corruption, national security, and political funding.

It may be a bit too much when you look at the issues, and government might refuse permission to the educational boards such as the ICSE and CBSE to incorporate such courses, but it might be worthwhile to introduce such programs sooner than later. Teachers have to be trained as well, to ensure that the utility of the courses are fully imbibed by the students at the 10th and 11th grades. This will have a long-term implication for India, given that Indian democracy is inextricably intertwined with corruption, and future bureaucrats have to deal with politics anyway.

There may be resistance all around, but we have to push through. This is no indication that the government in power is corrupt, or trying to be corruption-free. This is required training for students who have to face the music when they venture out in this open, risky, and complicated world of ours, which is much unlike what one gets in the Western world, which encourages governance of a better quality. Notwithstanding that, one has seen the deterioration of public life in the West as well, especially in terms of taking the investing public to a nasty ride.

So, let us start thinking seriously about Ethics 101 for our budding entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, and politicians.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
27th March 2011
Mumbai