Parag Shah
Founder of FLAME and Chief mentor of MIDAS, Parag Shah.PR Handout

Chief mentor of MIDAS (Management, Innovation, Design, Arts and Social Sciences) and former chairman and founder of Foundation of Liberal and Management Education (FLAME) Prof. Parag Shah has offered an insight into the core educational issues (management studies) in India.

As an entrepreneur and a passionate educationist, Parag Shah has so far mentored over 200 students into become entrepreneurs. He has also given a series of lectures in several universities in India, the UK and the USA.

In an exclusive interview, Parag Shah talked about the main problems that an aspiring entrepreneur faces in India, the faults in the Indian education system and the measures required to curb them, and about his upcoming book "Antar Prerna: An Entrepreneur's Journey". 

Q: Being an entrepreneur, what do you think are the main hurdles that an aspiring entrepreneur may face? What are the major problems that you had to overcome?

A: My childhood was quite ordinary. I was an average student and hardly excelled at academics. In fact, I failed in my 12th grade exams. My father wanted me to be a doctor like he was, but I always wanted to do business.

The initial phases of my professional life were full of ups and downs, more downs than ups actually. With no prior work experience and a new business to look after, it was extremely difficult for me to survive in those days. But then things took a turn for the better -- I met better people, better business partners who helped me succeed and lead a good life.

The biggest challenge that entrepreneurs in India face is that they are low on self-confidence. We really need to work on their self-confidence and tell them that it doesn't matter if they fail. They will succeed one day provided they don't give up.

The other challenge we face is that most entrepreneurs do not have a 360-degree view of their business. Some of them are good at understanding finance, but can't look at the marketing aspect of their business while some of them are good marketers who don't know if their business will break even, and when some are great at ideation but feel paralysed putting their ideas into practice. So, we have to train them to strike the right balance and help them understand their business thoroughly.

Q: India has the world's largest youth population but the nation still has a lot of unemployment. Do you think this is due to some defect in the Indian education system? What is the root cause of the problem?

A: I don't believe there isn't enough work that so many young people in the country should remain unemployed. However, people in India don't have dignity of labour. They are not ready to do menial tasks because there is a social stigma attached. We have so many roads to repair and toilets to build. There are so many files to clear and people to cure. So, if people are ready to work, they'll find work.

The other problem as far as India is concerned is that a large number of people are under-employed. A lot of graduates, for example, are doing jobs that are not in sync with their educational qualifications.

Likewise, a lot of people are employed in agriculture and since most of the cultivation depends on the monsoons, we also have too much seasonal, part-time employment. But, I won't blame the youngsters for the sad state of affairs. If we were able to impart good quality education to them in their formative years, they would have been more employable. Furthermore, today's young are highly aspirational and the opportunities that exist are not able to fulfil those aspirations.

Q: You are the Chief Mentor of MIDAS -- an institute that trains youngsters to be entrepreneurs in India. Do you think management institutions in India are at par with foreign institutions?

A: The problem is that almost all the top notch management institutions in India (IIMs) are supported by the government. And there are very few that match global standards. The second-rung institutions are mostly private. For a population as large as ours, the supply of quality does not match the demand. At reputed management institutions abroad, there is a lot of diversity in student groups and class composition. We need more of that here. The faculty at top notch management institutions abroad also has remarkable research and teaching backgrounds, which appeal to many young Indians.

Last but not the least, management institutions abroad receive huge university grants, regular government aid and generous donations from philanthropists to carry out research in the field of management. In India, we don't have enough budgets allocated to research in the management stream. Most of the budgets are allocated to research in life sciences as a result of which management education in India is bereft of considerable research.

Q: What is the main reason for the "brain drain" happening in India and what could be done to curb it?

A: I don't think there is a brain drain happening in India. Of course, a lot of youngsters prefer to study abroad because of the opportunities that are available to them after graduation. At least that was the case some years ago. But now, things have changed and youngsters prefer to stay back and build strong careers in India. Those who study abroad also return to India after spending some time there. So, I would call it a "reverse brain drain" or perhaps a "brain gain" -- youngsters returning to India to pursue careers in their homeland after having challenged their mental faculties abroad and having gained work experience in a different culture.

Q: Taking admission in most of the management institutions is an expensive affair and it is beyond the financial capacity of a lot of people. Don't you think the cost of education sometimes snatches the opportunity from a deserving candidate?

A: As I said before, government institutions of considerable repute offer education at subsidised rates but they are far too few in number for a country whose population is as large as ours. What private institutions must do is that they should charge full tuition to those who can afford it and offer anywhere between 25% to 100% tuition waiver to meritorious students from weak financial backgrounds. A cross-subsidy policy of this kind will ensure that quality education is not a privilege enjoyed by only the elite.

Q: What are the key elements and benefits that aspiring entrepreneurs can expect from your upcoming book Antar Prerna: An Entrepreneur's Journey?

A: "Antar Prerna: An Entrepreneur's Journey" is a book primarily meant for youngsters, budding entrepreneurs and teachers of entrepreneurship. It is written in a story format with every chapter having some key lessons at the end. Youngsters seeking motivation in life will find this book interesting as I have described my travails in business life without any hang-ups. Aspiring entrepreneurs will find this book useful in coming to terms with the fact that they are not the only ones struggling in their endeavours and that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

Q: While you have a dream to create 10,000 entrepreneurs in India by enrolling them at your institute and positively affecting the lives of 2 crore Indians through entrepreneurship, a large section of the society is deprived of even basic education. What are your thoughts on that?

A: At MIDAS, we believe that anyone and everyone can become an entrepreneur if they have the right guidance, mentoring and exposure. That is also the reason why we have in the past (and continue to do so even today) admitted students who have failed in academics and don't even have basic qualifications. We believe that in order to become an entrepreneur it is not necessary to have certain educational background. MIDAS is totally different from the current education system. The pedagogy at MIDAS follows all the levels of the Bloom's Taxonomy, including those missed by the modern Indian education system that are: ability to synthesise disparate data, think critically and be creative. So, even if you don't have basic education but have the fire in the belly to work hard and commit yourselves to listening, learning and leading to come up with innovative solutions to tackle the problems in the world, we will welcome you with open arms at MIDAS.

Q: Recently, some Indians have brought laurels to the country by excelling in the field of entrepreneurship. What do you think makes them stand apart from the others who haven't made it big?

A: First of all, I am a staunch believer of 'you never lose -- you either win or you learn'. Therefore, while it is nice that we are celebrating the success of founders of companies such as Snapdeal and Flipkart, and Ola Cabs and PayTM, let us also spare a thought or two for those who have worked equally hard but have not been able to make it big. Let us salute those who have failed for they could have chosen the more tried and tested approach and lessened their chances of failure.

Furthermore, let us also praise people doing ordinary things (like selling farm produce or wares around the corner) yet choosing to be their own bosses -- it takes a lot of character to decline a well-paying job and instead choose to chart out your own destiny in your own way -- no matter what the end result is. One thing that makes successful entrepreneurs who they are is that they create their own opportunities. They see opportunity in adversity. They find hope in failure. They bring out their creativity amidst boredom. Successful entrepreneurs reach a certain stage in their lives because they pondered over what they "could" do rather than getting fixated on what they "should" do.

Undoubtedly, they improvise as they move forward and evolve their means as the situation demands. Successful entrepreneurs also build their own networks and constantly assess as to what best they can do with whatever little they have. Thus, when you study their lives it may appear that they were at the right place at the right time, but upon dwelling further, you realise that the timing and the place were right because the entrepreneurs seized an opportunity that perhaps the others did not find too useful.

Q: What is the one piece of advice you would like to give young aspiring entrepreneurs?

A: I would advise entrepreneurs to surround themselves with people who are more competent than they are. They should bask in the glory of people more accomplished than them. There's always something or the other you can learn from such people. And, as a matter of fact, successful people like to share their experiences with young entrepreneurs. That being said, I wouldn't encourage entrepreneurs to connect with people with the intention of getting something in return. They should connect hoping that the interactions will be pleasant and perhaps someone new could be befriended.

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