Showing posts from November, 2015

Approaching 2016

In a lot of ways, 2015 was a year of waiting for me. Two years of bootstrapping to get the business off the ground took a heavy toll on my finances and me, and towards the end of 2014, I resolved to step back and go back to employment, which I did. The last several months was just that, of keeping my head down, and of reflecting on the experiences. It was time to come to terms with failure and re-imagining. This was what 2015 was about, and I feel I have been successful at doing this. However, with 2016 around the corner, it is time to put a plan in place.
Indeed, one of the key lessons that I have learned through the start-up and bust is the limits of romanticism about start-up life. One of the key mistakes I committed in U-Aspire was to ask and raise too little money, and spending inordinately long time in raising that money. I should say I should have known this all along, but the truth is, I did know and I still took the risk, rather foolishly, as it turns out at the hindsight.  …

Mr Corbyn's Victory & Defeat

I predicted Jeremy Corbyn to be a different type of politician, and he indeed turned out to be one. He stood steadfast, somewhat in defiance of public opinion, for what he believed in. His was a lonely stance though, as the career politicians that surround him squirmed and fretted to do what they do best - power play without regard to what their constituents want. So, in a little over two months after his landslide victory in Leadership elections, we see headlines of MPs revolting against his leadership. He may survive another week, may be another month - but it seems that the knives are already out for him.
I voted Labour in the last election, but did not sign up for its membership. I must admit I was tempted and spent time filling out a membership form, just after Mr Corbyn was elected (and a few times before that, as I wanted to vote for him) but decided against it - as, I wrote on this blog, I could not trust Labour to follow through. It is a party of Blairite career politicians,…

The Idea of E-School Reconsidered

This was an old idea that I keep coming back to - that of a Global Enterprise School. Indeed, the shortening to E-School is deliberate to contrast it with B-School. A Forbes article in 2011 first used the term (see my earlier post) and I have been exploring it ever since. This was the idea I pursued in the transformation, which remained incomplete, of London School of Accountancy and Management that I was running at the time, and afterwards, as I set up U-Aspire to offer pathway education globally. While I may have been doing something else for several months now, and U-Aspire, in its China-only format, became more focused on qualifications that lead to English degrees, I have never abandoned the idea. However, the intervening months of experience was valuable and helped me develop the concept further, and perhaps to a point when I am ready to give it a shape.
The idea may have started as a contra-B-School, particularly attractive as the limitations of B-School teaching is all but ap…

Vocational Training in India - Should The Penny Drop?

A few years ago, the then Indian Prime Minister of India proudly announced the biggest skill building initiative in the world, aiming to train more than 500 million people over 10 years. 
The reason for such a high profile initiative was obvious. In India, where 69,000 people reach the age of 25 every single day, making sure that they are able to find work was more than important - it was essential for the survival of the republic. The attention that the initiative got, with investments lined up from public and private sources, with high profile committees and the usual lining up with consultants, was unprecedented. Everything and everybody was there, except just one thing. No one knew what this was all about.
It may sound nonsensical and it is, but the Government set out this multi-million dollar initiative without knowing what skills need to be trained on. There was little involvement of the industry, and none of the trade unions or communities. The consultancies wrote some reports…

Should India Allow For-Profit Higher Education?

I was in a debate not long ago on the topic whether For-Profit Higher Education should be allowed in India. In a way, I have a predictable position, given that I have spent most of my working life in For-Profit companies. But there are more reasons why I should generally answer in the affirmative to this question. First, because I always argue for diversity of provisions in the Education sector. Second, and more importantly, I believe that the government is generally incapable of providing services, and should confine itself to providing infrastructure and maintaining regulatory frameworks. 
The aforementioned debate was conducted in equally predictable lines. There were some, arguing against For-Profit Higher Education, rooted their argument on a moral revulsion of Profit - that one should not be in education for making money! The other group, arguing in favour, was logic of the market - that it would improve access, bring innovation and enhance efficiency of the sector. These argum…

Designing Talent Exchanges

I have spent more than two decades exploring the Education/Employment divide.  Starting in 1995, when I signed up to set up networks of IT training centres across small-town India, I have been chasing this idea of seamlessly transitioning students from the world of learning to the world of work (a set of terms I picked up on the way). Along the way, I have spent time doing various kinds of training and education - IT Training (1995 - 2004), e-Learning (2004 - 2007), Language Training and Recruitment (2007 - 2010), Higher Education (2010 - 2012) and finally, Competency-based Higher Ed (2012 - 2015) - in various geographies in Asia and Europe. Of all these different experiences, being on the other side of the table - in global recruitment - perhaps had the most impact on how I think about the issue of Education-to-Employment transition. In fact, my engagements in Higher Education started precisely with this agenda - I was employed by a private Higher Education institution to build thei…

The Disquiet at NSDC

Finally, the penny drops. The so-touted worlds most high profile skilling mission stumbles. After a highly critical audit report, several top executives of India's National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) resigned. The audit report highlighted a number of things, most crucially various areas of management failure, and that may have triggered the change. But it also crucially pointed out that more than 99% of all funding of this public-private partnership is coming from public funds, and there is indeed no accountability in how it is being spent. 
In summary, the government has finally caught up with what almost everyone else knew. That the much vaunted skills mission was a non-starter, a colossal waste of public funds which made a few dishonest businesses rich. One could justifiably claim that this was one of the pet projects of the previous government, and they must shoulder the blame of its failure. And, they should, having set the body up without any plans and ideas. Howe…

A November Day

A November day, Usual, it seems, Clouded sky and invisible Sun, Empty trees and their fallen leaves Sadness heaped, lying indifferently.
But, is there a difference of order - Whether we pressed a button, Or they pulled a trigger, Whether they fired into a crowd, Or we bombed from the air, To look into the eyes of the dead, This morning-after, And to feel this stillness of bodies, meaningless ends, Of the slain and the slayer. 
There would be memories to deal with, And fears to overcome, Is this war inside us Making us less human. The battles that would follow, The promised heaven in return All be stained with indifference, And sadness overhung.
So, this day, freeze,
Remain with us as we live,
The November day of indifferent death,
And waste of all that could have been.

Coming Disruption of Recruitment Business

Disruption of higher education gets a lot of attention, and investment dollars. We say Higher Ed is broken, as costs rise and students end up unemployed, or underemployed. However, less mourned is the trouble another industry is in - Recruitment! As workplace transforms and talks of a superstar economy - one with less workers - gain traction, the neat business model of sourcing thousands of workers for a fee gets threatened. Of course, new possibilities are emerging - Headhunting is transforming into Talent Agencies - but those solution shops can not offset the coming loss of the bulk orders. Temp agencies too, with their time in the sun in the emerging economies now threatened by automation at the shop floor or service jobs, stand ripe for disruption.
We talk about this less as this is not the usual public-to-private transformation that draws lot of investment. This is a classic disruption scenario. The recruitment arrangements have become dated, overtly expensive, as the profession…

My Gandhi Project

I write, but one advice I have taken to heart is not to take my writing too seriously. That, I thought, is the best way to avoid any traps - from writing blocks to scholasticism - and be able to enjoy writing. This is exactly I did, on this blog, for the last ten years. I wrote as words came to me, and stopped, sometimes abruptly, just as one would do in conversations. It was difficult not to be conscious of those who might read it - I experimented with private blogs but the conversations felt unfulfilled without others - and over time, this put some constraints of subjects, what to say or not to say, all those little things about appropriateness. There was, however, somewhere a wish, a hope, that I can attempt a meaningful writing project someday. After ten years, I feel ready to try.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post announcing my intention to write about the death of Mahatma Gandhi (see here). Or, rather, what then started as a general enquiry into an imperfect but persistently sear…

Education - Beyond Courses

Can you be in the business of Education and stop selling courses? 
It is a tough ask, as everyone in business has a course-fetish. Courses are the big hammers that the whole sector uses to solve the problems of the world. No matter what you come up with, the educator is likely to say - there is a course for that!
We may not quarrel with the essential idea. Course stands to mean a route, or a procedure, originating from the Latin word for Run. But the course, as it appears in our jargon today, is a frozen thing, and means not a journey but rather a static feast of textbooks, lectures, assignments and exams. 
Indeed, many people are dismayed by how it is usually done - often with little consideration or care for the person involved. However, course is such a common currency in education that, eventually, everyone seems to fall in the Course trap. It is so endemic that being educated and being Coursed (which indeed means chased) have become two different things altogether.
So, what is t…

Eliminating The Education/Employment Divide

Having worked on the Education-to-Employment gap, I have come to recognise this as a false concept altogether. The metaphor is powerful, and indeed popular, and consultancies and For-Profit schools try to make much of it. But, despite its appeal, it stands on a mistaken assumption - that of education and employment being two distinct stages of life. Indeed, it perhaps used to be, and that is the way we are programmed to think. At the same time, however, the nature of learning has changed - it has become far more of a continuous activity, lifelong as we would call it now - and the demands of employment have been transformed, from a well-defined set of skills and competencies, to a more fluid, more open approach of being adaptable and being able to learn continuously. Seen this way, the ideas are converging - one is expecting the education to go on beyond the school and the employment is reconfiguring itself as a learning opportunity - and the staged metaphor of education and then empl…

The Indian Road : The Tolerance of Intolerance

In what kind of a state, one may see a protest march against protest marches, because, as its organisers claimed, protesting undermines the country's image? This is happening in India, as the cultural cleansing, as anticipated at the election of a Hindu Supremacist party at the helm last year, began in all earnestness. Indeed, the protest against protests is proto-Fascist by definition, particularly when it is led by a Ruling Party activist with some popular appeal.

Anupam Kher, a popular and accomplished actor who has been dabbling in politics, organised this protest-against-protest march, arguing that the recent protests by a broad section of Indian intelligentsia against growing intolerance in India undermines the country's image abroad. In a way, this is a sort of political faux pas, as this proves the very point the ruling party is desperately trying to disprove: That it does not matter that a large number of Indian writers, film makers and thought leaders are denouncing…

On Age, Generations and Feeling Young

Being on the start-up scene in my mid-forties, I am right in the middle of the discussion about age and generations. In summary, the point most investors make is that one needs to be twenty-something to have a realistic chance of founding a billion-dollar business, an assertion that, unlike many other assumptions of the investment community, can be empirically proved. Of course, I, and people like me, can only feel bad about this - with little chance of becoming billionaires and no chance of becoming twenty-something - and be compelled to build counter-arguments, such as older entrepreneurs are better at building businesses in sectors like Education. However, whatever one may try, the common-sense logic of younger people having more energy and less commitments are hard to beat, and indeed, for most of us, pointless to contend against.
However, this does not stop me from musing about age and generations. I am from that generation which fell right in the middle of the switching of soci…

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