India: Debasish Roy

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Debasish Roy Founder of www.magicoffootball.com

Debasish Roy discusses the skills needed in the 21st century marketplace and describes the conditions needed for the improvement of education in India.

Alongside his position as a long time lean management expert and independent business management consultant, Debasish Roy is also the founder of the Royalle Corporation, a company specialising in brand building and strategic marketing. He is also a social entrepreneur, having launched a networking website through Royalle Corporation, dedicated to a niche audience of football lovers, MagicofFootball, which Debasish describes as a unique virtual environment where, "you are no longer dependent on football matches and tournaments organised by commercial outfits, you can create your own online, and then start playing offline". MagicofFootball.com gets revenue from acting as an advertising platform for other brands.

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A different economy needs different skills

We begin by discussing Debasish's background as an entrepreneur and how his experience has influenced his reflections on the profound changes affecting the Indian economy and education system:

"Previously people just needed hard skills, but now every person is a spokesperson for their company, which also means companies are employing less people, working in smaller teams."

He explains:

"The number of people in India who have become entrepreneurs and created brands has grown. This has resulted in a change from a few hundred companies employing thousands of employees each to a few million companies employing less than 50 employees each. This explains why communication and team skills are so important. Finding the right people is crucial. Now even software managers need communication skills as there are no separate people to speak for the company."

Debasish is looking to incorporate knowledge of these changes into his own recruiting policy, and provides a current example of the growing importance of a wider skills base in employees:

"I am now recruiting for a human resources manager and I am looking for someone who has training in psychology. My thinking is, if an employee has a problem then you need to be able to talk it through with them as a manager. I don't care if this person is not qualified as a human resources professional. This is how the company keeps talent."

"My office real estate is managed by a lady who has no qualifications with administration but has been an avid gardener and housewife for more than six years. The office building has a lot of pots and plants and a gardener's patience with plants and a housewife's frugality and lean management are good skills to have administering a day to day business cycle."

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Profound Change in Education

Debasish describes the changing needs of employers as the result of fundamental social and economic shifts in India which are having a profound effect on attitudes towards education:

"India was a socialist economy until 1995, and everything was controlled by the state. Free market economies are used to change, socialist economies change infrequently. Indians are not used to being in a free market economy. The need to have education comes from the need to change. People will only get into education if they feel they need to do so."

He extends this argument, stating that the majority of people in India are not used to the new freedom they now enjoy in terms of their educational possibilities, "Government clerks used to decide where people went to school." However, Debasish provides a powerful example of what can happen when an economy and educational system grows unchecked without suitable regulation:

"Bangalore became the silicon valley of India after 30 years of spawning technical colleges. State regulations allowed anybody to set up a college, which saw standards of education delivery and content fall dramatically. The education system wasn't very good but everybody wanted a job - and everybody needed an education. What was a bad thing in terms of regulation led to a good thing in terms of Bangalore developing into a globally respected centre of excellence where every company in the
world wants to have a development centre."

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The role of business in education design

At the same time, Debasish explains that he sees a central role for industry in helping improve education provision in India, citing the need for flexible curricula and courses that change rapidly according to industry needs. I ask Debasish how he thinks the involvement of business in education should be structured and he responds with two potential models:

"Business involvement can happen in two ways, firstly, industry sends messages to universities who then change courses accordingly. Secondly, businesses can commission specific types of training to take place within their company, controlling and vetting it themselves."

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Intravenous education and the discovery of talent

However, Debasish warns against giving employers too much control over what people learn, and makes a strong argument for providing education experiences that offer choice and inspire curiosity in young people:

"Structured education should not prevent kids from telling us how to change the world. Structured education should happen after 15 when kids have developed a goal in life. School education should be easy and broad."

He also makes a compelling case against an educational culture that continually penalises mistakes or failure, arguing that a certain degree of freedom is essential if individuals are to discover and then develop their talents:

"During school days you should have the freedom to do badly and do something better in life later. Structured education is about expectations, which shouldn't be imposed on kids. If you give kids freedom, they can develop their own talents. The world is changing, so we have to give people the freedom to change and have their own opinions."

When asked how this de-structured education should be delivered, Debasish draws an interesting analogy:

"Like an intravenous injection. A good doctor does it so well, that you don't feel it. So if you don't feel something but it's getting inside you that is the ideal experience."

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Accountability: A barrier to change

Debasish identifies one of the main barriers to change in the Indian education system as the autocratic nature of the Indian government, which, he argues, is controlled by officials who are often not sufficiently informed about what they are regulating. "There is no transparency in government, which is a hangover from British rule. The Government of India still thinks it knows what is good for people. It is impossible for a financially sheltered government employee with no specialised training
in any area, sitting in a building 400 kilometres away from the nearest object of his attention to decide what is best."

This apparent lack of transparency and accountability is something that Debasish feels has also permeated the education system:

"You have to change people's accountability levels. Why is nobody getting a proper education in a government school? Because teachers are not accountable."

Debasish is convinced that freedom of information is the key to effecting change, and sees the web as the perfect medium for achieving this. When I ask him what he feels could be done to address fundamental issues in the system such as teachers' attendance, a radical solution is put forward:

"One solution would be to create a public facing website and have teachers swipe in and swipe out with a biometric system, to prove attendance. The Public should be able to scrutinise these things. Online provides the information to everybody instantly so you can share information quickly and bypass government restrictions. If the whole world could see what each teacher taught and when and what were the results achieved then it would be impossible to sweep appreciation, which is the best risk and reward system, under the carpet."

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Connectivity and social entrepreneurism – A vision for the future

When discussing the urgent challenges facing India as it continues its astonishing transformation into one of the world's leading economies, Debasish worries that education is failing to reach too many people in India. He argues that with hundreds of millions of people living in rural areas without access to basic infrastructure, there are significant obstacles to overcome before the Government's commitment to 'education for all' can be honoured.

He points out that it is not just building schools or training up teachers that needs to be considered, but that the dearth of employment opportunities outside major conurbations needs addressing if education is to be valued by those most in need of it:

"In small towns and villages in India there are very few options for employment, with everyone earning 20-30 rupees a day. Most of these people have very limited access to education and even if they do, most drop out after 5th grade, as studying makes no economic sense. Reaching all these people takes ages."

Debasish concludes our discussion by arguing that the Internet provides solutions to the dual challenges of access and quality of education. He describes how his own experience of running MagicofFootball.com - an online platform that allows people to organise local and regional football teams and tournaments - has convinced him of the potential of the internet to deliver real economic and social impact, whilst simultaneously addressing the all-important soft-skills deficit:

"MagicofFootball helps people earn 2-3000 rupees a month working as a football player or football professional through sponsorship. The best part about this model is that the subject does not have to learn any new skills to be accepted in the www.magicoffootball.com eco-system. They just have to keep playing football just as they always did. As well as the
obvious financial benefits, players are learning soft skills through sport... dedication, discipline, teamwork. It's fantastic."

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