John Hoffmire: Kasturi, you have covered multiple fields in your work life so far. Tell me about your professional journey, if you will.
Kasturi: That’s right, John. In my professional journey spanning more than two decades I have worked in multiple capacities – conducting research, advisory, advocacy, teaching, academic administration, and community service. My journey has spread across various countries where I have had the opportunity to engage with entities like government agencies, research think tanks, inter-governmental organizations, diplomatic missions, development sector organizations, media groups, corporates, management schools, and communities.
John Hoffmire: That’s a lot of ground indeed! Tell me more about your areas of research interests and expertise.
Kasturi: With a penchant for policy-relevant research, trade policy has always been close to my heart and one of the key areas of my research interests. I have published policy research papers in leading academic journals including Nature. The papers cover a range of issues in the broad area of international trade, climate change policy, and the interlinkages between trade and climate regimes, just to name a few. One particular area of research interest and expertise is Geographical Indications (GIs). I started working on GIs in the early 2000s, when I was closely involved with policy-making processes for the upcoming GIs law of India. I have published a number of research papers in leading journals on GIs since then and also travelled throughout the country to generate awareness about the subject among the stakeholders during the early years of GI law in India. As you would know, European countries have a rich history of such origin-linked products, like ‘Scotch’ whisky, ‘Champagne’ wines, ‘Feta’ cheese, etc. But what distinguishes Indian GIs from European GIs is that whereas the European GIs are dominated by wines, spirits, and food products, in India a vast majority of GIs are in handloom and handicrafts like ‘Pashmina’ shawls, and ‘Banarasi’ saris – the list would run into the hundreds. Although many of these products have gotten legal status as GIs, most of the handloom and handicraft GIs are struggling for survival in face of competition from machine-made products. The scenario is grave and has multiple socio-economic and cultural implications for our country. Based on my experience and expertise on the subject, I am undertaking action research to explore ways forward to save our cultural heritage.
John Hoffmire: I do recall a conversation with you about handloom and handicraft GIs in India when you were in Oxford. Will you tell me a little more about your work in the area of climate change also?
Kasturi: Certainly. Climate change is a reality no one can deny any more. With that reality come a number of questions. Are we doing enough to tackle the challenge effectively? What can policy makers do? What role can businesses play? These are some of the questions on which I am focusing my research. I work extensively on issues at the interface of trade and climate change. I have been serving in advisory roles on trade and the environment with various institutions globally as well as in India. Some of the organizations include the World Economic Forum’s expert group, Government of India’s High-Level Advisory Committee on Trade and Environment, among others. I am also an invited member of Climate Strategies, a London-based network that brings on board some of the leading practitioners in the areas of climate change and clean energy to undertake collaborative research that is intended to inform policy decisions by governments, businesses, and other stakeholders globally.
John Hoffmire: I sure appreciate what you are doing in the areas of climate change and trade, Kasturi. This work is absolutely essential.
Let’s now talk about your teaching profile. I know you are a professor of Economics at the Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad (IMTG), which is a leading private management school in India. But what I find intriguing is that you also helped your institution develop an innovative programme on sustainability and social responsibility. Tell me about that.
Kasturi: That’s right, John. “I’M The Change Initiative on Sustainability & Social Responsibility” is a unique, three credit, compulsory, experiential learning course for all our MBA students, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi ji’s eternal teaching “Be the change you want to see in the world”. We launched this initiative on October 1, 2016, i.e. on the eve of the birth anniversary of Gandhi ji. Through their social projects, undertaken with external partners from civil society, government groups, and social entrepreneurial organizations, our students make targeted interventions, however small those might be, in diverse areas that include Education, Women Empowerment, Sustainable Livelihood Generation Models, Social Entrepreneurship, E-Waste Recycling, etc. – each in alignment with one or more Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.
John: That sounds great. I love it when business schools do what you are doing. Tell me, as the founding head of the initiative, what were you trying to accomplish?
Kasturi: You are absolutely right, John. Business school students often benefit from having a broader view of the world. This was exactly the point of departure of our initiative. The longer-term vision underlying the initiative was that business leaders of tomorrow, particularly in the context of a developing country like India, need to appreciate the nuances of a just society, and act justly in their regular day-to-day activities. We endeavored to take a step in that direction by exposing our students to situations that allowed them to observe how people live, especially the underprivileged. We encouraged students to make certain targeted interventions with community members through hands-on execution of social projects in collaboration with our partners. Through this, we helped students experience the joy of contribution. So, it was a combination of experiential learning and contribution to society that students undertook.
John: This initiative won several awards and accolades — tell me about that.
Kasturi: Yes, that’s right. Of course we did not launch the initiative for awards or recognition, but for a bigger purpose, as I have already shared. However, along the way we did receive a number of recognitions globally, as well as in India. It’s all because of the team effort of our students and my colleagues. I’M The Change received ‘Gold Award’ under the category “Developing a future-ready curriculum” at the Indian Management Conclave Awards 2017 based on my case study and presentation. Within less than one year of joining the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Management Education (UN-PRME), IMTG was selected as a “PRME Champion” at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2018 among a host of elite institutions. I’M The Change won the AACSB Internationals “Innovations That Inspire Challenge 2018” under the “Enhancing Approaches to Leadership Education” category – as the only initiative from India that year among 30 leading business schools from across the globe.
John: That is very impressive! You had executed and managed this initiative for three years already before coming to Oxford as a CRISP fellow, if I remember correctly. Tell me about your time with the CRISP programme at Oxford.
Kasturi: That’s right. I was in Oxford in 2019 as a Chevening Research, Science and Innovation Leadership (CRISP) Fellow. Well, if I start talking about CRISP and my days in Oxford, I can go on and on and on. But in a nutshell, CRISP was a journey of a lifetime. I knew CRISP was a unique initiative that was a combination of many things – of course we had numerous thought-provoking sessions on leadership, entrepreneurship, sustainability, climate change, and many more practically relevant topics. Lectures were always given by stalwarts, but there were many elements of outside the classroom learning that surprised me, like mentoring, counselling, group projects, individual business plan development and presentation under your esteemed guidance, and finally a host of unforgettable official field visits across England, Scotland, and Brussels. There was ample scope for peer learning as well, since each of the fellow CRISPers was an expert in his or her own field.
As a cohort we were highly diverse, which also enhanced our learning opportunities. I am indebted to each one of my fellow CRISP scholars for what they taught me.
There was also ample opportunity to learn and gather experience beyond the official programme, as well. I recall the enriching evening talks I got to attend at various colleges in Oxford. Through my own initiative I also developed a collaboration with the Oxford Martin School having to do with my research area of climate change. Furthermore, I delivered an invited talk during the first ever London Climate Action Week convened by the Mayor of London.
Remembering all of these experiences leads me to want to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to our Programme Director Mr Richard Briant, our core faculty members Mr Andrew Gibbons, Mr Mark Evans, and your esteemed self for making CRISP an unforgettable learning experience. I would also like to thank Ms Supriya Chawla and her team at Chevening Secretariat in New Delhi for all her support before, during, and after CRISP. Thanks are due to Ms Carole Souter, Mr John Tranter and the entire team at St Cross College for being wonderful hosts. Finally, Oxford! I simply fell in love with Oxford and could not have enough of it. I do hope I will have opportunity to go back to Oxford sooner than later, God willing!
John: It sounds like you are incredibly busy doing great work, Kasturi. Thank you for doing what you teach – being the change you want to see.
Kasturi: Thank you very much, John. It was indeed a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you.
Read the entire interview here at The Center on Business and Poverty
Dr. Kasturi Das is a Professor of Economics at the Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad (IMTG) and alum of the Chevening Research, Science and Innovation Leadership Fellowship (CRISP) program at Oxford (2019)
Interviewer: Dr. John Hoffmire is the Carmen Porco Chair for Sustainable Business at the Center on Business and Poverty, and Research Associate at the Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business