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Revisiting My Alma Mater

Rajesh Tandon, Founder-President of PRIA, visited his alma mater, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, USA to give a talk to the students of the Department of Organisational Behaviour. Dr Tandon had studied there in the 1970s. His visit evoked nostalgia, while also bringing home to him how relevant his schooling there has been to the professional work he has undertaken for nearly four decades.

After two decades, I revisited my alma mater in USA—the Department of Organisational Behaviour in School of Management at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), Cleveland. I was enrolled in the doctoral programme here between 1974 and 1978, after a short teaching stint at Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta.

Though I had visited the department a couple of times in the 1990s, this visit surprisingly triggered off several reflections about my own professional development. I graduated in electronics engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur and then studied for an MBA degree at IIM, Calcutta. The first shift of professional interest from engineering to management was rather awkward at that time (though commonplace now). But what many of my well-wishers considered more appalling was my decision to join as lecturer at IIM, instead of pursuing a corporate career.

My choice of doctoral programme has been, in hindsight, the best professional step I could have taken. With an engineering and management post secondary education, it was unusual that I began learning to facilitate small groups at CWRU. Undertaking field work in southern Rajasthan from the theoretical lens of organizational development during and after Emergency (in the mid 1970s) could not have been more anamolous.

As I walked on campus, by the new building of the school of management, and met faculty and student of the department, I began to think of the ways in which my professional learning at CWRU has shaped my work, and that of PRIA.
• The practical tools of Participatory Research methodology emerged from a combination of experiential learning and group dynamics. I learnt theory of experiential learning and its application was supervised at CWRU.
• My professional competencies as facilitator of small groups were learnt through a rigorous process of practice in facilitating T-groups, and extensive critical feedback based on observations by faculty.
• These two competencies became the foundation for the participatory training methodology and Training Of Trainers (TOT) that PRIA pioneered in India and has continued for the past three decades.
• Learning about theories of organizational structure, systems and culture raised my level of understanding beyond individuals and groups. The compulsory, supervised practice of organisational development (OD) learnt at CWRU added further competencies to my professional repertoire.
• The organisational building/OD knowledge and associated professional competencies came in handy in developing programmes for strengthening civil society and local government organisations. Vision, mission, strategy workshops conducted by PRIA in the late 1980s and organisational strengthening through design of structures and systems was applied to social change organisations based on these professional competencies.

To me, and many of my friends of the 1970s, my educational trajectory did not make much sense in relation to the work I began, and have continued to do, through PRIA.

Last week, as I walked through the CWRU campus, it all seemed to fall in place. Thank you.

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