Making students more socially responsible

Professor G Raghurama, Director of BITS Pilani campus elucidates why educational institutions should involve their students in social activities

To Involve or not to Involve?

Should educational institutions involve their students in social activities? Yes, says Professor G Raghurama, Director of BITS Pilani campus. Why? Because universities are the formative ground for tomorrows leaders, he explains, Universities prepare students to participate in nation-building. But students can only rise to the occasion if they understand the grassroots challenges facing society. Involving students in social activities takes them beyond case studies about such issues that are part of the curriculum.

Restricting students exposure to text books is to preclude them from getting a feel for how pressing challenges impact the lives of thousands of Indians. Students at BITS Pilani and its branches in Hyderabad and Goa are encouraged to get involved with extra-curricular social activities to expose them to issues that matter and show (rather than tell) them how to become change-makers.

Some pointers from their experience, about the best way to engage students with CSR-styled activities:

CSR: Compulsory or optional?

Academician views differ about whether to include CSR in the compulsory formal curriculum. BITS Pilani hasnt done so simply because its experience is that the majority of students choose to get involved in optional activities of their own accord. In a sense, keeping it optional increases student interest in CSR-styled activities. Making such activities a compulsory course might reduce its status in students eyes, to one more subject to be studied and score high grades in, opines Professor Raghurama.

Joint faculty and student initiatives

Activities to make students more socially responsible are extra-curriculum activities at BITS Pilani. But there arent purely for students. Professor Raghurama firmly believes that best results come from joint faculty and student engage- ment. The role of faculty is to provide students with the infrastructure that they need to make a difference in the community, and work together with them to actually do so.

Make CSR relevant to study

BITS Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) aims to create leaders and entrepreneurs by developing entrepreneurial mindsets and teaching students how to Create Your Own Venture. To this end, students are encouraged to take up projects that are meaningful at the local level. Rural Entrepreneurship Division is CELs rural entrepreneurship project, running in Rajasthan and Goa, which aims at setting up enterprises to give a sustainable source of income to village folk in surrounding areas. Some of these projects are in the area of biogas generation, community-led total sanitation, recycling of paper and handicrafts for a sustained source of income and value creation. Sometimes, students taking up these projects collaborate with their peers from technology disciplines. For instance, tech students might create an app to manage the project. Such initiatives further students interest in engaging in CSR as a social business. NextGen, incubated jointly at IIM-Bangalore and BITS-Pilani, is one of Indias fastest growing clean technology companies working in two broad domains: Sustainability Management and Waste to Energy. It effectively uses IT, technology and project management tools.

Involve alumni in CSR

Keeping the doors open for alumni engagement in CSR-styled activities of educational institutions can help build lifelong associations that positively impact the community living around the campus.

In 2005, a group of BITS Pilani students formed Nirmaan Organization, a voluntary youth organisation to work for a poverty free, knowledge driven and economically empowered nation. Government registration followed two years later. At present, the organisation is headquartered in Hyderabad but spread over eight chapters and draws over 600 voluntary members, including 110 BITS students.

According to Professor Raghurama, Students will engage more closely with social extension activities if they are given assurance that they can continue to direct such activities after graduating. Permitting alumni involvement in these activities helps step up efforts. Also, alumni can encourage current students to follow their lead.

BITS Pilani students have deepened their engagement with the community through the activities of Nirmaan Organization. Lives of rural communities around BITS Pilani are changing for the better as students work on nine projects. These projects include developing a few local government schools into model schools (School Adoption Programme), providing value-based education to under-privileged children living near the campus (Gyan Bodh), motivating school drop-outs to rejoin schools by providing a bridge course (Shiksha Ki Ore), and providing career guidance (Disha) and scholarships to school-going children (Utkarsh).

Start small and build up

Getting students involved with the National Service Scheme of the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports is possibly the simplest way to start social activities in a higher educational institution. Participating students get involved with tree planning activities, blood donation drives, perform shramdaan at nearby sites and work towards national integration.

Ensure institutional support

Present students or alumni might suggest CSR initiatives that need institutional support. Backing such worthy ideas shows the institutions commitment to the concept of Educational Institutions Social Responsibility (a variant of CSR), says Professor Raghurama. For instance, BITS alumni are behind the creation of Pilani Resource Centre, a building created to facilitate community development in and around Pilani. Pilani Resource Centre houses classrooms to teach school children from the local community and to offer vocational training to local youth in association with Pratham, a national NGO, clinics to offer geriatric health services to the village elderly, digital infrastructure to educate and employ rural youth, a community library for children and space for self-help groups to flourish.

BITS Pilani provided the piece of land for this centre free of cost. BITS Alumni Trust raised funds for Project Atma Nirbhara, as the project is called, from Nirmaan, Helpage India, Pratham and Harnessing Value of Rural India (HarVa).

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