Monday, March 14, 2011

Social Entrepreneurship@TISS

The following is a description of my Mumbai visit and the first interview at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences-TISS, on Social Entrepreneurship, SE. It was fun, interesting and was a big learning experience as well.

14th March, Monday:

Boarded the bus-382 at 8:37 am sharp and reached Deonar by 9:30. The conductor took special care of me by giving me a window seat in the overcrowded bus :-) Reached the institute after talking either to the traffic police or constable or paan walas !!!

I had to report at the new campus at 12:30 but I was 3 hours early. I marked my attendance in the "Chehra" list and thought myself to be in Alauddin Khilji's reign :-) There were around 10-12 candidates and I was at number 7. Spoke to 3 other candidates - all who did not clear the interview for SE last year. People were rummaging through notes, books etc. Some said, the total seats were 35 and out of them 19 were reserved. All that gave me jitters; just wanted the interview to start and finish, as it was close to lunch time ....sorry....can't think of any thing without food!!!

I entered the room at 11:10 am and gave a smile saying -"Good Morning". There were 3 of them - one Mr X [mid 50’s], Ms. Y [early 40’s] and Mr. Z [difficult to say, his hair cut was like Sai Baba, and he only observed].

X: What is your name?

IM: My name is Indira Mukherjee. [Not "Bond...James Bond”]

X: OK, she is a computer engineer [gave my form to Y, Y quickly scanned it]

X: So Indira, what are you doing currently?

IM: I am working with Tata Consultancy Services [I usually avoid saying TCS in an unfamiliar crowd].

X: What do you do?

IM: Sir, my designation is that of an IT Analyst and my role is that of a Solution Designer. I am in the same project for the last four years. My job basically involves gathering requirements from our client, which is a telecom major in UK, and breaking it down into smaller stories so that the developer can code.

X: So, why TISS?

IM: [Ah!! that question...the cooked up story begins  ...]

Actually Sir, I am not a computer engineer by choice but one by force. I wanted to pursue a course in humanities but that did not happen due to multiple reasons. Thankfully, I found interest in my subjects and was able to get through TCS. The initial 2 years were spent madly and badly in learning work but soon after I realized that striking keyboards is not what I want. That’s when I started to re-evaluate my options and TISS happened.

X: [Understanding completely] Why SE?

IM: [Another short Story..] Well Sir, TCS as an organization is very active in its CSR initiatives via its arm called "Maitree". Even amidst hectic schedule, I have always followed its programmes. That kept the spark alive which was lit 4 years back when I joined a NGO as a volunteer for 4 months, before TCS. That was an extremely moving experience for me.

I might not be able to give you a proper definition of what SE means but I will try to explain what I make out of it. Entrepreneurship is basically coming up with an innovation for the purpose of economic good. Now, the entire construct of an entrepreneurship, cannot and should not solely be making money because entrepreneurship also means making a difference to lives of people.

For e.g. - I am a sweeper and I sweep the floors of a MNC. Probably, my salary does not permit me to give a good education to my children. However, if the MNC thinks about me and many more like me, and comes up with an educational policy for its housestaff, probably, my children can become LIC agents, not sweepers and their children can become call centre agents and the next generation can actually get a job in the same MNC. So you see, how that policy makes a difference to multiple lives and in effect leads to socio-economic growth.

[Y staring at me...]

X: What do you think is the biggest problem in India?

IM: Well, to be honest - my view keeps on changing from time to time, based on newspapers [what a stupid answer...]

X: No, newspapers do not reflect the real problems of the society. Tell me...what in your opinion is the biggest problem?

IM: [took 2 seconds and showed them that I understood his point and was thinking] I would say, Corruption...

X: What kind of corruption?

IM: [ei re ...] Well, I would say that despite we having laws and acts and broad civil machinery, the implementation of schemes and policies is not proper. Corruption disallows the benefits to reach to the people at grass root level.

X: Forget the Government; can you give me an example?

IM: On NREGA, there is an ongoing debate on minimum wages. There are numerous cases and places where NREGA is either not implemented properly or is biased – much of it due to corruption. People do not receive stipulated wages, wages on time...

X: What is the minimum wage as per NREGA?

IM: Rs 100 /- per day

X: Are you sure?

IM: Yes...

X; How can it be 100 INR? Do you think 100 INR in Mumbai is equal to 100 INR in Assam?

IM: I understand the point Sir...

X: [ cutting me short... ] Why is it 100 INR?

IM: Hmm..I will still try to work it out. Definition of Poverty is 2$ per day. That translates to roughly 90 INR. So, I think the limit is 100 INR.

X: Why dollar? Why didn't you think in INR? 

IM: [issshhh... ] No Sir, actually, UN keeps on saying its 2$ was just trying to translate. 

[ Y smiling...]

X: Who fixes the amount 100 INR in India?

IM: The Government, though its act...

Y: Why SE? What will you do after 2 years studying SE?

IM: [Again…puro psychometric test…] Not sure whether I can, but I would like to start on my own venture. [kono din o naa….chakri korbo na to ki korbo…entrepreneurship niye interview..e shob to bolte e hoy…but r koto dhop debo !!!!! ]

Y: Not a job?

IM: No...

Y: What kind of venture?

IM: [eta to bhabi nee..grinning... ] you want to give me 4 options [ the UPSC rog ] ?

Y: tell me, it’s your venture...

IM: Maam, as I was mentioning earlier that I worked in a NGO for 4 months and this NGO fights against trafficking. I assume, 2 years in SE will definitely involve a lot of field work and it will help me channelize my thought processes. Thereafter, if I have adequate resources, I would embark on that route and add value to the society by developing a venture on a similar cause.

[Y’s eyes came out of her zygomactic arch…]

Y: Tell me, you consider yourself to be a worker or a labourer?

IM: [After thinking for 3 seconds] Well, Both to be honest. When I see that I cannot return home for 3 days due to work pressure, I think I am a labourer and on days when I can return home for dinner, I feel I am a worker.

[Hidden smiles and glaring eyes]...

Y: Do you know about the concept of wages?

IM: Yes Ma’am, the story in India begins with The Minimum Wages act, 1948 which says, that every person is entitled to a minimum wage which covers his/her daily needs. In fact, our Directive Principles of State Policy, Article 38 also talks about the concept of fair wages.

Y: Should be minimum wages be same throughout India?

IM: Ma’am, I guess the answer to your question lies in the statement sir made few minutes back. Yes, it cannot and should not be the same.

[Y smiling at X...X is unnerved, scanning my form…]

Y: What is the biggest social issue in West Bengal?

IM: Well, if I may be allowed to recollect my NGO experience, I was extremely unaware as to how big of an issue is trafficking, especially in WB, which borders Nepal and Bangladesh. This is aggravated due to porous borders between the nations. In addition, this gives a leeway to anti- social elements.

[X and Y nodding their heads..X and Y point towards Z...finally - "Thus Spake Zarathustra...” err Mr Z  ...]

Z: Do you know about NREGA?

IM: Yes Sir. It is actually the MGNREGA - the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employee Guarantee Act. It was passed in the Parliament on 12th September 2005. It is a fallout of Article 41 of our constitution - the Right to Work. It says that the State will provide employment to its unskilled labourers for a minimum of 100 days in a year. And that work includes mostly infrastructural projects i.e. wells, canals, roads etc.

Z: Which is the state which has implemented NREGA in the best possible manner?

IM: I was reading an article in Frontline last month. If I can recollect it correctly, it said that Kerala is the state with best results on NREGA. In terms of expanse, Andhra Pradesh also is not far behind but the recent cases of suicide might lead us to revisit that. Not sure whether the position of Kerala has changed since, but I would still stick to Kerala.

[Z nodding his head and looking at X and Y ..]

Y: We will not give you a job [smiling…] and we cannot offer you an accommodation in our hostel as it is full but we will help you find paying guest in the vicinity.

IM: That’s heart breaking news to me on my first trip to Mumbai [chuckling…]. However, if that’s the way it is, I will go ahead with it.

X, Y, Z: OK, Indira...

IM: Thank you…

Took the same 382 bus to Hiranandani, had my lunch at Subway and found the nearest cyber cafe to share this experience with you.

The final list will be out sometime in mid-April. Tomorrow is another interview - on Development Studies. Let’s see, what unfolds...


  1. Wow!! Great experience...and thanks for sharing. But I have always wondered..and here people manage to notice, and later explain the expressions of the board in the manner of anecdotes...I have always felt in the woods understanding and explaining my own expressions. All best.

  2. ha ha ha,,,,,,,,,good point Rajarshi...but i guess ppl can do some guesswork later in addition to some imagination, memory et al. to finally arrive at the anecdotes......

    Good work Indira.....

  3. It is very important to carefully observe the expressions on the face of your interviewer. It helps you understand and frame your answers, decide whether you can be slightly humourous or remain serious.

    On anecdotes, I wrote down everything withing 2 hours of the interview, so it was kind of "farm fresh" :-)

    Moreover, we should not be talking about "anecdotes" after studying medieval history and "Gurbangooly Berdimohammedow" :-)

  4. Zed was probably Sai Baba himself from Kerala..

  5. great narrate..ur experience...and all the best..

  6. i think NREGA wages are more than 100/- its around 120/- in our area (andhra pradesh) and that 2$ thing? i think UN now considers calorie intake (pure guess)!!.. nice interview .. all the best

  7. The question was on the minimum wage as per NREGA and it was capped at Rs 100 this January.
    See the following -->

    On that calorie thing: In India, Poverty is measured by calorie intake - a difference of 500 calorie between rural and urban populace.

    Am unsure of whether UN has moved away from their dollar concept to calorie - will find out...

    Thanks ...

    1. Mam, did you make it to SE at TISS ? Your experience is very interesting and I am excited to know the final result.

  8. Thanks for sharing ur experience.. being a student of SE, TISS and knowing X,Y and z for the past 18 months i enjoyed it so much..
    Good Luck!!

    1. Hi Brave Heart, I am applying for SE from TISS this year. I have many queations regarding that course. Can you please clarify those ?
      1) Now since the placements are stopped, does TISS provide enough funds to every student to start his/her own venture ?
      2) What is the maximum funding given by TISS for the ventures ?

      Please help, I have tried finding the answers of these questions in many places but didn't get any satisfactory answer. Please help. if possible share your email id. My id is