Prof. Sita Vanka, a Senior Faculty Member and the former Dean, School of Management Studies at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) received the Silver Medal for her research at the International Summer School at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, held between October 4-10, 2015 from Prof. Glasmacher, Chairman, of the Summer School.

Shaima Mansoor from department of Communication interviews Dr. SitaVanka for UoH Herald


● What was the International Summer School at University of Hiedelberg about?

The International Summer School was a ten day programme for researchers on Sustainable Development. This was supported by Santander Bank. Prof. Glasmacher,was the coordinator एंड the Chairman of the Summer School. The University of Heidelberg is a very old university. Having been established in 1381, it has a history of about 600-700 years. This University is known for its cutting edge scientific research and there have been many Nobel laureates from this University. It holds an International Summer School followed by a Symposium every year. I was invited this year as a keynote speaker for both, the Summer School and the Symposium, to speak on sustainable development. They invited about ten speakers from countries such as Brazil, Germany, Latin America, US and UK. I was representing Asia and spoke on sustainable development efforts carried out in Asia, in the context of India as an emerging economy. I gave the keynote address on sustainable development in the Indian context and a broader Asian context. There was also a representative from the United Nations who spoke about sustainable development across the world and the efforts of the UN on sustainable development. They also invited research proposals on sustainable development from researchers from around the world. They received about 300 proposals and carefully selected twenty scholars. One of our scholars, Bharat Kumar, from the School of Management Studies was selected for the Summer School. He also shared his research on sustainable human resource management practices in the Indian IT industry. . He works under my guidance for his doctoral work on sustainability in HR practices in the IT industry, so he shared his results there. The selected scholars were from Latin America, UK, Netherlands, Middle East, Germany but no one from Asia, apart from Bharat. These scholars were expected to learn more about sustainable development in all its dimensions and applications from the expertswho were invited and shared their research findings.

The Summer School was followed by a German-Brazilian Symposium that had about 200-250 participants. I gave the keynote address on the very first day where I spoke about sustainability in Indian businesses. Since I represent management and gender studies in my research, the role of women in Indian businesses was the focus of my presentation. There were ten parallel sessions running simultaneously focusing on each of the dimension of sustainable development. The symposium was from October 4 to October 10 and the summer school went on for ten days before that. There were medals given away on the final day of the Summer school. The silver medal was given to me, for my presentation and contribution to research in the Asian context. It was a pleasant surprise. It was an honor to receive this Medal while representing Asia and as the lone woman on the panel. It is extremely encouraging and motivates me to work more and strive for much more recognition and many more achievements at the international level.

● How was the learning experience at such a global platform, especially for young scholars?

Sustainable development is the buzzword today, when we talk about the environment and the depletion of natural resources. The Summer School was focused thoroughly on research regarding sustainability across the world. We all heard different applications and dimensions of sustainable development in various fields such as oceanography, geography, earth sciences, atmospheric sciences and so on. Only our research focused on the human dimension of Sustainability. There was a lot of learning because you are learning about sustainability in all its dimensions and applications across the world. Now we have a broad understanding of sustainability and sustainable goals.

● How crucial is sustainable development in the Indian context? Is India at par with the others in this aspect?

The background of all this is the millennium development goals, spelt out by the UN in the year 2000. But then these goals ended in 2015 and from now to about the next twenty years, we have sustainable development goals set out by UN. India’s rank is quite low. We are still grappling with all kinds of basic problems such as low literacy levels, low participation in politics, decision making power, health issues, etc. Against this, India is ranked 138 in about 185 countries. India will still take time to really focus on sustainability as such. We have to still fulfill millennium development goals such as education and health for all. We finally have some policies in place for India to achieve in the context of the UN mandate. So, this is where sustainability as a concept comes in. Though we talk about it more now, India as country with the population that it has and systems to stabilize is taking its own time to think of sustainable development. Now that this has been thrust on every country, Indian government and Indian Prime Minister is also talking about sustainable development while visiting other countries. In fact, the German Chancellor, who was in India recently, was stressing on this topic when he met the Prime Minister. So, hopefully a serious look into this will take place once the policy is framed and implemented as it has become mandatory for the survival of the planet earth.

● How have Indian industries and businesses dealt with sustainable development?

I have been working in the field of sustainable development for the last ten years. In my research, I thought it is not enough when a business starts or ends. Business has to sustain itself whether in profits, by taking care of human resources, infrastructure etc. The sustainability of an organization is something that is extremely important. In India, we have opened up our economy since 1991 and after ten years of stabilization, we have seen some business houses that could sustain the volatile and dynamic environment of 1990s and have performed well. The IT industry has sustained itself for 15-20 years now and worth looking at in terms of quality of services it is providing for its clients worldwide. . The pharma industry has practiced it very well too. For example, a local pharmaceutical company like Dr Reddy’s being able to topple internationally established companies with its good quality and low cost drugs it could manufacture in India with indigenous technology.

● How would you like to see the research on this subject progress?

I encourage my own scholars to take up this concept. There are many ways in which sustainable development can be applied in human resource management in all its functions, right from recruitment, training, performance appraisal and so on. This is where the IT and pharma industry are doing well. That’s why I felt we could use sustainability as a concept in such industries. One can concentrate on recruitment, another can look it in terms of training and development, somebody else from the perspective of performance management, and so on , in a variety of contexts, along with cross cultural comparisons. At the School of Management, now that coursework is compulsory, we have made in class courses mandatory for research scholars. Sustainability has also been introduced in the curriculum for the course work as a self study course. Even the MBA students can be exposed to this concept, although we touch such concepts in the core course on Business Environment in the first year. The School can also offer a course on sustainability and its applications, which could be relevant to all schools. This should help the School come up with good research on this concept which is going to be the burning issue for the next twenty years across the world. This research output also helps the academic industry interface.

● What are some of the challenges and opportunities for students taking up research in such fields?

At the University of Hyderabad, we have an entrance examination that tests their methodological skills and analytical abilities. Most of the scholars are either JRFs or get admitted through this examination. Every year, we have a good number of applications for Ph.D. at the School. . This gives a lot of choice to us to choose the best from them. The amount given to JRFs is also sufficient for their basic research concerns. The University has very good infrastructure and databases to work on. The doctoral committee supervises their work every semester and takes care of the challenges they face, ofcourse with the guide who is a rock support for the scholar. The faculty also gives suggestions and makes sure they are incorporated in their research work. The progress reports given every two months by the supervisor assesses the work done and the scholars are advised appropriately. All these take care of the challenges research scholars face in terms of topic, methodology, progress at different stages, etc. There are many opportunities as well. This Summer School, for instance, is an excellent opportunity. You are in the company of other research scholars from different backgrounds working on the same concept. Research scholars can get very good exposure through the talks and discussions at such platforms. There are, of course, Fulbright fellowships available and many other national fellowships that students can apply for. There are also corporate fellowships that part time scholars can look for. There are ample opportunities, way more than when I was a student, but it’s the scholar’s focus and dedication towards a relevant topic that will ultimately help him/her produce good quality research. It is possible and our university output is proof of such quality research output.