Cleveland State University consistently ranks among the best in the nation in producing Fulbright Scholars. During the spring of 2013, Dr. Rama Jayanti, Professor of Marketing in the Monte Ahuja College of Business was a Fulbright Scholar at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB) in India. Dr. Jayanti’s research interest in sustainability prompted her to pursue a Fulbright grant in order to solve a real world problem through her research expertise. Throughout her stay in India, Dr. Jayanti blogged about her experiences which now serve as a journal and photo album of her transformational experience (whereintheworldisrama.wordpress.com).
While at IIMB, Dr. Jayanti teamed up with an NGO (non-governmental organization) called Center for Co-operative Development (CCD), which helps farmers in South India pool their produce and procure better prices through scale economies. “My goal was to immerse myself in CCD efforts to gain enough knowledge to make a difference,” Dr. Jayanti said. Poor margins, exacerbated by frequent price fluctuations in the commodities market, are some of the biggest problems plaguing this venture. To combat this and ultimately get better prices for farmers, CCD was toying with the idea of bringing branded peanut snacks into the market as a way to add value to the supply chain and insulate it from price fluctuations. As a market research and branding academician, Dr. Jayanti’s project was to get this idea off the ground and into commercialization. In order to get a thorough understanding of CCD operations, she visited the farmers in their villages, toured the peanut mill facility, and interviewed CCD field officers and other personnel. She facilitated a trial launch of peanut snacks and conducted focus groups to test the products and tweak the branding idea. She then developed a branding platform for CCD to market all of their commodities, not just peanuts, under one umbrella. CCD is planning to use this branding platform to launch the final product in the Bangalore area during November 2013, coinciding with the Diwali festival.
In addition to working with CCD, during her stay at IIMB Dr. Jayanti organized a workshop on “Balancing Sustainability and Profitability: New Opportunities for a New Era,” co-sponsored by the Centre for Public Policy at IIMB and the Monte Ahuja College of Business Center for Sustainable Business Practices. The workshop brought together diverse scholars from India, Germany, and the United States. Corporate executives from ITC, Infosys, Wipro, Cummins, Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre of the Confederation of Indian Industry, University Hospitals, and SmartShape Design, a Cleveland industrial design consultancy, participated in the workshop.
As a Fulbright scholar, Dr. Jayanti toured other institutions of higher learning in India, such as Banaras Hindu University and Indian School of Business, to present her work and mentor doctoral students. Dr. Jayanti said that her travels opened her eyes to the burgeoning demand for business education in India. However, she feels that key resources such as access to high quality faculty have unfortunately not kept pace with the demand.
Dr. Jayanti’s Fulbright award helped her to experience India’s transformation at different levels. Her work with CCD, for example, shattered her stereotypes of Indian farmers. “I was quite stunned by how fluent the farmers were in English and the depth of knowledge they had about emerging farming technologies. In our meetings, the farmers articulated their problems and opportunities in the face of massive institutional failures remarkably well. A farmer’s day-to-day life rotates around the few hours that power is available while in cities like Bangalore the air conditioning is humming 24/7. I asked a number of farmers if their children are going to stay with farming. Not a single farmer said yes. We really need to reflect on the source of our food in coming years.” Her interactions with CCD personnel taught her the importance of simple values. The story of Shanta, who works as a quality control manager at a CCD mill facility, really resonated with Dr. Jayanti. “Shanta taught me that it is really not about the job but about the enthusiasm you bring to the job. She personally and painstakingly inspects each and every peanut bag that goes out of that facility as if each bag carries her reputation and her promise for a quality product.”
In spite of the many setbacks, modern India is a miracle, according to Dr. Jayanti. Her stay at IIMB gave her an opportunity to tap into the vitality and unbridled enthusiasm of India’s youth. “India is endowed with new age technologies but still hangs on to old age customs,” she said. “I am very grateful to have had a peek into this fascinating confluence of tradition and modernity especially among young women like Shanta who are harbingers of success in any society.”