It was in 2004, perhaps in the month of September that we released our small publication, "Indian System of Management - An Introduction". The publication was released in the Goethe Institute, Chennai (the old building at that time, not the current new location) during a workshop on the same subject. At that time, Samanvaya intended to bring out several follow-up publications on the subject as a series. However, subsequent developments took us further and further away from this much needed work. An attempt was made in 2014 to revive the same through a series of workshops in Chennai, unfortunately, this too had to be given up as there were far too many practical difficulties.
For those who don't know, Indian System of Management (ISM) was a new body of knowledge that emerged in the 80s and 90s as part of the movement to try and articulate "Indian" view of everything - we had "Indian" science & technology, "Indian" psychology, etc., coming up around the same time - primarily drawing from practices of management that were unique to Indian companies and with some level of alignment with alignment with scriptures of Indian origin. The range of scriptures was from the Tamil Thirukkural to the obvious Bhagavat Gita to Artha Sastra and other scriptures of different times and periods.
I was first attracted to this body of knowledge in the early 90s and subsequently during my corporate consulting days was involved in organizing and conducting workshops on ISM in Chennai primarily for the corporate managers and leaders.
My introduction to the pre-colonial and early-colonial history through the works of late Gandhian historian Dharampal gave me another insight into the ways in which we in India managed ourselves in somewhat better times before the British destroyed our communities through brute force. In the meanwhile, my own personal journey had taken me away from the corporate sector to the social sector. Some of what we read in the archival documents about the way the communities worked in India were fascinating as management practices and rather modern and innovative even by current standards of innovation. My encounters with village communities across India gave me ample proof that several of these management practices were deeply embedded in local cultures and practices even today and were not lost. However, they were not researched adequately and codified with confidence as "management theories" as most of our management academics were either corporate or westward oriented. My own small attempt based on a study in 2005 was to codify the practices of the southern Tamilnadu community practices under the title of 'Traditional Community Institutions and their Social Security practices'. This I have tried to crystallize and written a few articles on between 2004 and 2010.
In the early parts of the 2000, there was a shift due to the new found wealth thanks to the IT sector. During this phase, several books, case studies and news articles were written on the Indian corporate culture that was different from the international ones. While the IT sector itself was more modelled on the global clientele on whose management models it was dependent and emulated on, case studies came from the family managed corporate entities in India. Many of these had sustained in the brick and mortar sector that was being challenged in several ways by the new IT sector. But, the narrative shifted from that of a broad "Indian" one to several community and specific location based ones.
The rise of the hindutva politics gave a new form of interest in the later part of 2010s to ISM practices, there was more pride and it was no longer presented as "another" form of management best suited for Indian conditions, instead, it had to be a "global form" of management "prescribed to all" and attempts were (and still continue to be) made to move the narrative out of the 'Indian' label to that of the narrower 'Hindu' one. This excluded community practices of management that could emanate from non-Hindu communities in India of which there are several amazing examples. I see a new genres of books in the book shelves that are an outcome of this new grand narrative. Every community across the world has tried to portray itself as a great and rewrite its historical narrative during times of plentitude and this trend I see as people fitting into such a global narrative. But, as many of these are written by people who are either trained in modern management or have emerged from the middle class urban settings, they have obviously not been informed by the rich rural traditions and cultures that have many of the Indian management practices still in vogue.
There has been also a series of books that has emerged from the 'social entrepreneurship' bandwagon since early 2000s. The concept of social entrepreneurship is rather weak and doesn't sit well with the Indian conditions, however, the several initiatives from this space have provided for literature to emerge profiling practitioners and practices. These are quite interesting as some of these have within nuggets of indian management systems. but, one needs to glean at many of these to elicit some form of management systems narrative as many of them have catered to the market demand of either creating 'heroes' or 'models'.
So, as we race towards the end of 2017, my attention has been repeatedly drawn to doing another workshop on ISM. This time an online one. This ensures that distances and organizing doesn't become an issue. In the coming weeks, we will launch this programme as I gather my several experiences, learnings, insights and writings on this subject from across several online and offline locations. This will be meant for practicing managers, preferably with a few years of experience and who are often left with the question, "what works here?". This course could also be for the academics in management, though, I would prefer academics with practical experience as well.
What I promise is a learning drawn from community practices across the country, management practices and principles codified from these, some form of codifying that is available in the literature, both old and contemporary, as well as examples and case studies.
I don't see ISM today in the light as an "Indian" solution or a "Hindu" solution any longer. I have come to recognize something else in them. I see in some of the practices a deep understanding and potential for sustaining the planet today and it is in the context of sustainability that I would present my course. I definitely think India has something to offer to the world on that plane, not as a 'model' as much as a process. I don't think indigenous communities everywhere would have differed much in their principles, though, they may have adopted varying and local material dependent practices. Today with the indigenous communities everywhere facing the challenges of global economy and market and financial organization, there is a need to articulate that which can sustain in as many various diverse manner as possible and it is in that light I see this attempt of the workshop. I hope it revives memories of other practices and principles as well.
6th November 2017