Letters from Bharat; from mud to marble

Marble floors in the new girls dorm.
Marble floors in the new girls dorm at Immanuel Business School.

Solipet— Hyderabad is a booming metropolis, with a gleaming international airport, a high-tech hub known for it’s call centers and universities. Microsoft head Satya Nadella and Adobe chief Shantanu Narayen both went to school in Hyderabad. Facebook’s new CEO Sundar Pichai is also from south India, and grew up in a 2-room house where they had no car and didn’t have a phone until he was 12.

One has to wonder why so many tech giants are run by Indian engineer/managers. They are known for their humility and ingenuity, for one thing. Perhaps their collectivistic culture, an ability to put the group ahead of themselves.  And they have a secret sauce as well—they speak English, a vestige of colonial rule that enables their engagement with western culture and business.

When I was in India last month with students, we left the airport and drove over an hour from Hyderabad. As we drove through Solipet, a small village with dirt streets, hollow-eyed women sitting by the road stared as our bus full of American college students rolled by. And then,  on the outskirts of Solipet, we turned into the campus of Immanuel Business School (IBS).

Here a campus is emerging that offers hope to poor students from the city and poorer villages—a place where the dream of owning or running a company belongs to everyone. They won’t necessarily run tech companies—it’s not an engineering school, after all. But these students too have humility and ingenuity. And if you ask them what they want to do, almost all of them say they want to start a company.

We are there to help them practice their English. And to be moved by the Spirit that motivates this remarkable enterprise. In just five years since it began there are two academic buildings, two dormitories and an auditorium. Every time I return (this is my third trip), there is a new building. And always we are met by bright, positive, eager young men and women who want their lives, and the lives of their families, to be different. And better.

It’s humbling for us. There is poverty, yes. But there in no poverty mentality. In fact, the floors are made of marble, a regional resource to be sure, but also part of a vision designed to build their confidence, the most challenging task when working with students whose lives have been marked by centuries of caste consciousness and deprivation.  Yet they have also learned what we have often failed to learn—that we need each other.img_5291

I’m always stuck by how positive both faculty and students at IBS can be, considering how much we have and complain about. The best students there will have a chance to come to the U.S. and visit our university. Katie and I will, like we did last fall, try to make them feel welcome, with my meager attempt at Hyderabadi biryani and chi.

We can not match the hospitality we feel when we are there, though, or the vision that animates their hopes.

But we can be glad.  For the opportunity to play a small part.  And for the hope that heals.


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