Suresh Prabhu, an Indian parliamentarian and a former member of the Modi cabinet, was in the U.S. recently to promote the new Rishihood University, termed India’s first social-impact university.
Prabhu, a seasoned politician, recently became founding chancellor of the University, based in Sonipat, in the Indian state of Haryana.
Prabhu, who has served as India’s minister of civil aviation, railways, commerce and industry, is also India’s Sherpa to the G7 and G20.
At the event hosted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India’s San Francisco Chapter, Prabhu, who is a chartered accountant, discussed India’s education system and challenges it faces, the growing startup culture, and the need for a university like Rishihood.
He said the name of the university, Rishihood (sainthood), was inspired by Indian monk Swami Vivekanada’s words: “The leaders of our society have never been generals or kings but rishis (saints). When you are a rishi, you become a blessing to mankind. This is Rishihood.”
The university could help students not just build a successful career but also bring about social change, Prabhu told indica.
“Education is a means for social transformation and nation-building,” he said. “It is not merely a platform for jobs but a much more holistic development in the life of an individual and society.”
The university aims to nurture future leaders by cultivating three core abilities, Prabhu said, listing them: “The feeling of being joyful and spiritually content, the courage to act for a larger societal impact, and a spirit of curiosity to learn more and more.”
He said that the university would not immediately offer courses in the sciences.
“We are a new institution,” Prabhu said. “So we have picked up the areas where we felt that there is a dire need… That’s why we picked up areas like public leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity, education, and health care. We have some courses in technology because that is a foundational skill across disciplines. We will be adding more schools and departments as we grow.”
Prabhu said his trip to America has been fruitful.
“We came to recruit faculty, raise philanthropic support, and forge academic partnerships,” he said. “The response was very encouraging.”
He said discussions are in progress about partnerships with institutions across the U.S., among other things, to share ideas.
“There are a few aspects of American education and institutions from which India can learn,” Prabhu said. “One is the emphasis on a common curriculum followed by a choice of subjects. This enables the students to acquire basic skills and make an informed choice about what they want to study. We have implemented this at Rishihood with a few more innovations and getting good results. Other aspects of American education such as the quality of research, the autonomy of faculty, and the linkage between industry and academia are useful for adoption.”
According to Prabhu, “Rishihood will not just fill this gap, but develop an entrepreneurial mindset in the students so that they think of themselves as job creators rather than job seekers.”