When an earthquake hit India's Gujarat state in January, business professor Anil K. Gupta and his students at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad sprang into action. About 25 students from Gupta's courses volunteered to take injured people to first-aid camps--and used their computer and management skills to design systems to handle and monitor relief supplies. "The impression that our students live in ivory towers with no concern for society around them was totally belied," Gupta says.
Gupta, 48, is known for his hands-on approach to education. In his courses, teams of students must engage in local community projects and devise ideas for new services. The group with the best idea gets a prize. "I teach my students not to be amoebae and just fit into systems," he says. One graduate joined a fund that turns around sick, small industries. Even his students who go on to lucrative finance careers often retain a concern for community. A group of Gupta's former students set up a $1 million microcredit fund for village entrepreneurs.
Gupta is best-known for his extracurricular activities. An economist from northern India, he founded the Society for Research & Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies & Institutions (SRISTI). Its task: to help peasants register patents for innovations devised in their daily work. SRISTI has registered more than 10,000 innovations, ranging from an affordable, herbal pesticide to a tilting cart used for distributing compost.
Gujarat entrepreneurs are starting to produce these goods and pay license fees to farmers. India's government, at Gupta's urging, has set up a $5 million National Innovation Fund similar to SRISTI. The model may be exported to other nations. It's grassroots capitalism, and it works.