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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cambridge students start work on community projects in India

Four Cambridge students flew out to India last week as the first participants in a collaboration between Cambridge University and India's largest business conglomerate.

An MOU signed between Tata Sons Ltd and the University of Cambridge in January this year has resulted in the launch of the Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (TISES). TISES is a hands-on opportunity for select Cambridge students to experience working on social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility projects within the Tata group of companies in India. TISES is a student placement programme which offers summer internships annually to final year undergraduates and graduates for up to eight weeks with different community initiative enterprises undertaken by the Tata Group.

The four students, selected out of a number of applicants, are now settling in their respective areas of work after a two-day induction programme at Mumbai. They are Valerie Fitton Kane, a student at Judge Business School, Lee Nordstrum, an MPhil student in Education, Grant Jackson, who recently completed his first degree in Natural Sciences and Selene Gittings, who has just finished her undergraduate degree in the faculty of Social and Political Sciences. Helen Haugh of Judge Business School who coordinates the TISES programme at Cambridge went on a fact-finding trip to India in March. She said: "This is an excellent opportunity for students to gain real understanding of the impact of social entrepreneurship on the lives of people in developing countries.

The pioneering work of the Tata Group shows how corporations can engage with communities and lead innovative change at grass roots level." Of the four students, while Lee Nordstrum and Selene Gittings are working with a women's self-help group project at Babrala, located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Valerie Fitton-Kane is joining a Rural Entrepreneurship Development Programme (REDP) at Mithapur, situated on the tip of Gujarat, a state on the West coast of India and very close to the India-Pakistan border.

Grant Jackson is also working at Babrala, but on an animal husbandry project exploring a dairy co-operative initiative, a movement that ushered in the milk revolution or the White Revolution in India in the 1970's.

Their stay in India and part of their airfare are sponsored by the Tata Group. Community Development Projects in India are livelihood projects for the poor, mostly rural population, facilitated through a number of schemes, an example being the micro credit scheme, which loans very small amounts of money to very poor people.

The REDP similarly explores ways in which individuals and communities can become financially sustainable, usually through locally suitable livelihood measures like handicraft, farming projects or sewing projects. The Tata Group is India's largest and one of its most respected conglomerates with revenues of over $50billion.

The Tata Group represents 'Leadership with Trust' as it combines business leadership with a commitment to return wealth to society. It now has businesses spread over seven sectors and operations in six continents with a total of 98 companies.

The MOU with Tata is one of five signed by the Vice-Chancellor Professor Alison Richard during her visit to India last January. Professor Dame Sandra Dawson, who chairs the Cambridge India Partnership and accompanied the Vice-Chancellor on that visit, said: "The Cambridge India Partnership is a long-term, resilient and evolving relationship founded on scholarly and research-based collaborations, two-way exchanges at every academic level, and at the interface of academia with NGOs, business, and public policy, commitment to capacity building for a global future in both Cambridge and India and ever strengthening relations with alumni. "We aim to further develop collaborations and partnerships between Cambridge and India involving scholars at every level from undergraduates to the most distinguished Professor. "

The Cambridge India Partnership website, acts as a centralised and dynamic resource for information on ongoing activities between Cambridge and India, including academic collaborations, partner institutions, funding opportunities, events and activities, exchanges and student programmes, visits to and from India and alumni relations. The Vice-Chancellor and colleagues are set to make a return visit to India next January.


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