Rajeev Kumar Tiwari, an associate professor at the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy in northern India, is one of 30 representatives of the Indian Forest Ministry spending the next two weeks at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies studying in a mid-career training program. At home, he and his colleagues are confronting an important problem: How to balance the economic growth affecting a population of 1.3 billion with protecting unique and ancient ecosystems?
“Forestry science is still in its nascent stage in India,” Kumar Tiwari said. “We are trying to learn from the experience of Yale, considered to have the best forestry school in the world.”
This training program, which is in its second year and has welcomed 150 Indian foresters to date, is part of an increase in collaboration between Yale and Indian institutions.
This program is one of three related to India taking place at Yale this month. University President Richard Levin and other Yale administrators are hosting 25 leaders of Indian universities to discuss institutional leadership and education at Yale, and 10 leaders from Indian NGOs came to the School of Management to discuss social enterprise projects with students. All three are part of the University’s expanding efforts to strengthen ties to Indian educational, governmental and business institutions, which administrators have termed the Yale-India Initiative.
“Like China, India is a rising power with a rich source of talent and prospective students that may come to Yale,” Levin said. “I think it’s important to reach out to both those countries and develop a strong reputation for Yale in both of those areas.”
George Joseph, the assistant secretary for Asia in the Office of International Affairs, said that Yale officials started targeting India five years ago, when Levin began taking yearly visits to the country. The University launched the Yale-India Initiative in 2008.
At a speech in New Delhi that year, Levin described the vision for the initiative as an effort to “ensure that our students and faculty have a richer and deeper understanding of India, and will contribute to strengthening the relationship between the world’s two largest democracies.”
Since launching the Yale India Initiative, Joseph said, Yale has committed $75 million towards the South Asian Studies Council, a body within the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies that deals largely with India. Joseph added that Yale has hired about a dozen new faculty members who specialize in the region, increased course offerings and opportunities for students in India, and created a South Asian studies major since 2008.
“I don’t think there are any other universities that are at this scale right now,” Joseph said. “This is one of the largest commitments to South Asian engagement anywhere.”
While Yale is reaching out to India in part to expand its educational offerings on South Asia, the University is also sharing best practices with the 25 university leaders who are on campus for 12 days ending Oct. 6.
During their time in New Haven, these officials will attend discussions with Levin on university organization and governance, learn about the liberal arts college model from Yale College Dean Mary Miller, and study the details of developing and financing a major research university.
Joseph said this knowledge is important for Indian education officials, since Indian higher education is undergoing a period of change. He said that there is a massive need for more higher education capacity in India, and that the country is looking bring its universities and research activities up to global standards.
“We aren’t saying that our approach is the best way or the only way, but we are saying that this is how we do it,” said Joseph. “They can take away what they think works or what doesn’t work to adapt to India.”
BENEFITS OF COOPERATION
Outside these programs for top-ranking officials and practitioners, some Yale professors and students are involved in India on a more grassroots level. Tony Sheldon, executive director of the School of Management Program on Social Enterprise, teaches a course called “Global Social Entrepreneurship,” which pairs students with groups in India that are using business and free-market principles to solve social problems.
Sheldon said that this kind of cooperation benefits both his students, who receive practical experience, and Indian organizations, which receive support and ideas.
Sheldon and some of his students are currently working with an Indian trade union, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), to purchase and distribute 200,000 solar lanterns and cook stoves to some of SEWA’s over 1.5 million members. Representatives from SEWA and other organizations that Sheldon and his students are working with visited New Haven last week to collaborate on various social projects. Sheldon said he and his students will all go to India to continue work on the projects in December.
“This is a way in which Yale can contribute to the progressive social evolution in India,” Sheldon said. “Students can learn what goes on in developing countries and contribute to it.”
For Kumar Tiwari and other forestry officials visiting New Haven, the chance to study and adapt practices learned at Yale is invaluable.
“The forests in India are in a lot of distress, and the availability of water is now very important too,” said Kumar Tiwari. “My colleagues have found this experience extremely valuable.”