The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Head for the villages

P. Pratheep left his cushy corporate job because he wanted to work in the development sector. This alumnus of the National Institute of Technology, Allahabad, took up a rural management course at the Xavier’s Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar (XIMB). Little did he know that two years later, he’d be back in the corporate sector — in the Calcutta-based management consultancy firm Deloitte India, to be specific. The firm offered him a job during campus placement.

Earlier, rural management students worked only in social organisations or the dairy development board, but today the corporate sector is wooing them with vigour. Companies and consultants such as Reliance, Deloitte and Tata Teleservices visited rural management institutions for campus recruitment for the first time this year. And thanks to the economic downturn, companies have turned to rural markets in a big way.

If the placement scenario at rural management institutes this year is any indicator, students don’t have to worry about the downturn. The popular institutes had 100 per cent placement within days of the start of campus recruitment. And leading from the front was a host of corporate houses.

Rural boom

“Our graduates are in high demand, in the non-profit, government, as well as the corporate sectors,” says Vivek Bhandari, director, Institute of Rural Management, Anand (Irma). The institute achieved 100 per cent placement in two days while some reputed conventional B-schools had to extend their placement process for two weeks.

Experts say that the key reason for the sudden corporate interest in rural management graduates is their shift in marketing focus. Since the urban market is mostly saturated, companies are now targeting the rural customer. “Also, companies need to spend more money per unit of their products / services to attract an urban customer,” says Niraj Kumar, faculty member, XIMB.

The rural way is the way to grow, especially since many rural pockets of the country have considerable spending power and nearly zero penetration of most consumer goods. Furthermore, a relatively resilient rural demand — fuelled by farm loan waivers, employment guarantee schemes and hike in support prices of crops — has inspired the corporate sector to move to the countryside.

“Purchasing power in rural areas has gone up and marketing strategies designed specially for rural areas are proving effective,” says Kumar. Rural management students, armed with their knowledge of the livelihood and lifestyle of villagers, are the best people to devise methodologies to tap the rural market. That is why the corporate sector is so interested in these students.

“These graduates understand the psyche, culture and requirement of people living in rural areas. They help us in tapping the potential and expanding business,” says Raveen Bhatnagar, general manager, HR, east and central region, Tata Teleservices. Hiring rural management graduates can translate to a big customer base in rural pockets, he adds.

Rural management students spend as much as six to eight months a year in villages, working on projects. “Our students have a clear understanding of rural customers. So they are able to devise successful strategies for organisations that intend to expand their business in rural India,” says Kumar.

Multiple options

Apart from the corporate sector, rural management graduates can work in non-governmental organisations (NGOs), co-operatives, developmental organisations and funding agencies.

Microfinance units in banks and development organisations are also hiring students like never before, says D.S. Rathore, placement officer, Institute of Rural Management (IRM), Jaipur. “Our students know how to market goods in rural pockets. They act as facilitators between the service provider and customer,” he says. Former students of the institute work in banks and companies such as HDFC Bank, Axis Bank, SKS Microfinance, Escorts, IndusInk Bank, State Bank of India and Mahindra Sonalika.

With corporate jobs readily available, the number of students applying to rural management institutions is also on the rise. People are no longer looking at rural management as a poor cousin of business management. With job opportunities in various industries having increased, students now look at rural management as their first choice for an MBA that gives them the opportunity to work in diverse sectors.

Institutes such as IRMA, XIMB and IRM offer a two-year postgraduate diploma in rural management. Admission is based on an entrance examination, group discussion and personal interview. IRMA also offers a doctoral programme in the subject.

The number of applications to IRMA and XIMB shot up by almost 50 per cent this year. “Over the last five years, the number of applicants has been increasing at the rate of 20 to 30 per cent on an average,” says Kumar of XIMB. This year more than 15,000 students took IRMA’s entrance exam for about 100 seats. In 2008, the number of applicants was 10,000. “The dramatic increase in applications this year is clearly a sign that rural management is an exciting field,” says Bhandari.

Recession proof

The notion that rural managers are paid less than their urban counterparts has also been proven wrong. “Why should rural managers be paid any less than their urban counterparts,” asks Bhatnagar. “In fact, we should pay them more since they stay in remote areas,” he says.

The average annual salary of a rural management graduate is Rs 5.5 lakh, which is equivalent to what business management graduates have been paid this year. Around 30 organisations participated in the campus recruitment at XIMB and the highest salary offered was Rs 8 lakh per annum.

The reluctance of business management graduates to work in rural areas is another reason for the demand for rural managers in the corporate sector.

“The demand for rural managers will only grow in the future. This is a sector that will remain immune to global changes,” says Bhatnagar on an optimistic note.

So if you don’t panic at the thought of leaving the city lights, this is a career that will bring all round satisfaction.

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