Vineet Nayar was recently chosen for the Dataquest Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions to the Indian IT industry specifically in organizing and building the Indian software industry. Nayar has now shifted his focus from the IT industry and paying full attention to the education of rural kids through his NGO – Sampark Foundation.
How will you describe your career journey?
My career journey has been a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, friendship and foes, achievements and failures. It was also a journey with awesome sets of people and experience. I have enjoyed every bit of it in both failure and in success. It is a wish come true experience, I could not have asked for anything better.
What challenges have you faced in the IT industry?
The IT industry becomes obsolete every three years. If you are in the IT industry, you have to get in the mind space where change is the only constant thing you will face. But it is easier said than done.
For example, if we try to turn a large ship every three years, it becomes very difficult. I think the biggest challenge for every leader working in the IT space is the fact; that how you can inspire the set of people going in one direction to suddenly change their direction.
How would you describe your management style?
My management style can be described in one line which is – I don’t know, I truly believe that if you can surround yourself with really smart people and if you can inspire them to jump out of their bed and work for a vision which you both commonly believe in, then you can create magic. I believe that magic cannot be created if you have a big vision or idea and you expect followers to work for you. Magic can only be created, if you are co-creating dreams with fellow dreamers and everybody feels equally excited for the purpose you are pursuing and work for it everyday.
Can you please tell us about your book “Employees First, Customers second.”
The idea of Employees first and Customers second originated from working with my fellow HCL-ites. Our collective thinking was the fact that how we created differentiated value for our customers. We realized that our employees were creating differentiated value and experiences for the customers which help us grow faster. And this is why we ask the third question, if our employees are creating the differentiation, then what should the role of managers and management be?
We collectively came to a conclusion that the role of management and managers is to enthuse, encourage, manage and enable those employees to create the differentiation which will help us grow faster and therefore the idea was born.
What message do you want to give to the young people in the country?
I think my message to young people in this country is that there is fairly large threat looming out there and fairly large opportunities waiting to be grabbed. The jobs as my generation knew are not going to be there anymore. The opportunity of being an entrepreneur, doing start-up, solving problems will further help. None of this existed in our generation. Therefore, if you are looking for a job, I think you should stop dreaming about it because the number of jobs will only go down and not up.
But if you are looking for problems to solve, I think India is right for that opportunity. The world is waiting for Indians to do something big which can create more jobs.
So take higher risk, dream bigger, skill yourself, work harder and the world will be your stage.
How did Sampark Foundation come about? Why did you change your focus from IT industry?
Sampark Foundation was an idea which was born in 2004 and we formed it in 2005. The idea was that we see a lot of disruptive innovation in the cooperate sector but we see very little innovation in the social sector. Most of the work in social sector is done by heart and very little by applying innovation to try and solve the problem. The question we asked ourselves was; can we apply frugal innovation to make large scale changes to our social problems? We picked up “education” and looked at 144mn children in 700,000 government schools. We came to know that the learning outcomes of these children were poor. The government has doubled the expenditure on education but the learning outcome has only gone down which should ideally go up.
How could we find new innovative ways to try and disrupt this model and bring up our transformation to improve learning outcomes? At Sampark Foundation, we innovated and came up with an audio device along with three dimensional tools, which create an immersive experience like Bollywood experience for our children and teaches Mathematics and English to them. We are touching 76,000 schools and 7mn children in India. The learning outcome has dramatically moved up.
What is your future plan?
It took me seven years to get Sampark Foundation kick-started in the right direction after I left HCL in 2013. Today, we are in three states enjoying every bit of this innovative, disruptive, and transformative journey.
According to me, by 2025 Sampark Foundation will not exist. And the reason we have defined an end date is that the purpose of existence is very clear. To transform the education system in our country and to deliver high learning outcomes and if this problem still exists till 2025 then the reason for our existence doesn’t matter. If we are successful in bringing the change in the primary education in government schools, again we will not be needed. I think the future of Sampark Foundation is to relentlessly economical with innovative ideas to transform the way education is delivered in primary and middle schools run by the government.