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Dr. Ramaswami "Balu" Balasubramaniam teaching in an ILR classroom

ILR Perspective Informing Reform in India

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Dr. Ramaswami "Balu" Balasubramaniam from teaching in Ithaca, but not from engaging in his coursework. In addition to his work with the NGO he founded, the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, Balu traditionally teaches two ILR courses each fall – one on international development and one on leadership in the context of human resources.

Two of his recent projects show how important these subjects are in the real world. They include his appointment to the Commission to Reform the Indian Administration, and the creation of the social stock exchange. 

The Capacity Building Commission was created by India Prime Minister Narendra Modi to overhaul the country’s civil service and bureaucracy, Balu said, noting that the pandemic has shown how important public services are and the necessity of government action. 

In an interview this summer with ILR, Balu said inadequacies of the public system have demonstrated the need for building capacity in the bureaucracy of not just India, but of all nations. The commission is an attempt to prepare the Indian bureaucracy to be ‘future-fit’ and prepare themselves to meet the challenges posed by a constantly changing world, he said.

Balu added that his vision for India’s bureaucracy moves the country away from the legacy of British colonialism; citizens of India should be equal partners and participants in the development of India. Public administration should be seen from the lens of public service, and governance needs to be centered on citizens, he said.

With his background in civil society and academia, Balu is bringing his perspective to the commission, where he works alongside representatives from the private and governmental sectors to create a citizen-centric bureaucracy, creating an India with “less government and more governance,” he said. Another of its goals is to create a public service summit that is similar to existing global forums such as the World Economic Forum. Balu said he envisions India as a leader at this forum, demonstrating the importance of human resources and civil services.

In this work, Balu said he is utilizing the human resources and public affairs knowledge of the ILR school. The leadership course he teaches each fall is especially critical in this work, as he teaches about leadership for global citizenship and creating social good, empowering both individuals and organizations. “I get to use what I teach at Cornell and that is going to be tried out by millions of people in real life, and then this experience will be going back into my teaching,” Balu said. 

The second project which utilizes Balu’s work at ILR is the creation of a social stock exchange, on which he worked as a member of a technical group that created a report. One of the tenets of Balu’s teaching and work is that the private sector needs to work alongside government and NGOs to create meaningful change. “We have committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which means by 2030 we have promised to deliver on 17 of those goals,” he said. “That means we need to be spending over a trillion dollars a year. We don’t have that kind of money now, the public sector investments, NGO investments, and investments from international agencies only come to $460 billion, so that leaves $540 billion needed.” 

“The only people not participating fully are those in the private sector. And why would the private sector want to participate unless they see some kind of return on their investment? People are ready to participate [in social change efforts],” he said, “but they want to see impacts.” 

The social stock exchange, therefore, will operate like a typical stock exchange, except it will enable trust in social enterprise organizations by encouraging investment in them. The social stock exchange “is one way of mobilizing resources for the sector to ensure that we are able to do the social development that we want.”

According to Balu, other countries have created social stock exchanges, but none are functioning in the way he envisions India’s exchange. Balu said he worked for the past five years researching and drafting a report on social stock exchanges. 

“I talked to a lot of people at Cornell for input,” he said, including Professor Rosemary Batt, Associate Professor Marya Besharov and the Buffalo Co-Lab staff that has tremendous experience in stimulating social development with private investments. 

 Balu hopes to implement his vision in India beginning this summer. 


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