Designing an Institution
Observing the evolution of great institutions reinstates our faith on human strength and human weakness. It also indicates how powerful is the force of time and how institutions deal with this.
I submit some of my findings after studying this theme and then describe two institutions of Bengal as summary case studies. I had undertaken this study during my post-graduate years (that was spent more on developing my own business, which now provides me bread and butter and surplus time to write post like this, rather than studying how other people founded and ran their business as MBA students are doomed to study) in a more systematic manner and have taken liberal notes from that study.
I. Great institutions, founded by great men and women were aware of human frailty and risk of decay and deviation and they incorporated this in their design.
II. Great institutions are designed in such a way that leaders will be free to do great good but highly restricted to do great damage or mischief.
III. Great institutions are synthesis of opposites – their irreconcilable aspect prevents deviation and uprooting through the tempests of time whereas flexibility provides adaptation.
Two institutions with origin in Bengal
Belur, Calcutta is the worldwide HQ of Ramkrishna Mission, established some 120+ years back. Viswa-Bharathi, Bolpur was established some 100+ years back. The former was established by a renunciation monk, Swami Vivekananda and the latter was founded by a poet – Rabindranath Tagore. The former remained an autonomous institution and the later became, in course of time, a Central University, funded and supervised by the Federal Government of India. Both the institutions were established three decades or more before Indian independence and founded by two very unique personalities the world has ever seen.
As an institution, the endurance of the institution as a living one goes how the organization selects its future leadership. In short : the price of leadership is the price of one’s life. The supreme decision making body is composed of celibate monks. No one enters this life lightly. Any aspirant knows the price and the razor-edge path that lies ahead. On another note, it depended on and admitted to be controlled by something transcendental. Thus, extremely high price of entry (“price of dear life”) and non-dependence on any temporal entity by design made it possible to have a unbroken leadership value system and non-dependence ensured that it remained autonomous.
The greatest power of Biswa-Bharti becomes its greatest weakness as time has taught us. It was a very advanced piece of design for its time but as time progressed and the giants left the stage, the less luminous next generation became dependent, first in terms of economics and next, in terms of inspiration. Both were filled in by the Federal Government and after hundred years, it is a very advanced piece of design in an advanced state of decay, not while we talk of university shaped buildings and facilities, salaries and perks, teacher’s union and other unions, administrative frameworks, fairs and trades, tourists and heritage business but a place of decay, even in relative terms, while we talk of the founding spirit of the institution. One can debate how good or bad a Federal patronage and control is for an institution but one cannot debate the practical experience of all democracies : “the best credit card one can have is the credit card underwritten by the taxpayer.” Or what is owned by taxpayer in theory is not really owned by anyone at all !
Biswa-Bharti – What if ?
This is a imaginary design thinking. Suppose Biswa-Bharti was designed with a charter like this :
We are an unique seat of learning in the world. We are seeking only those teachers who will not get any security of salary but will have a uniqueness that no other institution can provide. Security seekers, salary seekers, aram seekers, employment seekers need not apply. We shall remain self-dependent and if the end result is poverty, so be it. We shall train our students in a way no other seat of learning teaches them – in all aspects. With the team of teacher and students, we shall create our own wealth – financial, mental and intellectual, while remaining free yet adaptable to the demands of time. If we have the mental and physical potency to create a whole new world within world, we shall be surely able to become self-sustainable and prosperous by solving problems of fundamental nature of mankind.
In short, I wish, Biswa-Bharti was designed to be place of Freelance Teachers of great potency. There would have been few but what’s the harm ?
“একোচন্দ্রতোমহন্তি ন চ তারাগণৈরপি”
(A single moon dispels the darkness of the night and not millions and millions of stars)