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‘Anybody Who Does Not Believe in the Importance of Sustainable Development Should Visit India’

In January 2024, HSE students from Moscow, St Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod took part in the Winter School ‘Business and Governance in India’, hosted in Dehradun by the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES). Having now completed the course, its attendees—participants of the Master’s in Sustainable Business Management at HSE Graduate School of Business—shared their impressions with the HSE News Service.

Ksenia Kalashnik

Photo courtesy of Winter School participants

I learnt about this Winter School from the Academic Supervisor of our master’s programme, Anna Veselova, and immediately decided to take part in it, although I had never thought about traveling to India before. Since then, I have never regretted my decision; the internship turned out to be very useful both for my general outlook and for exploring a new culture.

The UPES teachers gave amazing lectures, and we learnt a lot about the Indian economy, culture, traditions, philosophy, and religion. Most of all, I remember Dr Anil Prakash Joshi, an eco-activist and the founder of a local NPO called HESCO, the Himalayan Environmental Studies & Conservation Organisation. Dr Joshi told us about climate change and the relationship between humans and nature, as well as the role of civil society and local communities in India.

Photo courtesy of Winter School participants

We also experienced rural life in the Indian villages that HESCO helps. In the master's programme, we talk a lot about the development of local communities and the impact of NPOs on them, how such organisations can be helpful. Here, we could see what they do in practice: they create jobs for women, supply water to villages, support agricultural works (building greenhouses and vegetable gardens), and even install biofuel plants.

The internship included a vast cultural programme. We visited a local festival and learnt some Indian dance moves. In turn, we taught local students some Russian folk dances—they really asked for it. One student from Nizhny Novgorod, Yana, is a professional dancer, so she quickly taught us the simplest elements—I don’t even know their names. We danced to ‘Kalinka’ and did a round dance. Everyone was really excited.

Besides dancing, we played basketball and watched kites fly. We tried the local cuisine and liked it: the tofu with rice was very tasty, although I found it unusual to eat it twice a day for ten days in a row. Life on campus is busy, and India as a whole is a different world. After a trip to this country, you begin to understand yourself better, appreciate life more, and enjoy little things as the locals do.

Inna Pigoleva

Photo courtesy of Winter School participants

A study trip is the best opportunity to get to know a new country, so I was interested in this Winter School in India as soon as I heard about it.

The schedule was intense, but balanced. In the morning, we had lectures and discussions, which helped us develop a comprehensive understanding of India—its economy, political system, business environment, technology, and culture. In the afternoon, we made field trips, got acquainted with sustainable practices used to boost the socio-economic development of India, and also immersed ourselves in Indian culture and life.

I really enjoyed participating in discussions on philosophical and difficult topics (for example, is India a rich or poor country?), as well as learning about real practical cases—what has already been done in the country to improve the quality of life. For example, I was happy to learn about the Aadhaar project (the world's largest biometric system, which already has more than a billion registered users), women’s support programmes, sustainable agriculture practices along the entire value chain, and more.

Photo courtesy of Winter School participants

As we lived on the UPES University campus, we socialised with local students. I won’t forget all our activities: morning yoga, sports (including a friendly basketball match), cultural festivals, dance classes, and even a dance battle (Indian dance versus Russian folk). It was fun. We were delighted by the rich fauna on campus: in the evenings, there are about as many monkeys as there are students, and the trees were full of parrots of the most exotic colours.

Our programme also included two trips to neighbouring cities. Rishikesh is the spiritual capital of India, the birthplace of yoga, a place filled with incredible energy, with ascetic ashrams, colourful markets and mysterious religious ceremonies. The Beatles were inspired to create one of their most famous albums there. Mussoorie is a cosy and tranquil town in the foothills of the Himalayas with breathtaking views of paddy fields and swings into the sky, which we certainly tried out.

I suppose our trip to India helped highlight the sustainable development agenda in today’s reality. India has a lot of strengths, but there are also cities there that lead the world ‘anti-ratings’ for air and water quality, and the country is suffering from an obvious problem with garbage (it is everywhere). Along with that, remnants of the caste system, the vulnerable social status of women, and the unacceptably low standard of living among the majority of the local population still remain relevant. I believe that anyone who does not believe in the importance of sustainable development should visit India at least once and see everything with their own eyes.

Yulia Frolova

Photo courtesy of Winter School participants

In the first module of this academic year, we had a course on sustainable marketing. One professor from India taught it, so at the beginning of each class we practiced meditation. It boosted my strong desire to get back to India, as I had already been there in 2013. After completing that course, we were told about the opportunity to participate in the Winter School at UPES. I had always dreamt of living on a university campus, so all the stars aligned.

We not only lived on campus and studied at university, but also visited NPOs and met local entrepreneurs. For example, we visited the non-profit organisation HESCO and went to a farm where they support female entrepreneurs, helping them produce an environmentally friendly product and establish distribution channels. Overall, our immersion programme gave us a systemic understanding of the economy, culture, and education, and not just the context of the sustainable development agenda in India.

Photo courtesy of Winter School participants

India is a country of contrasts with terrible social inequality, severe poverty, litter-covered streets, and complete chaos on the roads. But at the same time, there are a huge number of new schools and universities; the nation enjoys high spiritual values and effective government initiatives. I have no doubt that in 20–40 years, we will see a completely different country.

Thanks to the organisers and the university for this trip!

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