Raj Rajakumar tells Shveata Chandel Singh about his role as president of the IIT Alumni Association and what it takes to keep the premier Indian Institute’s flag flying high
A graduate of metallurgical engineering graduate at IIT Bombay, Raj Rajakumar arrived in Australia in 1982 to study. After several years at Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, he completed his PhD and DIC.
Subsequently, Raj, as he is known to his friends and acquaintances, led several research groups at Imperial, while holding the prestigious Wolfson Fellowship. He is currently president of IIT Alumni Association, Victoria (IITAV).
Raj speaks about his role and duties as president.
Tell us something about yourself
I have been here for more than three decades. I first came to Sydney and later moved to Melbourne. I have worked for the iconic Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIRO), Australia’s premier research agency. Most of my work in recent years remained focused on technology transfer and commercialisation.
In my last role at CSIRO, I was a member of the executive management council and a director in CSIRO leading the National Flagship Research program in light metals, the first IITian and Indian to reach that level in the organisation. I have received many medals for both the ‘research achievement’ and ‘business excellence’.
I have held several leading positions in important Australian government/industry taskforces and committees including the Light Metals Action Agenda, the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate and the Joint Australia-China Non Ferrous Metals Mission, which led to the setting up of the first Austrade-funded Australia-China Management Training Centre for senior managers in the Chinese industries,.
I have served in several advisory committees in education and research and on boards. I hold a firm view that it was my IIT background which convinced the Indian government to invite me to Pravasi Bharat Diwas in January 2007 in Delhi to deliver a speech on technology development.
What is your role as president of the IIT Alumni Association, Victoria?
My role is extensive. It includes establishing and enhancing IIT brand equity in Australia besides promoting professional networking with business, academia and government. My main focus is to proceed with strengthening business, academic and political relationships between Australia and India and to promote and develop the welfare of its members.
I am fortunate to have an energetic and enthusiastic management committee and the members working with me are very supportive too.
After its inception in 2010, what have been the achievements of IITAV?
IITAV initially held a survey and workshops to clarify the purpose and strategies of the association. Since its inception, management committees have been improving and implementing the strategy to grow our profile and membership. Our links with professional organizations like Engineers Australia (EA), universities and companies have developed well.
We have held regular networking events among our members and externally. Our major event in 2012, for instance was the IITAV-Engineers Australia meeting on Climate Change, which was acknowledged as an important event and reported locally and in Indian government channels through the Consulate General’s office.
IITAV has held successful workshops and sessions with expert presentations on topics related to technology, entrepreneurship, marketing professional services and work-life balance, which are important issues identified by our membership.
How did the idea of an IIT Alumni Association come up?
It all started in 2010 when a group of like-minded IITians in Melbourne got together for dinner. Rajiv Lal was instrumental in originating this. It was the first opportunity for IITians to discuss the need for an association for IITians in Victoria. As a result of this meeting an interim committee was set up with Ravi Bhatia as president.
The first annual general meeting was held in April 2011 and a management committee was elected.
Who are the people behind this Association?
IITAV owes its existence and strength to it members. They bring a wide range of expertise and tremendous enthusiasm to IITAV. Without their support, the association wouldn’t exist or grow.
IITAV is an incorporated association with a Constitution. The management committee consists of the president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and five committee members. The work of IITAV is based on volunteer effort. Holding bimonthly networking events and two or three major events are challenging tasks but with all of us chipping in and support of the members, it is an enriching experience.
We have about 60 members and one corporate member. The number has been growing over the past two years.
What are the upcoming events of the Association?
The next major event is the high profile joint IITAV-Engineers Australia Gala dinner on 10 August in East Burwood, Melbourne.
EA is the premier professional association for engineers in Australia. This year the national president of EA is Dr Marlene Kanga, a graduate of IIT Bombay, and the first Asian and Indian to take this role. We are privileged to have her attend and present an address on the “Engineers in Australia – our role in the Asian century”.
The topic is of great relevance to us migrant engineers. Swinburne University, our first corporate member of IITAV, is supporting the event. Deakin University, Pitcher Partners and Eco Pacific are sponsoring the event. We have representation from various companies and other universities.
Of course, we will have a mix of professional activities with fun social activities. Our Diwali dinner in November and our Holi event in April are well subscribed events and will continue to be social highlights on the IITAV calendar.
Overall, the Association will continue to increase the profile of IITs as premier engineering education institutions of India. Events and activities which help to advance our purpose will be continued. Through these activities and greater empowerment of members we will work to increase the real and perceived benefits of membership. Increasing the membership and the need for mentoring will become more important as the number of IITs has grown to 16 in recent years.
We envisage that through appropriate collaborations and linkages IITAV can gain leverage to increase the effectiveness of our advocacy and influence in science, technology, entrepreneurship and links with India through the expertise of our members.
What are your hopes from the Association?
I hope that IITians will be proud of their IIT heritage and fly the flag with passion and determination. Admittedly, we have some way to go both in Victoria and nationally to emulate the US where the IIT brand is highly visible, recognized and celebrated through the many achievements of IITians and their influence in society. My hope is that we will get there, thanks to the achievements and commitment of IITians and the work of associations like IITAV.
There are some ties of the IITs with the Universities in Australia, so how do you think it helps the IITians?
Several Australian universities are seeing the advantage of having collaborative linkages with IITs. A good example is the IIT Bombay-Monash Research Academy.
This gives the opportunity for IIT research students to get a joint Monash-IIT Bombay degree at the end of their study. This should help their career prospects here and in India. The links also help the IIT professors to work collaboratively with their counterparts in Monash with mutually beneficial results.
Deakin, Swinburne and other universities in Victoria are also developing links with IITs. With the number of IITs now growing to 16, universities here have the opportunity to work with the newer IITs to help them develop their capabilities rapidly.