News East-West Service
TORONTO (NEWS): Canada may have just over 1,500 IITians – a tiny fraction of the 60,000-plus settled in the US, but they have made a huge contribution to this country.
Toronto-based Rabiz Foda – an alumnus of IIT Bombay – has been the spearhead in raising the profile of IITs in Canada and forging links between institutions of the two countries.
“There would be about 1,500 IITians in Canada. The first IITians arrived here about 35 – 40 years ago,’’ says Foda, who was one of the few IIT graduates in the 1970s who decided to stay India.
“First IITians went to England to do masters and Ph.Ds. Many settled there and some came to Canada. Some of those who settled in Canada also came to do their masters and never went back. Almost 95 percent my batch-mates of 1973 from Bombay IIT went out of India as it was not easy to get jobs in India in those days. IITs were not that well known back then,’’ says Foda who served the Tatas for 14 years before going to Saudi Arabia where he worked for 10 years before landing in Canada in 1996.
Why Canada has not attracted the IITians in large numbers as the US?
“The US has a larger population and a market – so it presents more opportunities. Then, US immigration policies were designed to attract and retain the best and brightest minds from all countries. Canada didn’t have such policies to retain bright students,’’ says Foda.
According to him, the IITians were drawn to the US because “the Americans had a long-term vision. They brought the brightest students and provided them the environment to excel. This recognition and acceptance was such a motivating factors for thousands of IITians to settle in the US.’’
In fact, he says, the US is the only country after India which has formally recognized the contribution of IITians by passing a resolution.
“I was there when the US House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2005 – HR 227, to honor and recognize the contributions of IITians. The US Congress showered praise on IITs and their graduates and the contributions by IITians in the US. I think Canada should emulate this example.’’
But he is quick to point out how IITians have broken through the ceiling in Canada. “Despite the lower levels of engagement ratio in Canada and despite their smaller numbers, the successes and contributions by IITians are truly commendable and noteworthy. It would not be fair to name a list as I would always run the risk of missing some one important out. So, I will just cite some selected examples that come to my mind immediately. The Chief Operating Officer of the National Energy Board of Canada, who retired a just a few days ago, is an IITian. IITians have held posts of chancellor and dean at universities. They are board members public sector corporations and private corporations. They are Fellow of Engineers Canada and the Canadian Academy of Engineering. They are in Order in Council Appointments by the Lt. Governor of Ontario.’’
And Foda makes particular mention of Prof Asit Biswas who won the Stockholm Water Prize.
“Then there is the Pond Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship – modelled on a similar institution at MIT – in the University of NB, set up by Gururaj Deshpande, an IITian based in the US,’’ he adds.
Curiously, while most IITians came to the US and Canada as young students, Foda landed here in his mid-career. Was it tough to make this move?
“I was happy in Saudi Arabia where I was director of a power company and in charge of six cities in one whole province. But then my kids were growing and it was for their education that I came here. I have no regrets.
“Yeah, it was difficult initially. When I came to Canada in mid-1990s, economic conditions here were not great.There were massive lay-offs and I found myself competing with people who had experience and references. I was able to compete and make progress. It took me four to five months to get a job with a consulting firm in my own field. I was determined to stick to my field – power systems engineering. Then I went to AEC and now I am with Hydro One.’’
When he landed in Canada, Foda says IITians were not as visible as today.
“When I came, somebody said there is an IIT group, so I went to a dinner event and found it to be only for the IIT Kharagpur alumni. So, my question to them was: Why only IIT KGP only when there are 5 IITs (at that time) and we are thousands of miles away from them? Very soon, the group was expanded to include all IITians and from then onwards the group has grown by leaps and bounds leading to its formal establishment as an incorporated body in Ontario of which I am one of the four signatories in its initial formation stage.’’
Indeed, IITAC has gone on to play a major role in raising their profile and help forge links between Indian and Canadian institutes as, over the years, Foda and his colleagues have brought the PANIIT and IIT delegations to Toronto.
So how does Canada rank on the IIT radar today?
“Frankly, the US has been the destination of anything in North America. In IIT circles, I brought it up that Canada is part of the North American continent and the US is Canada’s biggest partner. So, if you look at the atlas and raise your eyebrow 2 or 3 degrees you will see Canada. This awareness has grown and spread further. I am happy to say that Canada is high on the radar of IITs. Recently, Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti went to India. He toured IIT-Bombay, IIT Gandhinagar and IIT Madras. The delegation received a red carpet welcome at all IITs followed by intense and engaging discussions. These IITs are now eager to work with Canada. Isn’t that a 180-degree turn? Then, we had a high-powered delegation from IIT-Bombay here in October 2012 which received a red carpet welcome at five leading Ontario universities. The Bombay IIT delegation signed three MoUs, and met presidents of five leading universities in Ontario. As Bombay IIT director Devang Khakhar said: `One weeks of work was accomplished in 2 days…’ That’s how IITs have quickly forged links with various Canadian universities, including McMaster, University of Toronto, York University, Waterloo University and Ryerson University.’’
Foda, who has also played a major role in PAN IIT – an organization of alumni of all IITs – says, “The IIT brand has to move up the value ladder beyond the traditional disciplines and degrees and even beyond post doctoral levels to greater heights of research and development activities. And Canada certainly needs a lot more R&D and IITs are a natural partner.’’