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SAP Seminar Series, How Cornell (and others) Influenced our Direction in Higher Education at Somaiya Vidyavihar, by Samir Somaiya

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 at 4:30pm to 6:30pm

Uris Hall, G08 100 Graham Rd 9H, 9H

How does one create an oasis of learning? What would it strive to achieve?  How are we trying to achieve this? How did my education in the USA, and specifically Cornell influence the direction that we take? How do I choose to differ?  Somaiya Vidyavihar was founded in 1959, to be an oasis of learning. It was founded by my grandfather, K. J. Somaiya to spread education. He was born poor, but did well in business and felt that the spread of education, health care and development would be the best way to repay his debt to society.  He was also deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. I took charge in 2010. Today, Somaiya Vidyavihar has about 39,000 students and 1500 faculty spread across K12 and University education in rural and urban India, in vocational, formal, and non-formal education, and in engineering, religion, medicine, the humanities, sciences, religion, Indian culture, and a host of other subjects. I spent many years in US higher education. 6 years at Cornell (1986-1992 - 3 degrees), and 1 year at Harvard (2004-05). These experiences have helped shape my ideas on higher education, and consequently help frame our future. In this talk, I will discuss these experiences, and their effect in moulding our approach at Somaiya Vidyavihar, in India.

Samir achieved  three degrees at Cornell - BS (Cheme) 1990, M Eng 1992, MBA 1993. He then joined his family business, which primarily focuses  on the business of making sugar and chemicals. He has been working to transform the business into a Biorefining company. Today, Godavari Biorefineries (  is engaged in the manufacture of sugar, ethanol, renewable energy, chemicals, biogas, and compost - all from agricultural resources. The company also works extensively with 20,000 small farmers in over 200 villages to help improve productivity, yields, and standard of living.  The company’s products find use in food, fuels, solvents, cosmetics, fragrances, pharmaceuticals, mining, agriculture, and a variety of different applications.  The products are sold worldwide. He later did a MPA at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2005. In 2010, he took over as the President of Somaiya Vidyavihar and the K. J. Somaiya Medical Trust. The work spans education, healthcare, and rural development ( ) in the States of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Gujarat.The Trust manages over 30 different educational institutions of learning extending from elementary to Ph. D. The education is imparted in diverse areas such as medicine, engineering, the arts and sciences, religion, vocational studies, education, languages, etc. There is also a 600 bed urban teaching hospital. In 2011, Samir and his wife Amrita founded Kitabkhana, a bookstore in downtown Mumbai ( in response to the growing digitization of the world.  Samir is also a visiting faculty at Cornell’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Samir and Amrita have three children - Gayatri, Meera and Madhav, and live in Mumbai, India.


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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program





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Valerie Foster Githinji

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Samir Somaiya

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