A Remembrance of Sri TL Sankar

By Dr. Russell deLucia & Avinash Krishnamurthy

The following is from Dr. Russell deLucia — his words shared at Sri TL Sankar’s service

I would like to thank my colleague, Nishanth, for reading my remembrance of my friend and colleague, Sri T.L. Sankar, in my absence. I am Russell deLucia, principal co-founder of S3IDF, a small international NGO now almost 20 years in operation.

I had the great pleasure, and luck, to have TL in my life for more than four decades. We met in the period when I was still working in development consulting, much of it in South Asia, including in India, and when TL was periodically engaged as a consultant for the Asian Development Bank as well as for multiple governments. After our initial meeting, I often made sure that when in India, or elsewhere in South Asia, to spend time with TL and also the late Professor Ramesh Bhatia, who I had begun collaborating with shortly after finishing my PhD at Harvard. When my work took me to Hyderabad, many of our interactions took place at this incredible institution, ASCI, which TL did so much to develop while serving as it Principal.

It became clear from these meetings that TL shared a deep concern about the shortcomings of the dominate development paradigms of the international development community and that he held a deep commitment to help the poor gain access to infrastructure needed for basic services to improve their lives and livelihoods. Our discussions led to S3IDF’s creation and to the development of our market-based Social Merchant Bank Approach. TL served on both the US and India Boards for many years and played a critical role as an activist director leading our Hyderabad-based team.

Before I comment on TL’s especially unique skill set as an innovative institution builder, strengthener, and reformer that I came to understand and so admire and respect, let me first make more personal comment.

For those who knew him and his work in a professional capacity, you know that we have lost an extraordinary, smart, creative and innovative human being who contributed to many areas — not just the energy sector.

And for myself and many of you here who had the privilege of knowing TL personally, you know that we have also lost a cherished friend. I fondly recall many non-work, wide-ranging discussions often over a whiskey or a meal at his home and, though much less frequently but no less wonderfully, at my home in the US. I have such great memories when TL, catalyzed by his visits to his son Ravi and his family in Connecticut, would extend his trips and travel with them to see me and my wife, Robin, in Massachusetts. I also fondly remember one special trip when TL’s UK-based son, Sachin, was in Boston for a meeting and we were able to meet. In addition to wonderful discussions, I always appreciated that TL was, to use a term my young US colleagues use, a “foodie” in all of its positive meanings.

Let me share a perspective that comes from knowing, at least modestly, a wide body of TL’s work that has allowed me to develop a perspective on his very unique capabilities. TL could, much more than others, identify needs for change and reform. He worked with policy change and reform and with institutional creation and strengthening, often addressing challenges through very innovative approaches despite the constraints of these spaces. Look at his work leading many important Government Committees. Consider TL’s absolute genius in his design and implementation of AP Gas Power Corporation, a de-facto IPP before they were the norm for India. This is especially notable. Also of great significance is how this work led in part to the creation of KSK Energy Ventures, which TL served so creatively as it non-executive Chairman. I am sure there are KSK people here who know this much better than I, but the innovation of KSK Energy Ventures at the time of its founding, was unparalleled.

I could go on noting his other achievements, but let me close by highlighting one that is unlikely known to many of you — namely TL’s leadership of S3IDF in India and his direct activism in designing and implementing innovative partnerships for very explicitly pro-poor sustainable investments and projects. One of his projects that I most admired was one in which a women’s self-help group came to own and operate a water treatment plant in partnership with the Panchayat. TL was instrumental in impacting countless lives through his work; it is clear that my life and those of so many who knew him well are all the richer for it!

We all will sorely miss this great man!

  • From Avinash Krishnamurthy — his words shared at the service

Not everybody has the privilege to have an evening drink with a Padma bhushan awardee discussing the ideas of their infant entrepreneurial attempts. I had this privilege — to discuss my ideas, however naive they may have been, in my bachelor pad with none other than the Chair of the T L Sankar Committee 2007 which proposed ways of reforming the Indian coal sector. These were only few of his achievements and credentials.

Yet he has travelled with me and my colleagues — spending entire days visiting some of our project sites providing guidance, insight, critique, appreciation and above all learning new things for himself. I will never forget one of our fantasy concepts which we kept coming back to again and again in our conversations: the Cow dung corporation of India, which women in the hinterland would own and manage. And which would be able to realize and allow the women to capture all the social and commercial value of cow dung.

To get to his age, I’d have to live what I’ve already lived all over again and a decade more — yet our evening conversations were much like those between peers, always lightened by his beloved drink and his sense of humour. We spoke of the world, of music, of food, of culture and of humanity. And I learnt in those conversations much from his insight, his experience — but more than anything else from his humility. I feel humble too, to have had this privilege. And I feel humbled by his life, his work and his humility. May his soul rest in peace. He will forever be in my and our collective memory at S3IDF and he will continue to inspire us.