The Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development (OICSD) was founded in 2013 to create a unique India-Oxford partnership. Our recent tour of India proved that, ten years later, this collaboration is stronger than ever.

2023 presented the perfect opportunity to celebrate our historic and flourishing friendship with India. This year is not just the tenth anniversary of the OICSD; it is also the year in which we were able to offer our fiftieth OICSD scholarship and launch our ground-breaking new Savitribai Phule Scholarship for Indian students from Dalit, Adivasi, and other marginalised backgrounds. 2023 also marks 100 years since Cornelia Sorabji, the Somervillian who became the first Indian woman to study at any British university and India’s first female barrister, was called to the bar in London. Finally, 2023 saw India overtake China to become the world’s largest nation by population, underlining the urgent questions and exciting opportunities of India’s sustainable future which lie at the heart of the OICSD’s research purpose.

This year we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the OICSD

A Very British Christmas in India

During the tour, the choir gave concerts of British Christmas music in the beautiful surrounds of the domed church of St James in Old Delhi and the Bom Jesu Basilica in Goa (with the latter performance also raising funds to support local music education charity Child’s Play India). They finished their musical engagements with a concert in the prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai, a venue originally opened by Somerville alumna Indira Gandhi (1937, Modern History).

The choir’s varied programme celebrated Somerville’s heritage by featuring the work of women composers and incorporating pieces looking beyond Christian traditions, such as Indian-American composer Shruti Rajasekar’s ‘Star of Rohini’, which compares the birth of Christ under the star of Bethlehem with the birth of Hindu deity Krishna under the star of Rohini. The tour’s sustainability theme was expressed by Joanna Forbes L’Estrange’s ‘Present For The Future’, which compares the three kings’ gifts of mortal wealth to the gift of a future threatened by human inaction.

The choir also partnered with local charity and outreach efforts during their time in India. They joined a class at education charity Magic Bus in one of their centres in New Delhi to lead the children through songs and conjure the magic of making music with your friends, as well as developing their rhythm and ensemble skills. Meanwhile, a panel of seven choir members also took the stage at the British Council in Delhi to answer questions from over two hundred local school pupils, with topics covered including the intricacies of the applications process and life as part of the University’s Indian student community.

Watch the choir’s concert from Goa below:

A Global Community Ready to take on the Challenges of Today

Alongside our musical tour of India, Somerville College Principal Jan Royall was delighted to reconnect with the many Somerville alumni who attended the concerts and accompanying OICSD events, many of whom occupy key positions within the government, education and commercial sectors. Among the alumni we met were Dr Pheroza Godrej, co-founder of the Cornelia Sorabji Scholarship in Law, and Sonjoy Chatterjee, whose generous support enabled this tour. We also had the inestimable privilege of meeting again with Mr Ratan Tata GBE, honorary patron of the Oxford India Centre.

Throughout our visit, we saw first-hand how OICSD Scholars are fulfilling the OICSD’s founding vision to create brain gain rather than brain drain for India. From a film festival showing a new documentary about the work of sustainable food pioneer Gabriella D’Cruz to the reunion between University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor Prof Irene Tracey and her former student, OICSD alumna Vaanathi Sundaresan, it was evident that OICSD scholars are now shifting India’s narrative in the fields of AI, sustainability and education.

All these strands came together in the final days of our trip when University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor Professor Irene Tracey joined the tour. She spoke first at a panel event on the Ethics of AI alongside OICSD researchers and Prof John Tasioulas, inaugural Director of the University of Oxford’s new Institute for Ethics in AI, and hosted by Cyril Shroff, Managing Partner of law firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. Attended by many of India’s leading tech figures, our speakers delivered a masterclass in the transformative potential of AI in healthcare and education that was later reported via a TV interview with CNBC. The next day, we visited Jindal Global University, where the Vice-Chancellor and Somerville Principal Jan Royall led a conclave on education, inclusion and empowerment attended by many of India’s top educators.

In just seven days, representatives of Somerville and the University were afforded a breath-taking insight into the historic beauty and splendour of India, as well as the incredible opportunities of our unique Oxford-India partnership in the future.

From All Of Us Here…

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was funded by the extraordinary generosity of our supporters, including GS Gives, Mr Sonjoy Chatterjee, Virginia Ross, and other anonymous benefactors. We cannot thank them enough for allowing us to make this journey to renew and celebrate our flourishing and historic ties to India through the sharing of ideas, music, and friendship.

Somerville Choir at the Elephanta Caves during their 2023 Tour of India

Further reading?

Active Kindness: Meet the Somervillian Who Saved Thousands from the Nazis

Learn More
14 June 2024
Active Kindness: Meet the Somervillian Who Saved Thousands from the Nazis

Somerville Student Stars in Gregory Doran’s Gentlemen of Verona

Learn More
13 June 2024
Somerville Student Stars in Gregory Doran’s Gentlemen of Verona

Simon Russell Beale Awarded Honorary Fellowship

Learn More
11 June 2024
Simon Russell Beale Awarded Honorary Fellowship