IRMA was set up in 1979 with a mandate to professionalise management of rural producers' organisations and create a body of knowledge in the field of rural management. Within a short time-span IRMA came to be recognised as a premier centre of teaching and research in rural management. It has successfully created a new discipline of rural management which is being replicated by many other institutes.
Beginning with co-operatives, IRMA has reached out to the rural sector through development organisations engaged with various issues of rural life including natural resource management with particular emphasis on water and forests, rural health, local governance institution, livelihoods and migration, deploying IT for rural areas, and so on. IRMA's vision to work for the rural people was vindicated in the early years when a variety of rural organisations-co-operatives, NGOs, government and business sectors-began to make demands on IRMA. Excluding the business sector IRMA openly welcomes all these organisations. The argument being that business organisations are served by over 800 business schools in India but there is only one IRMA to serve the co-operatives, NGOs, and people's organisations. IRMA's focus has been on strengthening management capacities in organisations that are controlled by users of their services instead of being capital-centred. This commitment is what defines IRMA and gives it a unique identity among management institutes.