Save the Planet - Unleash the Corporate Jedi!

Our planet is facing an existential crisis. Across the globe nearly every country is facing a range of social, economic, and environmental challenges including migration, terrorism, youth unemployment, droughts, famines, torrential rains, floods, obesity, depression, suicides, etc. Governments are not setup to address (let alone solve) these issues due to dogmatic mindsets and bureaucratic systems that do not encourage risk taking. Out of necessity, sustainable progress needs to be made an urgent priority, because the Earth is a living organism and not an infinite resource that can be taken for granted. Time is running out. Business as usual will not help.

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement do signal a new era of opportunity in which companies must move from talk to action — by developing and deploying innovative business models that will be at the heart of tomorrow’s economy. But seriously, can business help to reshape the future of the planet when it’s sole purpose has been to maximize short term gain?

Where there is a will, there is a way!

The business case for change has been articulated by several thought leaders including renowned Harvard Professor Michael Porter for creating shared value, or Prof. Sisodia’s more holistic conscious capitalism approach. However, business executives must first authentically acknowledge that they have been a major contributor to these problems (sometimes unconsciously) and now must own the responsibility of creating sustainable solutions. CEO’s and corporate boards will need to find ways to constantly inspire themselves and their organizations (especially mid management) to create new socially conscious solutions that deliver on the triple bottom line — helping people, planet, and profits.

Regardless, the shift in behaviors and preferences of aspirational customers(millennials) has already shown that businesses must change in order to survive and/or thrive. Millennials are staying away from corporations that are not visibly involved in creating social good and do not have meaningful moral/ethical values.

The role of the social intrapreneur (corporate Jedi!)

From my experience of designing and managing Shell’s GameChanger social innovation program, I realized that novel ideas that might have a triple bottom line impact won’t necessarily come by hiring an external innovation consultant. It would be much easier to source these ideas from where it is least expected — from the “social intrapreneurs”. Social intrapreneurs are changemakers from within a large organization, who can see beyond the way the organization functions today, are aware of the strengths, limitations and potential opportunities and are passionate and creative to design sustainable, ethical solutions that will create a win-win for customers, the organization and the world.

Through the Shell GameChanger incubator, we invested in internally sourced ideas like the VSee telemedicine platform that connected western doctors with patients in hospitals in remote locations in Nigeria through a low-bandwidth video teleconferencing technology. We also deployed VSEE on a few offshore production rigs in Nigeria where Shell had operations, thus demonstrating direct value for the business.

My friend, Graham Simpson at GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) started a program that helps bring cheap, reliable health care into rural, developing areas, which lack electricity and water, and have inadequately trained healthcare staff. GSK is now developing simple, cheap, paper-based devices capable of diagnosing infections and saving millions of lives. Blake Mycoskie created TOMS Shoes, a company that matches every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need.

There is no dearth of good ideas or social intrapreneurs. However, the key question is — are corporate innovation structures set up to find and empower these social intrapreneurs and the ideas that they can bring for solving sustainability challenges?

Unleash the social intrapreneur (corporate Jedi)

From my personal experience, in order to design for success, it is fundamental that a member of the C-suite (CEO and/or a member of the corporate board) will need to invest their personal time to drive the sustainability innovation agenda. They would need to create a “sustainability innovation” incubator that directly reports to them and the mandate to invest in novel concepts, take risks and assess ideas without pre-conceived judgements (that are usually based on untested assumptions). This will help avoid the innovation paradox pointed out by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen and Kellogg Professor Rob Wolcott.

In my humble opinion, social intrapreneurs mostly tend to keep their passion away from their day job for fear of being judged by their peers. So it is very important that the C-suite leader who manages this sustainability innovation agenda also “walks the talk” on sustainability and has earned the merit to lead. An “authentic” call to action from such a leader will inspire the social intrapreneurs within the organization to bring their passion to work and share their novel ideas.

The social intrapreneur is the corporate Jedi that holds the key to sustainability innovation and deliver on the triple bottom line. Empowering and nurturing this tribe will ensure an era of sustainability and all round prosperity. If this is done right, the potential legacy that CEO’s (and Boards) can leave behind is enormous — saving the planet!

Finding inspiration post Olathe....moving from fear to nonviolence

The recent murder of an Indian-American has sent shockwaves of sadness and fear throughout the entire Non Resident Indian (NRI) community in the United States. The media reports of this tragic hate crime in which a 51-year old resident of Olathe, Kansas shot two Indian engineers Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani and good samaritan Ian Grillot who attempted to prevent the shooting at a local bar appear to record the first reported racial bias motivated fatality in the United States after the bitter Presidential election. Srinivas was only 32 years and has lost his life because of the erroneous belief of a fundamentalist!

The response from Hon. Minister of External Affairs Mrs. Sushma Swaraj has been commendable. The fundraiser set up by the well wishers of Srinivas has drawn support from so many kind hearted people. Many Indian organizations across the United States have also organized candlelight vigils this week to mourn the untimely loss of a member of the Indian community and to draw attention to this odious hate crime.

In the wake of this tragedy, I am reminded of a conversation that I recently had with Ron Davis during a pilgrimage that we had organized for victims of violence to India. Ron’s son, Jordan was brutally murdered few years ago, in a racially motivated shooting at a gas station in Jacksonville. He shared that, even while fighting to get justice for his son, he had set up a non profit foundation to provide young people with exposure to cultural initiatives through travel and education so they would have a broader perspective about life. To me, he is a shining example of nonviolence and love in action.

Race based violence is not new to the United States. However, today, as NRI’s we are shocked (and rightfully so) as now the act of race based violence has affected our Indian community. Yes, we need to be very concerned because given the highly charged social and political climate in America, such an act could happen anytime, to any one of us. What makes the sadness reverberate so much more in our hearts is the recognition that despite our contributions and love for the US, we are still unknown, untrusted and unsafe in our adopted home.

Today, as we mourn the loss of Srinivas, I hope that as a community, we can find inspiration and take concrete actions that would leave a lasting legacy for Srinivas and millions of others like him that are unfortunate victims of racial violence in America. Otherwise, we are paying the price of inaction and will have ourselves to blame.

In my humble opinion, as Indians, we are carrying in our DNA the seeds of peace and nonviolence. After all, wasn't it the trip to India that gave Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the spiritual strength and wisdom to fight injustice during the Civil Rights movement? Upon his return from India, Dr. King wrote, “I left India more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity.”

As Indians, we have to feel proud that our ancient culture and spiritual wisdom have something unique to offer, even today, to reinvigorate nonviolence in America. We need to put more effort to share our cultural strengths with the broader American population in this time of suspicion and fear that will take down the wall of ignorance that keeps distance between our cultures and our neighbors.

  • Isn’t violence of any sort not merely a sign of one’s inability to manage the mind, intellect, ego and emotions?

  • Isn't racial violence merely a sign of ignorance of scientific progress?

India’s ancient culture - our festivals and celebrations, our food habits, our family values, the science of yoga, ayurveda and meditation - are all deeply soaked in creating and promoting harmony - both within and around us - encouraging us to transcend our limited identities and to unite with everyone going beyond caste, color, religion or creed. Today, we know, as Bill Nye, the science guy explains that - we are all the same race - one human race. Our skin color is simply the "presence" or "absence" of a pigment in the skin called melanin! However, this wisdom was known to India’s sages thousands of years ago when they referred to the whole world as one human family - Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam.

We need to even more vocally and strongly share the science and social relevance (value) of different aspects of our ancient culture including festivities like Diwali, Holi, Raksha Bandhan, Navratri, and technologies like yoga and meditation.

As the senseless violence continues in America, we, Indians will need to play a bigger role in maintaining a vigil for peace and nonviolence in our neighborhoods and communities. While doing this work, we need to heal the hearts of those who have been unfortunate victims of violence and also participate even more in understanding and solving community issues - acting as catalysts for happiness, peace, love and nonviolence in the towns and communities where we live or even at our place of work?

I know that we can do it. If not us, who will…

Arise O India!
From India With Love

What would MLK do if he was alive today?

Aug 28, 1963 is forever etched in history as the day when one extraordinary leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the world famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he called for an end to racism in the United States.  He appealed to the conscience of fellow Americans and reminded them the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, to fight social injustice through non-violence.

Sixty years ago, there was violence in America.  In 1959, amidst those troubled times, Dr.King decided to take a trip to India to deepen his understanding of Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings on non-violence.  Dr.King spent five weeks traveling across the vast country, meeting with India’s civic leaders to learn how Mahatma Gandhi used non-violence to overthrow the colonial oppressors.

After the trip, Dr. King referred to Mahatma Gandhi as ‘‘the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.’’  Upon his return, Dr. King wrote “I left India more convinced than ever before that the method of non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity.  In fact, there is no other lasting way.  I have returned to America with a greater determination to achieve freedom for my people through non-violent means.  As a result of my visit to India, I believe that my understanding of non-violence is greater and my commitment deeper.” 

If the whole world is a home, India has always been the prayer room – for reflection and transformation. This is the time for more prayers, understanding and mutual respect.

The trip to India had played a transformative role in shaping Dr. King’s understanding of India’s ancient “Ahimsa” or “non-violence” principles.  It was clear that something had deeply moved him in India.  Interestingly, that transformation was not from meeting Mahatma Gandhi, because Gandhi had died almost a decade earlier.  The two legends had never met!

Sixty years later, the senseless violence in America continues – Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Dallas, Newtown, Oakland, Baton Rouge, Milwaukee – the list goes on. How can we stop the violence and be part of the solution to help restore harmony in America?

As a meditation instructor, I know that violence arises from fear, hatred and lack of trust. Today, violence can affect everyone regardless of one’s socio-economic status and political affiliation.  For instance, a mass shooting can happen in our child’s school.  A disgruntled employee might start shooting at the work place or at a Starbucks location while we are enjoying our latte.

Our country is desperately looking for solutions to end the systemic violence and bring back peace in our communities, neighborhoods and cities.  It is high time that we reinvigorate our commitment to the principles of non-violence taught by Dr. King.

In March 2016, six Americans who were affected by violence embarked on a pilgrimage to India with me, in search of solace, healing and transformation. Through this pilgrimage, we followed the intent behind Dr. King’s trip to India in 1959.  The experience was transformative and is now being converted into a feature documentary film.

If Dr.King was alive today, I think he would make yet another trip to India to rejuvenate himself.  He would probably meet with India’s civic leaders who are successfully keeping Gandhi’s legacy of non-violence alive.  My guess is that he would come back with new insights to apply India’s wisdom of non-violence to the unique social challenges in America.  The principles of non-violence are just as relevant today as they were 60 years ago.  Don’t you think?

From India With Love

Aug 15, 2016. Today marks India’s 70th Independance Day.

A billion people on our planet will celebrate today - the victory of the ancient Indian philosophy of “ahimsa” or “nonviolence” - triumphing over centuries of colonial oppression, social injustice and violence. The epic freedom movement was led by many including Mahatma Gandhi whose work had subsequently inspired many world leaders including Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.

Recently I was invited to a meeting organized by the African American community in San Francisco, California. The meeting was meant to discuss how the community can support five local residents who were then on a hunger strike to protest against the prevailing social injustice and violence in the city. I was humbled when these five people showed me Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography that they were carrying with them and shared that he was their inspiration. At this meeting, Mrs. Gwedolyn Woods spoke about of the social injustice and violence that her son Mario had been subjected to. Her sharing touched my heart. I was profoundly disturbed that day. I was surprised to observe that I was the only person of Indian origin amongst a room full of African American brothers and sisters that day. The next day, over dinner, I shared my experience of being at this community meeting with my Indian friends in the Bay Area. All of them were very successful software engineers working and living in the Bay Area for over two decades. I was even more disturbed when I saw the apathy from them towards what I was sharing.

It struck me that day that unless a problem or issue “directly” relates to us, we, as a society have become so immune that we will not go out and do something about it. Indeed we are all busy with our personal life, our kids, our projects at work and other social responsibilities. And of course we can also blame the media for not creating more awareness of prevailing social issues and delivering empathetic content that would encourage us to take action and participate in socially responsible behavior. But then, as a social activist, I quickly realized that there was no point complaining and I need to be part of the solution.

The reason I was invited to the meeting in San Francisco was because just a few weeks prior, I had led a delegation of Americans (who had suffered from violence) on a pilgrimage to India. We had followed the intent behind the trip taken by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1959 when he had visited India to deepen his understanding of the teachings of nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi. I was producing a documentary film that would capture the story of their transformation over the 10 day pilgrimage. The visit to San Francisco was to meet local activists and to document how the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr is being kept alive. 

The documentary film project was a unique endeavor. I had never done anything like this before - so the challenge had excited me and overwhelmed me at the same time. What unfolded during the India trip was truly magical. During the 10 day pilgrimage, I had the following insights:

  • The land of India and its Hindu civilization had survived centuries of war and invasion and has somehow managed to preserve its roots - the ancient Hindu culture and traditions.
  • India had selflessly shared the science of yoga, ayurveda and meditation with the world - all sustainable technologies to overcome stress and misery and achieve happiness, joy and inner peace.
  • India has always been a land of diversity where people of different traditions, cultures, religions, languages and philosophies of life have lived harmoniously with each other thereby showcasing that we, as humans, can peacefully coexist amidst our differences.
  • For centuries, India’s seers had shared their bold vision of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” - that the whole world is one human family. This vision seemed to have become a reality today with the advent of social media that has dissolved boundaries and connected us as a global society.
  • India’s timeless epics - the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita have provided the world with insights about self knowledge and how that can help to conquer darkness, misery and ignorance.
  • In spite of our differences, no matter where we were born within India, we shared a common thread of culture that united us as one civilization - a culture of love, nonviolence, peace and harmonious co-existence. And strangely, we had not received this gift of culture through any formal education but merely through our birth on this land of India and also via knowledge transfer - the morals taught to us by our parents and teachers, the stories shared by our grandparents, when we were kids, from the Ramayana and Mahabharata that had taught us that ultimately truth always triumphs - “satyameva jayate” if we do self-effort and follow righteousness (dharma).

The trip had convinced me that India (its people, culture, heritage and wisdom) had the power to provide solace to those who had been the victims of senseless violence. It also had the power to transform our way of thinking and inspire us to choose love over fear and hatred and that 'an eye for an eye' is not the solution to end systemic violence. For more details of the film project please visit www.fromindiawithlove.org. If you feel inspired, please reach out to help in any way you can or donate for the cause (donations are tax deductible in USA)

I now think that if the whole world is a home, India had always been the prayer room - for reflection and transformation. As the senseless violence continues, especially in America, we need more prayer than ever before.

  • As one of the most ancient civilizations on our planet, can India rise to the occasion knowing that the world needs its gift of peace more than ever before?
  • As the torch bearers of the great culture of India, can Indians participate more in community issues and act as catalysts for enabling greater happiness, peace, love, harmony and nonviolence in the towns and communities where we live or even at our place of work?

We only need to feel proud of our Indian culture and heritage and dare to imagine. I know that we can do it.

If not us, who will…

In gratitude and hope, I pray:

Arise O India! Arise my dear Indian sisters and brothers

To that Mother India, I bow down in love and respect today.

Can Meditation lead to Innovation: A Guru's Advice

According to the Center for Disease Control, workplace wellness refers to any workplace health promotion activity or organizational policy designed to support healthy behaviour at the workplace and to improve health outcomes. It consists of a variety of activities such as health fairs, allowing work from home option, medical screenings, wellness newsletters, access to healthy meals/snacks at work, weight management programs and on-site fitness programs and/or facilities. Read more...

Intrapreneurs need to learn the TANGO

Since the past few years, there have been many voices that have come out in support of "Intrapreneurs" and encourage large organizations to create the culture at work for intrapreneurship to thrive. As David Armano, senior executive at Edelman suggests"In a world filled with fast-moving change, a large organization that becomes complacent and loses sight of the benefits of having an entrepreneurial streak built into their massive global systems can find themselves disrupted in short order. Smart organizations will seek out "Intrapreneurs" who like to invent, innovate and want to be on the front lines of change." READ more...

Arise and Awaken, Media

In the Summer of 2010, while coordinating a meditation based empowerment seminar at an African American school in Houston, Texas, I had a key moment of truth when a 6th grader shared with us that "He has been looking for this peace ALL his life and that the program has been life changing". I truly understood what the young man was saying as I had experienced the same peace, focus and transformation after learning the same meditation technique a decade ago!

Read my full post on Huffington Post