Friday, May 25, 2012

Altruism in a Temple of Greed

It’s quite common in the non-profit and alternative thinking circles to hear of the corporate world being described as the big bad machine that’s taking over society. I have to admit, it is often comforting to see the universe neatly divided into teams of good and bad guys. But we all know it doesn't work that way. Just like you might meet not so 'nice' people in the most beautiful communities, or witness negative thoughts in the purest of people, in the same way, there is always that little ray of light in the darkest of spaces.
Interacting with these little pockets of light has been an enlightening experience - allowing me to start seeing my history in b-schools and organization in a new way.
For the last two months, Ashish, Para and Adesh (who are part of the reputed program at IMT, Ghaziabad) have completely immersed themselves in the largest slums of Gujarat, as part of their summer internship program. Now we all know how driven students of an MBA program can be during summer internships in order to land that perfect salary and work opportunity. But to witness these three students devoting their energies towards the implementation of a medical project for an NGO based in the Gandhi Ashram is what keeps us all going in our journeys.
Their clean, pressed black suits that hang unused in the Ashram volunteer accommodation stand witness to just how much of a contrasting scenario they find themselves in. From the comfort of an air-conditioned corporate office, they are now sharing chai in the houses of varied people in the slums. You might think 40 plus degree temperatures would force them to call it a day every evening, but their enthusiasm kept them going - from sampling all the different street foods of Ahmedabad to serving at Seva Café at night. A simple conversation while dish washing tells you how much they've absorbed and grasped just through the willingness to explore new environments.


Fast forward to a few days ago, and I come across another gem of a person in the form of Adam Grant over the Service space forest call. Adam, is a professor at the Wharton Business School who works with students on practising compassion in the most hostile corporate environments. His belief is that an approach based on 'giving' can allow us to sustain ourselves and our businesses the longest.
While all of this may seem intuitive and common sense to most of us, he uses his background in organizational psychology and research on leaders to work with employees and align themselves with a higher mission to motivate themselves. In a sense, Adam's work is centred on motivating people to move to their natural state of being i.e. giving, as opposed to taking. If things work out well, he might even be doing something similar in India soon!
More than anything, I believe it is these people that help reduce perceived barriers between different sections of society. For me they have helped me see how anyone can create value where ever we are or however hopeless the situation seems. As Adam himself puts it, it is like learning to practice Altruism in the temple of Greed. No matter how hostile the environment or the world around us, there is always an intuitive and loving voice within us that whispers to us to keep giving. Adesh, Para, Ashish and Adam  - we are grateful for helping us to keep listening to that voice.
~ Create heaven wherever you are ~

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