Compassion As A Service (aka Tech Presentation)

Posted by Sairam Ramachandran on Sep 1, 2016
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[Below is the transcript of a presentation I shared at 2016 ServiceSpace retreat.]

Wow. What an incredible two days it's been. Thinking of yesterday, I teared up so much that I think yesterday gets the award for most goosebumps per hour in my entire life.  That's my new metric now -- goosebumps per hour. :) 

Before sharing our tech presentation, I would like to start by elaborating a bit on my journey with ServiceSpace. Compared to many of you that spoke already, I am probably the infant in this whole space, taking baby steps, but I'm still going to attempt reflecting on the shift that's happened in my journey.

When I think back 6 years ago, I first met Ram and I distinctly remember our first meeting. We were on the same broader team umbrella at work, and the first topic that we ever spoke about is ServiceSpace! That's because my boss was talking to me about meditation and he said, "There's this guy, Ram, who manages our projects and he has been very good and knows something about meditation, so you should probably talk to him."

The first time I went to Ram's cubicle, I asked him, "Hey, what is this meditation that you practice? I've been exploring all kinds of spiritual practices, but I'm always skeptical. That always stopped me from going in and trying to learn anything seriously."

It was incredible, because Ram first started telling me about ServiceSpace -- and even more than the words, his presence was really radiant. He was beaming. Then, he started explaining Awakin Circles to me: "There is this house in Santa Clara where they host random strangers every single week for meditation. They open up their house to fit in 60 people, and the Aunty there offers a home-cooked meal for everyone and has done so every single week for the last dozen years."

I was blown away. I immediately went back to my cube. It was a Wednesday, so I wanted to go that evening for the meditation and I saw, "Today's meditation, is full. Add yourself to our waitlist," so I added my name, and I was waiting. I didn't get a confirmation for the wait list, so I didn't go. But that night, at about 11:30 pm, I got an email from Dinesh Uncle saying, "Oh I missed this email. So sorry. We could have accommodated you, but do consider next week. We'd be happy to host you." I was like, "Oh, wow, that is so sweet." Initially, I thought this is probably an automated email but then I actually got this personalized sweet email. I was so touched.

The following week, I did make it to Awakin Circle. And my first reaction after the first hour of silence is, "Oh my God, who are these people? How did I miss this circle for three and a half years since I came to Bay Area?" I was single, I had time, I was local, and I just hadn't heard of it. Instead of living a lonely life in San Francisco, I could be engaged with others, serving others.

In my ServiceSpace journey, I have witnessed all four shifts that Nipun talks about.

First was isolation to community. When I went into the circle, I instantly connected with the community aspect which I really found lacking in this country. I instantly knew that this is something that's going to last for a long time for me. As I kept coming, the labor of love kept resonating for me. I felt more and more love, these guest speakers and all of these veggie chopping evenings the nights before. And all without any hidden agenda. This led to really thinking more deeply. Last night, in a hallway conversation, Trishna mentioned how ServiceSpace work and the other aspects of her life are not separate anymore. They have merged together. I can clearly see that in my life as well. Many times, at work, instead of just reacting blindly, I now reflect on what a compassionate response would be.

The other shifts started happening as well, especially scarcity to abundance. Before ServiceSpace, I can remember, "Oh, I have this small chunk of time in my life. Better make all the money I can because that opportunity will be gone." That was a very not-enough-ness kind of a mindset. It is very disturbing. ServiceSpace made me think about my values and it really resonates. It's something that we all know deeply within our self, but when it is presented with such real life applications, it really hits you.

Then, consumption to contribution shift happened. The company that we were working for was a financial company, a stock brokerage company. You can imagine some of the money conversations that it would lead to. And I really started to think about the broken industry of finance, and the kind of value it is creating for our society. In our investment bank scenario, all these computers were making these high-frequency trades. There is no real value created but billions of dollars are traded. That deeply disturbed me. Pre-ServiceSpace I would have thought "Okay, this is a very lucrative industry and what I'm doing is amazing because I'm getting paid so much for it. But now, I think about the purpose and meaning of my life's work, and that is one of the primary reasons why I thought about volunteering.

The 3 types of people that Adam Grant talks about -- Givers, Takers and Matchers. Matchers are are like, "I'm getting this, so I'm going to give this." I was in the matcher spectrum for most of my life. Then there is the giver side of things that I started seeing myself shift towards.

The greatest gift that ServiceSpace has given me is the gift of noble friends. I cannot emphasize this enough. The kind of lessons I've learned, the wide spectrum of mentors, I cannot find this anywhere else. In the business world, if you want to have a dinner with Tim Cook, you're going to pay $16,000! Here, it's freely available every Wednesday night. :) With my old transaction hat on, :) I felt like, "Oh my God, I'm getting so much, and I haven't done anything in return." Maybe I donate a little bit of money, but then I read Nipun's "Giving Money Giving Time" blog and I was like, "Okay, that's it. I cannot give any more excuses, so let me jump right in, and offer myself." At work, I manage a large team of software engineers, so I know the difficulty of getting talent in the software field so I thought, "Okay, maybe that is a unique gift I can offer back." That's why I emailed Nipun one day, that I wanted to volunteer for the tech team. Nipun did not accept me right away. He really wanted to really understand where I'm coming from in this service and highlighted the importance of state of mind and inner transformation. His point was that we have to work in a way that even if I did not produce anything tangible, so long as I'm transformed, that's served its purpose.

That's my journey. Thank you so much, and thank you, Nipun, for starting this movement.

On the tech front, my first foray into ServiceSpace was looking under the hood at the actual code -- and it is mind boggling! The kind of systems that ServiceSpace has developed ... every sub-system in our codebase is its own industry but here we have built everything ground-up. Drupal is a CMS (content-management system) and we have built our own in-house CMS. Evite is a mult-million dollar company and we have very sophisticated event management tools. Because we think small and we don't aim to monetize, our functionality is right to the point. It's simpler, clearer and gets the job done, while Evite wants you to go from one page to another to maximize ad views.  Our intent is different, and hence our designs are different. Like that, we have lots of social networking tools that Facebook has, or the CRM (customer relationship management) tools that Sales Force has. We have our own feeds, and hundreds of interactions with "customers" every day that are seamlessly managed, courtesy of in-house apps and technologies. Like Wordpress, we have built our own Like that, volunteer management software and many other applications each have giant commercial equivalents, but here, the power of labor of love has enabled a massive repository with millions of lines of code.

People often feel that you need massive tech man power, but if you consider something like -- it serves 50 billion page views per month, as one of the top-ten websites on the whole web, and the entire company has just 40 staff! Craig of has been a long-time friend of ServiceSpace and we know from personal experience that they aren't interested in making money or going public. They just focus on getting stuff done, and if you're smart about it, it doesn't necessarily take that much tech muscle to put a lot of good stuff into motion.

We currently have a team of about seven volunteers, who are active in various degrees (some serve just as mentors in an emergency situation) and we are building some infrastructure to make it easier for others to ramp up. More on that at next year's retreat. :)

In the last year, we've continued to add lots of features across our various portals. One thing I've personally worked on is social login, so people can login with one-click if you're already logged into Facebook or Google. Moving forward, we are working on single sign-on, so you log-in once and you can have a personalized experience across the board, and all your content can be shared across portals. Your top-10 DailyGoods, with 5 KindSpring stories you added smiles to. Or connect with a community of people who added a pledge to a KarmaTube video. Lots of applications.

In the traditional tech world, we have a multi-billion dollar industry called 'SaaS' -- Software as a Service. In our tech world, we are holding the question of designing for 'CaaS' -- Compassion as a Service.

In summary, ServiceSpace motto is -- Change Yourself, Change the World. I feel like I've certainly changed, and I'm grateful it's rippling out to serve the world in some small way.  Thank you.     

Posted by Sairam Ramachandran | | permalink

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Comments (7)

  • Bradley Stoll wrote ...

    So inspiring to read about your journey, Sairam. And I love CaaS<3.

  • Nandini Iyer wrote ...

    So wonderful to hear of your journey through Service Space! And I really appreciated learning about the inner workings of the technology in Service Space and how they both embody and affect the values - thank you :-)

  • Pavi Mehta wrote ...

    Grateful to have had the opportunity to hear you share your journey Sairam! Your humility and sincerity are deeply inspiring. Thank you for your quiet and significant contribution to the ecosystem!

  • Khushmita Sanghvi wrote ...

    It was beautiful to read this sharing :) Thank you for writing so earnestly Sairam.

  • Meghna Banker wrote ...

    Wow!! Thanks Sriram for giving us such visual comparisons of the enormity of everything behind the scenes. For people like me who have no idea of the 'c' of coding, wouldn't have had the capacity to understand the breadth and depth of everything that happens at the backend with so much clarity, simplicity and truly a labor of love.. All of this with '7 Tech Volunteers?!?!? :)))) Thank you :)

  • Michaele Premet-Rosen wrote ...

    Thank you for this share Sairam.

  • Sheetal Sanghvi wrote ...

    Love the shift from Saas to Caas