Nuggets From AwakinTalk - How Much Is Enough

Posted by Rohit Rajgarhia on Oct 14, 2020
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Nuggets from AwakinTalk, with Vidya Shah and Amit Bhatia, moderated by Birju Panda on "How much is Enough" last sunday.

  • “Duniya jise kehte hain, jadu ka khilona hai.. Mil jaye to mitti hai, kho jaye to sona hai”- quoting poet Nida fazli, sung by Jagjit and Chitra Singh -- This world, is a magical toy. If you get it, it becomes worthless. If it gets lost, it seems like gold.
  • It will never be enough, all our saints seem to keep telling us, and the idea is therefore to keep going within and answer the question for yourself. The earlier we start giving back, better it is, rooting ourselves “In memento mori”.
  • Engaging with Nimesh bhai and Ramesh uncle at Caring friends influenced the way I think about philanthropy, and it went beyond simply writing cheques. My yoga teacher’s introduction to Yoga sutras also had a deep influence on me.
  • I recently did an online course on Science of Well Being by a Yale professor Laurie Santos. It deepened my conviction in power of small practices of gratitude like writing a note, savouring experiences, reducing comparisons, performing random acts of kindness, making a social connection; also came across Prof. Martin Selegman’s work on positive psychology where he talks about continuum of pleasure (always seeking the next thing), engagement and purpose. So he world seems to be coming back to purpose, which is beyond material and tangible achievement.
  • Also, when it comes to money, Micheal Norton’s work shows that giving money gives you that happiness. “Money can buy happiness if you spend on others”
  • If you look at all our spiritual texts - from Rumi, Khusrao, Kabir, to hindu texts like Ramayana and Mahabharata- everything comes back to same- what is your purpose going to be beyond having a means of earning money. Also, can your livelihood itself be a source of that meaning and purpose rather than living your life in silos..
  • There is incredible hate and divide in the world, creating narrative of bad feelings and emotions. In Hindu scriptures, there is a continuum of happiness - kaama (pleasure), artha (wealth), dharma (meaning ++) and moksha (liberation). So through poetry and literature we should keep exploring these concepts and reflect and act accordingly. I am still exploring, wanting to know more, exploring more - how do you just be good and kind, to stick to your dharma,meaning and purpose.

  • Like you all “I am a seeker”. Stories which inspired a shift in me-
    • In 1893 Indian Monk Swami Vivekanand, in Chicago addressed the World first parliament of religions, talking about Vedanta’s message of inclusion. That summer he also met John D Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, the parent company of today’s Exxon Mobil. He intrigued Rockefeller by proposing that money which he had earned wasn’t his, he was merely a channel and trustee. Hence, it was his duty to use money for benefit of the society. 1 week after the meeting, Rockefeller met this nondescript Indian monk again and for the first time, placed a blueprint of what we all now know as Rockefeller foundation. One of the earliest examples where Profit met purpose.
    • In 1963, Heinroch Boll’s story of an executive meeting an ordinary fisherman. He asked him why is he lazing in the sun instead of catching fish. The fisherman said he has enough catch for 2 days. The executive suggested that by working harder, he could buy motorboat, then a 2nd boat, then a cold storage, then do pickling, fly in a helicopter, export to paris without middlemen. The fisherman asked “then what”? “Then without a care in the world, sit in the harbour, doze in the sun and look at the glorious sea” the executive said. I am already doing that. So what are the edges of the businessperson narrative (overwork) and the fisherman narrative, and how do we strike a balance? Its about a sustainable balance, not a balance sheet
    • Friedman and Gandhi-
      • Friedman famously quipped ”The social responsibility of business is to make profits” for which he got a Nobel. Now that doesn’t even hold good even in his own home. We need to serve not just the shareholders but all stakeholders. We can do good and well together. Impact investments is the way forward for that.
      • Gandhi on the other hand invited trusteeship. Vinoba’s work on bhoodan further continued that, which also later took shape of “sampati daan” through JP Narayan. JRD Tata who vehemently disagreed with them on purpose of business, but agreed and donated 1/6th of the group’s income (after correcting income upwards by including some other sources of income). He added, I must confess, that I do not share your understanding. I believe that with adequate safeguards, Capitalism is the most effective tool for decentralization and efficiency. That was another great example of impact capitalism.
  • Personal story - I was born in a refugee family. My daily had migrated to India upon partition. My father worked as a porter for few weeks in Amritsar station. Youngest of 7 kids he studied little, type and write shorthand, became a lower division clerk, I could type by age 10 and change ribbons. He had a vision on how to disrupt low income cycle. We lived humbly but he sent us to good schools. Have not forgotten from where I come and debts I owe. At 38, I stepped out from high power corporate positions and committed 50% of all my savings in my social projects- Aspire circle and GSGII, as explored “how much is enough”
    • I want to give a great education to my children, live a comfortable but not luxurious life, have enough for medical emergencies. These changes took courage because it involved adjustments aat the material level but even more importantly at the level of my identity. But perhaps, liberation comes at a cost.
    • To finance my children’s education, every quarter I have to dip into my savings. But when I ask myself, was the shift worth the struggle- the answer always is unhesitatingly a yes. To learn to fly, we must first learn to break free..
    • I feel gratitude for 4 social startups that I have been able to create.
  • Birju - How do we discern purpose (oil companies may feel they are serving a purpose of enabling travel, nuclear companies may feel they are promoting peace, and in one way we can even question the effectiveness of philanthropy/impact also)
    • Amit - impact continuum - step 1 - responsible business- avoid harm; Step 2 - benefit all stakeholders, not just shareholders; Step 3- contribute to solutions
    • Vidya -
      • How much choice can an ordinary person choose a livelihood which is environment friendly and purpose driven - how do tell an blue collar oil rig worker than this is not environmentally driven? Many people are not in vocations because of choice, but because they exist- oil rig, headloaders, cleaning drains at very low wages..i grapple with that.
      • Capital is chasing return. How do people with capital focus on business that are more sustainable?
  • Birju - Many people don’t have the luxury to completely choose their livelihood or change their surrounding conditions. In this context, can small acts be the bridge to support joy, wisdom and insight and agency in small ways? People who don’t see they have choice, this way can they see more possibilities? I have a choice how I show up then, in small ways in the context I am. Does that bring up any stories for you?
    • Vidya- I am deeply starting to appreciate the potency in small random acts of kindness. It can become second nature with practice. it starts changing how you look, how you behave, smiling more, appreciating more, svaouring the gifts you already have, wake up and look - oh the sun has risen and so I exist!
      • At Edelgive, we didn’t want to be sitting separately from Edelweiss. We wanted to create the bridge with 10k employees and invite them to come and help us build the capacities of these nonprofits.
      • We have seen very high participation rates 85% of our corporate employees engage in some form - time, money, teach, volunteer. It has been very transformative for them.
      • One story - a girl started mentoring a group of 10 girls in mumbai, over a 2 hour weekly call. One of the girls she was supporting was highly aspirational and wanted to become a bank officer. The day she cleared the exam, she called her mentor and they both just started weeping. So this mentor, our employee, came and told us that this call transformed how she started looking at thing in life.
      • We are so cocooned, oblivious of how life happens around us. So to observe and participate in small ways, is a joy we should be able to share with everybody. I can see that by doing this, we receive so much more than we give in the process.
    • Amit- I agree. Whenever I see something small working, I am a kind of person who wants to create a larger systemic frame to support that.
      • Few years ago In hyderabad airport, there was a sportsperson sitting next to me. She seemed familiar so I started speaking to her. She said I am the national champion. She was Saina nehwal. She said people follow and support only cricket, very little support for badminton. Her father had a basic income which couldnt cover the funds for her badminton training expenses. I was keen to learn more so I cancelled the flight and went to see her dad in hyderabad. I learned that with just 1.5lakh rupees all her key requirement could be met. So right there I took a decision to support. We now have 30 such people including hockey captain of India. That’s what we do with aspire circle scholarships to support people on their journeys.This has gone on for 10 years.
      • I have learned that if we are open to reach out, and have conversations, then we will figure out that so much beautiful work can be done. and it will give ourselves also the license to making our life meaningful.
  • Birju - is there a number to “how much is enough” post which one can shift to generosity?
    • Vidya- unfair of me to think it will be easy. My spouse is earning so when I started Edelgive it wasn’t very difficult for me to choose to not take any remuneration. Everyone has to find their balance between being practical and saying that purpose can be built on a foundation of no money.
    • Problem comes that we can all start with a number which will work for us. But then life takes over, you start comparing, especialy for ppl like me coming from a bschool. That number, that goal post keeps getting extended. That’s the start of all the problems in life. “Greed is good” kind of narrative is so powerful on us. Then one day you question how come did you end up in this way. So one can try to reduce the external noise and be clear of one’s needs.
    • Amit- to my mind, its not a number. There are surveys that poor in India give much more than people much richer than them. “How much is enough” is not about wealth, it is about values.
    • I am not the role model of any sort in how much is enough. The poor are the role model. There are people who barely have anything to eat, but they still share. My mother did MA in sanskrit, grew upon mythology.poor who had a slice of bread, they will be willing to share it. Enough can be defined in so many diff ways.
  • Birju - Limits of philanthropy, blind spots?
    • Amit- You cannot build a sustainable planet, if your capital is not sustainable. So use philanthropy money which is a small pool for limited emergency situations like disaster relief, dire circumstances, poorest of the poor etc. There is a much bigger pie of global wealth which can be redirected into impact investments, so we should focus more on proper use of that.
    • Vidya- One of the recently very popular opinion has been raised by Anand Girdhardas who questions whether philanthropy does any good, and questions whether philanthropy has a very narrow interest or even conflicted interest.
      • I like the framework which Rohini Nilekani speaks about that markets, government and society have to coexist in balance. When 1-2 become overwhelmingly powerful, then its an issue. In US perhaps for a long time, 3 were balanced. In India, role of communities in decision making, in deciding their own future has got crushed. So philanthropy’s work could be to re-energize communities to imagine how their lives want to be. For example SHG movement for women in India, has given them voice and choice.
      • But certainly philanthropy should not become larger than life. Money gets wasted and unintended consequences crop up when we as philantroppists start assuming we know the answers without deeply listening to the communities.
  • Audience Q- How can we optimize for inner wealth (joy, satisfaction, gratitude) so that we don’t over rely on outer wealth?
    • Amit - There is an edge to that kind of thinking. That the world of action is not real, and in inaction there is some omnipotent knowledge out there. We should let this become an excuse to relinquish responsibility. It is about balance..dont romanticize inner life. Although I see its need and importance and intend to sit a vipassana retreat in december. I feel we are not using almighty creation and power if we don’t act in outside world and don’t show up as servant leaders.
    • Vidya - “yoga chitta vritti nirodha” Yoga means to clean oneself of imbalances in the mind. Your responses are entirely driven by how you see the world. So I agree, it critical to maintain a balance between doing and observing, self reflection etc.
  • Audience Q- how can youngsters, or older people start in this journey?
    • Vidya - I took my children when they were very young (5 and 9 at that time) on field visits, to sholapur, to a residential school for children of commercial sex workers. They thought they were just going on a train journey. They met and played with the children. they just listened. I just took them with me and let it evolve naturally rather than loading them up upfront with narrative that they are poor underprivileged etc. Over time, I have felt that this has worked very well and my children have become mindful of the privileges they have in life and have grown in their desire to share and support others.
    • Amit - If you are little more tenured like me, then you will find your mind telling you that making a switch would be a reckless decision, and you will not have enough safety nets etc. etc. So you just need to jump. Experiening 0 gravity. So may be as a start, go work for a social enterprise, learn about sectors you are passionate about.
  • Birju - Competition and comparison - how could you sense that its a right time, right balance for your to switch-
    • Amit- For me, its a journey towards minimalism. I am far from reaching an ideal position, but simplifying has been very empowering for me.
    • Vidya- I also constantly think about this that pandemic has taught us, how little we actually need. When you are giving, we many times get into the trap of wanting to make a big bang entry. But even if you start really small, it can be incredibly significant to anyone else. Whtever amount it is going to be, it will be meaningful. It can even be acts of kindness.
  • Birju - At this stage, what is most alive for you in terms of your own learning, the edge of your own becoming
    • Vidya - Last few years made me very disquiet and uneasy. Its not about money or work, just the state of the world. My friends say ”you can’t do anything, so why are you thinking about it”? But I am finding an expression in sharing my voice. So I have been writing about need for having a “democracy of stories”, like a river finding its own way..what we hear, what we are being told, we need to relect and find our own meaning and interpretation. Instead of people boxing us in single narratives. I am also keen to learn about other religions.
    • Amit- I am a believer in pursuit of systemic change. We are at the cusp to be able to add impact to capital in a big way. Small tweaks at systemic level can make big change.
  • Closing remark by Birju - grateful for bringing the importance of purpose, which in some sense dissolves the question of enough, and bridging the polarities of profit and nonprofit, and embracing your own journey of being and becoming.

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