Challenging Capitalists with Pay it Forward

Challenging Capitalists with Pay it Forward

December 27, 2013

MR Rangaswami, Indiaspora founder, invited me to India to address the technology community assembled at Nasscom NPC in October. I was honored to come, but wasn’t sure how my  message of peer-to-peer generosity would resonate with the crowd of enterprising capitalists. Rather surprisingly, though, it did – in a deep and touching way.

 

My first evening was spent at a VIP gathering of 150 corporate heads – fancy place, fancy people. The Intel-India CEO gave an opening keynote on the unstoppable trajectory of technology, from integrated to injectable gadgets.  Following that, ten entrepreneurs were given achievement awards, and then I took the podium to give a closing keynote.

Whether I’m walking through the villages of India or addressing venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, I have come to learn that generosity can resonate universally.  Yet, this wasn’t exactly an  audience that was primed for this. 🙂  My presentation shared stories around the core idea of shifting from one-to-many framework of centralized power to a more effective many-to-many network – and applying it to values like compassion and kindness.  I called it Gandhi 3.0.   By the end, the guests heard the need for such a movement and stood up to applaud. After watching an inspiring music video called Being Kind, the organizers were keen to continue the theme of generosity by inviting its songwriter Nimo to perform at the next year’s event.  So many people came up to give hugs and share their own stories of kindness.  It was almost as if my presentation had given them permission to connect with that part of themselves.

 

And that was just the beginning. The next day, I was asked to give the final keynote address to a capacity crowd of 1500 entrepreneurs.  “How many people here are founders of companies?” the emcee asked.  75 percent raised their hands.  India’s heads of Google, Microsoft, Cisco and Qualcomm and Indian startup execs from RedBus, Naukri.com and MakeMyTrip were all in the audience.  In such a crowd, open-hearted curators M.R. and Ravi Gururaj wanted to throw the attendees a curveball this year.  Kindness took center stage in the prime closing spot. 🙂

 

To add to the challenge, I was tired, jet-lagged and hitting the peak of my sleep cycle at the time of the keynote.  But I was reminded of the Prayer of St. Francis – to be an empty instrument for good works – and I walked up on stage with a smile. I spoke about working not just for awareness and impact, but also inner transformation.   And the response was happily surprising: another standing ovation. Afterward, M.R. commented that in his decade of emceeing this event, “Seldom have we seen a standing ovation, let alone two in two nights!”

Our entire Smile Cards stock was distributed in minutes, many people came up to brainstorm about how they can contribute, and a field of wholesome ripples emerged.  Before I spoke, one exec insisted on describing himself as a “hard core capitalist” but afterwards, he was sharing his walking pilgrimages with Jain monks. 🙂  The president of MindTree told me how he had sent my UPenn talk to his entire company of 30,000 employees.  One woman told me how she had been to my parents’ home for an Awakin gathering; I told her, “You’ve had my mom’s food? Then you’re like my sister!”  And we hugged.  Everyone shared stories about how acts of generosity had propelled their success. One fellow said an anonymous stranger helped him for nine months and since then, his whole life has been an attempt to pay that forward.  Some nice comments on social media too.  MR: “Smile Card made my day!” Raja: “#NPC13 had its Aha! Moment. And it came in the form of a standing ovation for Nipun Mehta.”  Badri: “Nipun Mehta’s soul-filled #NPC2013 session left me & others dazed … Can we be human once in a while?”  Several top execs came up and mentioned how they had teared up during the presentation.  Lots of people volunteered to get involved with ServiceSpace and KindSpring, and to bring this spirit into their ecosystems.

 

What a joy — to see the India’s leading entrepreneurs resonate with “being the change we wish to see in the world.”

 

Amidst the flurry of goodness, it felt like a beginning of a new chapter.  In the context of traditional success, these entrepreneurs seem to have accepted a new challenge: can we be great in service?