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You, me and we – the key ingredient of change

November 16, 2018

Deadline-driven and thorough as one is, the heavy torrential rains that wrecked and wracked Mumbai brutally in the past fortnight threw me off the timelines for putting out a scheduled blog on “What makes change happen?” And, serendipitously, one has managed to finish it on the eve of Nelson Mandela Day.

As we know it, since 2010, Mandela Day is a global call to action that celebrates the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world, the ability to make an impact. Transformation and behavior change is the very ethos of Piramal Foundation — whose three initiatives in education, healthcare and drinking water solutions have begun their decadal journey this year.

We have seen this happen in commercial organisations – the startups and ‘unicorns’ in India are setting an example. The principle has been and continues to be, equally applicable in the development sector. Organisations like Pratham Education Foundation, Annamrita & Arvind Eye Care are shining examples of how inspiration and commitment can contribute to sustainable change in complex social equations.

The key question that pops up is: “What makes change happen?“ The ability of organisations to forge a compelling objective, rally (unconnected) individuals and provide a framework to move forward in one direction are some pointers.

But are there committed individuals – bringing energy, passion, experience and affiliation to a cause – who can make this happen?

Deloitte has been doing a Millennial Survey for 7 years now which provides an insight into how this group views the future. The 2018 results indicate that the new generation is feeling uneasy about the future of this planet. In a highly volatile world – business and political – millennials and Gen Z are seeking leaders who can think of the world, not just their revenues and growth. There seems to be a stark mismatch between what millennials believe responsible businesses should achieve and what they perceive as businesses’ actual priorities to be.

The 2018 report is based on the views of 10,455 millennials and 1,844 Gen Z questioned across 36 countries, including from India.

Source: Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018

As per the report, millennials realize that profits are both necessary and a business priority, but organisations should set out to achieve a broad balance of objectives that includes making a positive impact on society and the environment. At the same time, businesses are also aligning to the fact that inclusive socio-economic progress is the only definitive way to sustained development. The solution may emerge if we can leverage the confluence of these thought processes.

Let’s explore how the development sector can make a bigger impact by building on the priorities and positivity amongst the millennials for social change.

  • Based on my limited experience, more than technical skills and expertise, what defines a contributor is her empathy (ability to understand and share the feelings of another). The ability to experience/understand situations that she has not been exposed to can only come from a deep sense of connectedness. This approach/desire to build solutions, from a sense of oneness, cannot be the subject matter of a workshop – it comes from within. The community immersion that the Gandhi Fellows go through, every six months, has always stayed as a learning experience – building on an innate sense of ownership and channelling it for a positive contribution.

  • The development sector, epitomised by the seva bhaav (a deep intrinsic desire to serve, service or seva being the core), is no longer on the fringes, manned by volunteers. The translation of empathy to seva is like converting a dream to action. At the Piramal Foundation, seva bhaav comes from a core value of trusteeship – as trustees of what we are endowed with and trusteeship for those less privileged. To serve, dispassionately and in an immersive manner, is what we work towards.

  • Complementing the inner drive, with core principles of building any organisation – agility and an ability to engage all stakeholders – is critical to success. Given the large and deep-rooted challenges that we are up against, solutions need to question the status quo, go through a pilot trial and be assessed for their robustness to handle scale. Successful leaders in the development sector have shown a willingness to imbibe from other successful approaches while learning from their own failures. Speed in adapting to new operating practices, while taking all stakeholders along, is what we need more of. Consulting and engaging the front line staff to the maximum extent possible, conveys the message that every individual matter, which is not just a good morale booster, but productive and efficient too.

  • To build agility, with engaged employees, comes from a mature response to employee expectations. This is not a question of mere de-centralisation of authority, but of a deeper sense of empowerment, based on the balanced approach to authority and ability. When employees are empowered to make decisions that ensure beneficiaries get the maximum benefit, it is a win-win situation. Building agility calls for, over a medium term, investment in developing the in-house talent that helps create a strong second line, capable of handling situations with responsibility and fairness.

  • While a lot of what I have said earlier – seva bhaav, engagement and empowerment – work at a personal level, the role of leadership in creating alignment with a broader vision is also critical. Helping each individual member find congruence with organisational goals – creating a ‘line of sight’ – will contribute to building a high performing team. Growing organisations do well to focus on building the quality of leadership – either by building teams with committed, empathetic members as also focusing on on-the-job training, leadership programmes and encouraging independent and innovative thinking.

Nothing of what I have said is easy…..professionals have spent lifetimes building institutions. For those who are willing to make a difference and are prepared to hang in for the long haul, there are no shortcuts. In short, being a change leader is not for the faint-hearted. As we attempt to address large social issues – either through scale organisations or by building replicable models – a focus on strategic principles, complemented by strong people practices will hasten sustainable practices.

A healthy balance between the two will help us serve the beneficiary – to whom we owe our existence – in a manner that can lead to lasting change.


#DoingWellDoingGood #AaoBadleinBharat #PeopleManagement #Leadership #Leaders #PiramalFoundation

Paresh Parasnis, CEO – Piramal Foundation

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