I have been ruminating about my experience of working with the Brahma Kumaris during two of their events: the SPRIT Summit: Leadership 2.0 in Chennai and the three day Leadership 2.0 Seminar in Mt Abu. Several things about the organization fascinate me. I have also been reading a lot of papers and programme offerings that talk about the VUCA world and how we need to prepare for leadership in this disruptive and uncertain world. The two approaches are diametrically opposite, therefore my attempt to try and explore them further. The blog written by my colleague and friend (and co-author of the book Organization Development and Alignment) added grist to the mill. (https://gagandeep.org/2016/09/17/wasting-away-in-the-vuca-world/)
The idea of treating the world as antagonistic to mankind, and having to battle it out and extract what one needs from it is the cause of the predicament we are in: Climate Change, Environmental Destruction, Wars for control of oil and other resources, Financial Systems that are fundamentally exploitative and so on. The dominant idea of management and leadership we now take for granted has been derived from the study of military conquests. It has enabled a colonizing idea of organizations. The present VUCA model is also a military model, one that has been developed in response to terrorism and urban warfare. Will the ideas that come from a system whose main goal is to identify and destroy the enemy be meaningful at a time when we have to find a very different approach to the use of resources from the ones that have served us so far?
The way the Brahma Kumaris work seemed to be an alternative worth examining. Firstly, it is headed by women, secondly, most of the work is done by volunteers and thirdly, their offerings work seamlessly. Now you will ask, but are they not a spiritual organization? As though that is a disqualification for being a model for business organizations to learn from. Can we ask ourselves why is a military organization focused on the currency of death and destruction a worth while model? And, why is one that is focused on life and creativity not a worthy model?
By the way, very few Hotels in the world run seminars every week where a few thousand people (some times up to 20,000) are hosted with love, care and very high efficiency! This is the norm for the Brahma Kumaris.
I saw two sets of tripods underpinning the work of Brahma Kumaris (BK): firstly, an old Indian idea of organization design that says an organization must answers the imperatives of Dharmam, Dandam and Mukti. The second a convergence of three kinds of minds, the Humanistic mind, the Spiritual mind and the Scientific mind.
The first tripod: the first imperative of this tripod, namely Dharmam says that the ways of engagements of its members with each other and its environment must ensure the growth and well being of all its constituents as well as the environment that it lives in. The second imperative, Dandam ensures that the rules, policies and processes that govern the organization are fair and equitable and that its members respect them. The third imperative, Mukti ensures that every member of the organization can aspire for and work towards their own individual emancipation and development. If I look at the BK experience, every BK member I met and had a dialogue with was clear that they were working for world peace. They would narrate stories and anecdotes that illustrated their commitment to this overarching principle. The voluntary adherence to what the BK’s referred to as ‘seva’ was at the core of their efficiency, and flawless service. “There are no tasks to be preformed under duress” BK Bala Kishore explained to me “there is seva to be rendered and each one knows their part in the overall scheme of things”. Work in the kitchen starts at 330 AM every morning and finishes at 1030PM! And the whole process is undertaken as a spiritual journey, the Mukti that each one seeks is an essential “reason for being” of the organization.
The other tripod that I mentioned was the convergence of three kinds of minds: the Spiritual mind, the Humanistic mind and the Scientific mind. The BK’s work and the way they explain the basics of the spiritual practice is backed by an understanding of scientific advances in the field of neurobiology, phisiology, medicine and the like. The spiritual practice is founded on a very human and compassionate way of relating to their own members and to their guests. In their service delivery they use modern technology and good management practices. They are very adept at deploying local radio for communicating to the people in the area, and are leaders in the use of solar power. They run a very successful hospital where one senses an atmosphere of happiness and positivity (apart from the obvious cleanliness and efficiency of the place). Most BK members hold down jobs while they volunteer their seva for running the various BK Centres.
Therefore the Leadership model they were talking about as Leadership 2.0 was there for people to experience. The convergence of the energies of both the tripods was clearly in evidence. The feminine energy was at the heart of the process and its commitment to humanity, intelligence served this energy, and profound respect for every person in the organization ensured collaborative task performance.
As far the VUCA issue is concerned, the preceptor of the organization Brahma Baba, was a very successful and wealthy jeweler in Sind. He not only gave away all his wealth to the idea of creating this organization based on his insight and vision, he had to abandon his home and come away to Mt Abu when India became Independent and the horrors of the partition were unleashed. The organization was set up and it grew during some of the most tumultuous changes seen in recent times. Few people realise that India has been in the throes of three fundamental changes simultaneously- 1. the change from being a colony with a repressive and feudal governance structure to becoming a democratic republic; 2. from being a largely rural nation to becoming more and more of an urban nation that is a significant part of a global network and 3. from being largely agricultural economy to becoming industrial economy pushing the post-industrial frontiers. VUCA before the term was coined! It not only grew in India, it has flourished all across the globe, so it is Multinational as well.
One has to ask the question is the world like the one seen through the eyes of a uniformed soldier, or is it like the world seen through the eyes of a person devoted to service? To a soldier, vigilance and readiness to attack are key to survival. The world is essentially antagonistic and dangerous. To the one looking to serve, enhancing well being by offering their best is the reason for being. The world is essentially one where mutuality and sharing underpin its existence.
Perhaps the world is not entirely one or the other, but I would like to live in a world a pharmaceutical, or a food company sees me as a friend to be nurtured than as a prey to be hunted, or as a statistic in their push for market dominance!
May be, just maybe, the BK model has as much merit (or more)than the hyper-masculine ideas being offered as the way to confront VUCA. A very disturbing trend that is catching on is the valorization of the competitive and self centered ways of individual acquisitiveness as the underlying philosophy of human progress. According to this narrative, Capitalism is the natural outcome of this drive in man to conquer Nature. Nothing is further from the truth. In the thousands of years that it has taken for man to evolve, 99% of the time has been spent in communities of mutuality and sharing, in maternal care and in the lap of nature. Today's crises are the outcome of ideas that are based on individuality and consumerism, parochial national identities and wealth acquisition, market fundamentalism and extraction. The way out cannot be “more-intensely-the-same-paradigm”. The short lived masculine and antagonistic ideas of man and the world have to give way to a more inclusive, feminine and compassionate idea, the one that has nurtured us for most of our evolutionary journey.
My work revolves around helping individuals, groups and organizations discover their Dhamma, and become “the best they can be”. This aligns with my own personal saadhana. I have restated this question for my self as follows: “how can I be in touch with the well spring of my love for the world and my love for my self simultaneously”