A few months ago, I heard Dr. Mahanthesh, Founder Trustee of Samarthanam Trust (www.samarthanam.org) delivering a keynote address. It was not only inspirational but also thought provoking. Even after several months, one statement he made is still with me – “We have an inclusive recruitment policy and welcome all to join.”. This seemingly innocuous statement can be better appreciated if you know that Samarthanam is a Trust for the Disabled set up by Dr. Mahanthesh 25 years ago in Bangalore.
A disability rights advocate, motivational speaker, an avid traveller, technology follower, blind cricket player (President of World Blind Cricket Council that conducts international blind cricket tournaments), English literature enthusiast, notable academician, he is a visionary leader who says “I believe in building a society where people with disabilities are potential tax-payers but not dole recipients.” Who says you need Vision to be a Visionary ? Now, coming back to his statement on inclusivity, my take was that he was referring to a large section of us from the main-stream population who are supposed to be ‘fully abled”. While we are under the false notion that specially abled brethren require an inclusive policy since they are marginalised, try entering into their world and see. Can we resonate with them, empathise with them and work as well as they do unless they have an ‘inclusive mindset’ too ? The majority need not always think that we are being generous and benevolent in letting the minority into our world. It can be reverse too. Needs a large heart and futuristic thinking to create a world where there are no barriers and pathways like ‘inclusive’ and ‘exclusive’ but just a fair and common ground for all to live together – much like the animal world and the plant kingdom where the philosophy of “Live and Let Live” rules !
Contrast this with what a deplorable experience one of my fellow cancer survivors had recently with recruitment. An IT industry star performer, he shared that he was not considered for some senior position in a new company because of his social media presence. And what was his crime ? Merely showcasing on facebook and Linkedin, his activities in a voluntary cancer support group ! Can you believe that a well-known MNC can discriminate against a person for advocating wellness and cancer awareness ? It left me fuming with indignation and I retorted “why don’t you say no to such MNCs instead of they rejecting you?”. For reasons best known to him, my good friend has become rather quiet and discrete in his support to our Voluntary Cancer Support Group, working only on the tech bit in the background with no public appearances whatsoever. Hard to digest that such discriminatory policies still exist in the corporate world. But let me also share that there are several others out there who encourage such voluntary activities and infact recognise employees for their contribution. Thanks to such corporates, during the covid pandemic we were able to conduct several Corporate Connect programmes on wellness from our Cancer Support Group. Thanks to me being my own boss, I have the freedom and discretion to stand up for whatever I believe in and advocate its cause.
If digital technology was meant to bridge the gap between urban and rural students, lack of appropriate infrastructure is increasing the divide. One of my employees who is from the Malnad region in Karnataka was lamenting about how children in his village are unable to attend the online classes due to connectivity issues. Only when a group of angry youngsters made a video (that went viral) of students scampering up to hilltops to find the right internet spot did it catch the attention of the Minister. It was quite unfortunate to see how parents were holding umbrellas for their children while they sat on the hillocks trying to catch up with their daily lessons in the rain. Pandemic has been unforgiving in many ways but government apathy with respect to digital infrastructure creation and maintenance in rural areas has been even worse. My employee was quite piqued that this kind of discrimination against rural children is going unnoticed despite claims of so many government schemes. One can argue that the Digital world is One world for All but there is a long way to go. Inclusivity in all forms is still a myth and will always be work in progress !
“Sometimes in the winds of change we find our true direction” said Ciara Neff. For some reason we always think change means doing something new, something not done in the past, changing the status quo. Is it true ? Isn’t going back to some good old habits a change too ? Don’t you think it is time we retraced our paths to find our true North ? Isn’t the pandemic indicating the same ? It isn’t just winds of change. It has turned into a storm of chaos sweeping away all that comes in its way including Dear Life. Despite our boastful claims of a better life, we are as vulnerable as our forefathers were, fighting pandemics that seem to be mirroring the past. Jimmy Dean said “When you cant change the direction of the wind – adjust your sails”. Now than ever before, humanity feels directionless, leaderless and helpless. Perhaps it is time each one of us take matters into our hands and adjust our sails, find the proverbial ‘wind beneath our sails’ to stand up, look up and live once again. It is ironical that even as a privileged few are looking ahead to breaking the last frontier to travel to space, a large populace is pushed to look back and reflect on what has gone wrong on Ground Zero, what can be done to “Reimagine, Recreate & Restore” the womb of Mother Earth. Well, while this is the theme of World Environment Day 2021 (5th June), I feel it is time we retrace our habits to “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle” if we as a civilisation are to live, laugh and play once again !
The above thoughts take me back to a journey that I took with my family to Chitradurga (a historical city in Karnataka famous for its forts) more than 40 years ago. It was to meet my father’s side of the family, to see the ancient house where he grew up in a large joint family, to meet Dodanna (big brother in Kannada) his eldest maternal uncle and patriarch of the family. A strict disciplinarian, he was tall, lean and fit. Clad in a spotless white dhothi-kurta, at 85 his back was as straight as a ramrod. His authoritarian tone indicated clearly that he was still the Man of the House. He welcomed us warmly as he sat at the verandah at his writing table with lot of used envelopes, paper knives, scales and a box of green, red and black colour ball pens. As we sat down to chat with him, I saw what he was upto. He was very proud of his ‘productive activity’ borne out of his thrifty nature, so common to people of his times (a rarity today and almost looked down upon !). Dodanna was very conscious of not wasting a single paper, not even an envelope which he received (yes those were snail mail days when people wrote on post cards, inland letters and even sheets of papers). He would very neatly tear open the entire envelope using a sleek, sharp, special knife, lay it on the table and even out all the folds and corners so that it turns into a plain sheet of paper. He would turn it inside-out, fold it back into an envelope once again and write his ‘From’ address using the green colour pen. ‘To’ would be in red colour and left blank for future use. To make it attractive he would draw double lines in green and red along the length and breadth of the envelope, giving it life and importance. Some of the envelopes I saw were in their original avataars with no inside-out transformation. He slit open so carefully that it could be used once again as if it were new. These were the ‘reply envelopes’ where he would use the sender’s envelopes only with the ‘From’ and ‘To’ positions altered using green and red pens. At times just 2 arrows pointing to these positions would do the job. He was very proud of this activity (amongst so many other jugaad ones) and had piled up a stack on his low, work table. Back then it seemed silly and bizarre but today it seems significant and becoming ! Well, may not be the recycling of the envelope itself but the philosophy behind it – of reuse, reduce & recycle. It is perhaps time for us to retrace our path and discover the simplicity of the past so that we can find our direction to a sustainable, safe and happy future. After all, we are neither the creators nor the owners but merely the trustees of Mother Earth for the future generation !
Tracing the path of my profession, I am proud to share with all of you that exactly 33 years ago on this very day, 15th June, in 1988 the profession of “Practising Company Secretary” was born with the recognition granted to a CS to certify the Annual Return under the erstwhile Companies Act, 1956. To commemorate this, 15th June is celebrated as PCS Day by the Institute of Company Secretaries of India, of which I am a proud and grateful alumna. Then to now, the journey has been long and tough, eventful and exciting, even as newer and greater opportunities are opening up for us to serve the country. The question I ask is not what the profession has done for us but what we have done to the profession ? Because it is our knowledge, our conduct, our service and our attitude that makes us the champions of corporate governance, the conscience-keepers of Corporate India !! Wishing all my PCS family a Happy PCS Day, as we pledge to continue to uphold our motto “Satyam vada, Dharmam chara” meaning “Speak the truth, abide by the law”.