Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What message does Initiatives of Change (IofC) have for those working with the hard realities of business and the markets? Melbourne-based Mohan Bhagwandas is the International Coordinator of IofC’s ‘Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy’ programme. He maps out the background to its development:

Mohan BhagwandasIn 2008 the global financial crisis saw well-established banks and institutions go bust. More than one analysis pointed to a ‘moral crisis’ at the heart of the global economy. In December 2011 the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, summed it up saying that Britain had been ‘unwilling’ to ‘distinguish right from wrong’, and warned that ‘moral neutrality is not going to cut it anymore’.

IofC’s ‘Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy’ (TIGE) programme is a deliberate attempt to address this ‘moral crisis’.

The late Frank Buchman, founder of IofC, saw the direct connection between a stable economy and peace in the world. In the post World War II years, leading a movement for reconciliation between war-torn countries in Europe and Asia, Buchman began to articulate the need for stable economies, based on integrity and moral principles, to ensure an enduring peace. His most quoted statements in the 1950s were:

‘Human nature can be changed, that is the root of the answer. National economies can be changed, that is the fruit of the answer. World history can be changed, that is the destiny of our age’ and ‘There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed. If everyone cared enough and shared enough, everyone will have enough. Empty hands will be filled with work. Empty stomachs will be filled with food. And empty hearts will be filled with an idea that really satisfies.’

That kind of thinking attracted influential people in the business and industrial sector as well as from governments. It brought France’s Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of Germany to IofC’s international centre in Caux, Switzerland. Buchman was insightful enough to know that much hinged on what these two leaders might be able to do for the future.

On 9 May 1950, when Schuman proposed the creation of a community of peaceful interests to Germany and other European countries, he performed an historic act. Extending a hand to recent enemies he wiped away the bitterness of war and the weight of the past. But he also sparked off a completely novel process in the international order. Through this initiative, the European Union was born.
In those post war years, Caux conferences focused on reconciliation as a key for moving towards economic and social well-being. This process brought many to Caux from all sides of industry.

By the 1960s and 1970s, some business leaders conceived the idea of annual conferences at Caux to address how industry could respond to the needed global changes. In 1973 the Caux Conferences for Business and Industry (CCBI) were launched with the theme: ‘Industry’s role in building a new society’.

In the 1980s, when trade tensions grew between Europe and Japan, influential business figures, including Frits Philips of the Philips Corporation and Ryuzaburo Kaku, Chairman of Canon, gave leadership in creating the Caux Round Table. The CCBI conferences continued with annual themes such as ‘Moral foundations for a market economy’ (1991).

By 2005, Philips and Kaku were no longer able to offer that leadership. It was clear that these business conferences needed to move into a new phase. Caux had to respond to the changing scene in the world.

A new initiative was launched, under ‘Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy’, to bring change around the new issues of economy, environment, sustainability, food security and social enterprise—all based on inner transformation and commitment to core moral values. I received a request from IofC Switzerland to play a role as International Coordinator in developing this programme.

From the start, I knew it was right. The first experience I had in thinking about ‘economy’ was during a visit I made to a slum in Colombo, Sri Lanka, as part of a group from my school. Something inside me turned over when I saw an entire family living in one tin shelter, smaller than my garden shed in Melbourne where I keep my lawn mower. Then, as a young man, working in a factory in Sri Lanka, I experienced—day after day—the sheer hardship of people working in unimaginable conditions. With asbestos roofing and no ventilation, the inside temperature was over 40 degrees. I said to myself, ‘Whatever I do, I will make sure my life is used to make a difference for these people.’

Initiatives of Change’s mission—‘transform yourself, then transform society’—made absolute sense to me. Behind everything I have done, that’s been my driving engine. Poverty still exists. Exploitation still prevails. Doing something about it has been a work in progress.

I was extremely privileged to move to the ‘lucky country’ of Australia. In 1995 I got a consulting job in an IT company with 40 people. By 2001 it had grown to a global company of 5,000. This experience gave me an understanding of the reality of how things worked from inside the corporate world. You can have the nicest people in an organization, but if the larger systems and culture they work with don’t have integrity at the core, then things will fall apart.

Through TIGE we have started to build a network of professionals with integrity. This July the conference in Caux will hear from the Managing Director of Lloyds Banking Group in Scotland and a corporate lawyer who chairs the City of London’s ‘Values Forum’. The CEO/ founder of a booming biotechnology company from Mumbai will join Texas businesswoman Margaret Heffernan, whose latest book Wilful Blindness was shortlisted as one of the six best business books of 2011 by The Financial Times/Goldman Sacks.

It is still a work in progress; anyone can join.

Mohan Bhagwandas

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