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Investing in people and the planet

 

 

 

The way we run our investments and the way we run our business models and the way that we run our economic models, we are not living within the capacity for the Earth to support human life.

 

Samuel Mann: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Each week we talk with someone who is making a positive difference and applying their skills towards a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Dr Robert Howell whose new book, Investing in People and the Planet, is published by …

 

Robert Howell: It’s available through Quaker Books, so if you go to the Quaker website and you’ll be able to find it there (quaker.books@quaker.org.nz).
Samuel Mann: So let’s take a few steps back. Where did you grow up?

 

Robert Howell: Napier.

 

Samuel Mann: What was it like growing up in Napier at the time?

 

Robert Howell: It was very interesting because … I went to Victoria University and spent ten years in Wellington then came back to Napier as city manager and when you come back as city manager, you see the city through different eyes. Did you know that the largest storm water pumps in the country are in Napier? And the reason for that is that the earthquake my parents went through – the 1931 earthquake, so that was part of my upbringing but it never did it’s job properly. It only raised the land so far and the water didn’t drain, so coming back and looking at it in different eyes was great. Looking back now, my father wasn’t rich but we were well looked after and we had a reasonably good upbringing. It was Pakeha didn’t take much to do with Maori but it was a reasonable education and some happy times.

 

Samuel Mann: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Robert Howell: Originally, I looked at being a minister of religion but I went to university and I guess that was part of my growing up and I didn’t become a minister of religion.

 

Samuel Mann: So what did you do at university?

 

Robert Howell: Well, I did philosophy originally. I’ve got a masters in philosophy and then I went … I had to years in broadcasting and then went the health sector and eventually I joined a small innovative unit that was headed up by management consultants to improve the efficiency of Wellington Hospital and I didn’t know nothing about management and even less about hospitals, I learned a hell of a lot.

 

Samuel Mann: Can I just take another step back. Why philosophy?

 

Robert Howell: Well it was part of the religious stuff, but when I look back now, I guess I had a skill and an innate desire to sort out the basic fundamental questions on life. I wouldn’t have put it like that, they just interested me. So that was part of the philosophy stuff.

 

Samuel Mann: Did you know at the time what you were going to do with it, or didn’t it matter?

 

Robert Howell: No, because I was growing up and searching and the thing about philosophy is that it gave you the intellectual tools to be able to examine the fundamental issues – that’s not the only discipline, of course, but it’s one of them.

 

Samuel Mann: So was it a shock going from answering the fundamental questions of life to improving the efficiency of the health service? That sounds quite operational.

 

Robert Howell: Well, I guess the searching has not stopped and I’ve always tried to be open to new initiatives and I didn’t grow up just by doing philosophy, you don’t grow up. In actual fact, when I got married – being married with my wife for about five years – she had education and sight training and she decided that to keep those alive, when our kids came along, she’d do marriage guidance training and her doing that led me to do that training and I would say part of my growing up was learning those basic skills to be able to relate to people and start talking about my feelings and talking about feelings of others, and those skills were just as important as the intellectual skills that I’d developed with philosophy.

 

Samuel Mann: So what have you been searching for?

 

Robert Howell: That’s a very good question. I guess I was wanting to … Because I was brought up in an evangelical religious framework. Christians like “is there a god and if there is, what is a god?” I decided that the personal, so-called ‘being’ that manipulates the world from outside and that’s part of a method of storytelling. It’s relevant for some people but not for me, and then I guess I wanted to just start learning about some of the ways in which the world worked.

 

Samuel Mann: And if there is a God, what’s he playing at with all the wars and climate change?

 

Robert Howell: Well. I don’t use the term ‘God’ now.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay.

 

Robert Howell: My wife was a Quaker and over thirty years, osmosis took place and Quakers – or one of the attractions of Quakers is that they don’t have a creedal affirmation. They have a lot of emphasis on personal experience. The Maori word for the Quakers of New Zealand ‘te Hāhi Tūhauwiri’ which means the group that stands shaking, blown around, buffeted by the wind of the spirit and I prefer to talk about spirit, rather than god because the term god has been so badly abused. When George Bush says that God led him to go into the Middle East, then I don’t want to use that term. So I talk about a spirit in terms of certain sorts of experiences that have profound impact on one, in terms of thinking about the purpose of life, the mysteries of life, the beauty of life and those sorts of experiences – when you feel one with the world. Doesn’t happen all the time of course.

 

Samuel Mann: How do you mix that with doing the job, whatever it is? Eventually you found yourself back in Napier, running the city. Is it always in your head, is it something you do at home? What’s the relationship there?

 

Robert Howell: Can I just go back to the hospital? I saw that my role in the hospital was to help to work at a practical level, helping people, use taxpayer resources more efficiently. I saw that if I could get a better buck for the way in which the system was run, then that was a good contribution to society. So I was brought in initially in Napier by a reforming mayor to improve it, and we did. So I was seeing my work and during that I developed skills and had training and my PhD was really in how do you measure the community’s health for planning purposes? Which led me to use my philosophical skills to say “what is health?”

 

I rejected the medical model, so I developed a different kind of model for health for those purposes. So it was using the philosophical skills but then embedding it with a more strategic planning framework and I guess I brought, to my work, as a change-agent, as a CEO, as a consultant, as a university teacher, I brought a strategic perspective. So the strategies, strategic processes and how we design and run our organisation. So that’s what I developed.

 

Samuel Mann: Did you do your PhD while you were working?

 

Robert Howell: I was able to … the Hospital Board gave me one day a week  – while I was working – to work on the PhD and I did that for two years. I basically read and then I got a medical research council grant to go to the States for two and a half months, and Britain for two months – that was full time – and then I came back in the light of all that experience and did all the fieldwork and wrote up and that was on a medical research council grant.

 

How I got into the council was that there was no immediate niche for me to get back into the health area – and I was home in Napier – and a new mayor had been elected and he didn’t want a town clerk, he wanted a city manager and he wanted somebody who could reform the council and that was part of my task – very difficult, the council was very divided but we managed to make some significant changes.

 

Samuel Mann: I’m just looking through your CV over the following ten years and there’s a whole pile of stuff in there. You’ve certainly kept yourself busy and working a whole lot of different areas.

 

Robert Howell: Yes, at times it became very awkward. In part, my wife was what I would call a social entrepreneur. So she developed a language school in Napier. She was one of the early pioneers in that area – brought Japanese students – and I met some Japanese people and when I left the council, I developed an agricultural College. College is a bit grandiose. It was really a cross between a community high school and a college, but it brought … We had one-year courses, amongst others and brought Japanese students out, gave them three months English training and then put them on farms – dairy farms – beef and sheep, horticulture and so on – practical experience stuff and then, at the same time, I started links with Massey University and they wanted me to run a course in local government and I linked up with Massey people and we did a lot of reviews of that local government process five years down the track.

 

One of the research projects I did was to look at the way in which governance had been changed because part of the problem of running local authorities is that I was in charge of … I forget how many staff we had now … About a thousand or something like that, a budget of about fifty million. The majority of the Councillors were in businesses that had no more than two or three staff, so the processes of organising a large operation were quite difficult for them and they wanted to get hands-on and really, the whole question of the role a council or a board and its relationship with the stakeholders was the subject of a study that I did, to see whether the reforms in the eighties had made difference … Shorter answer – they hadn’t – but during that process, I did a identified a model by Carver, an American researcher and then I used that subsequently to teach and consult that whole governance area.

 

Samuel Mann: When you’re working in the council, or in fact, any organisation, any business that’s operating at that kind of scale – in the tens of millions of dollars – is it possible to apply those principles that we touched on before the beauty of life and the peacemaking and all that sort of stuff? Does it work in that kind of organisation?

 

Robert Howell: When I first went to the council, I used more of my marriage guidance stuff because the council was divided, so it involved a lot of listening and then putting in the systems to be able to make the organisation more efficient and I think that … I mean, I see strategy and organisational design, if it’s done properly, is good problem solving. What you’re doing is avoiding the fisticuffs conflicts and you’re providing a method of resolving those issues in a nonviolent kind of way. So strategy, for me, is part of a nonviolent process if you like.

 

Samuel Mann: Eventually you found yourself in Auckland doing various governance things and is it about that time you started getting interested in responsible investment?

 

Robert Howell: What happened was that I wanted to get a consulting job with some Anglican trusts about governance, okay? And their basic job was investing, it was a bit of a mess, there were a lot of them. I never got the job, but then I got invited to be the Quaker representative on the CCANZ – the equivalent of the National National Council of Churches. So I persuaded them to set up a committee to look at church investments as a good background for me to do more consulting on this – a selfish as well as an altruistic motive and eventually, that morphed into looking at investment in not just a religious way, but a more fundamental way for everybody and I set up the Council for Socially Responsible Investment that was open to everybody, and if I could take you down where that led me, was that I then began to say “what are the kind of measures that one should look for, to know that a company is being responsible to the environment, as well as to humans – human Earth as well as the human-human relationship?

 

To cut a long story short, that took me to two think tanks. One was a Quaker institute for the future, which was set up in North America by the Quakers and the other one was sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand – based in New Zealand, of course. The beauty of those is that they were multi-disciplinary. There were scientist, economists, lawyers – a real mix of people and I learnt a hell of a lot from those groups. The first one was the state of the Earth for sustaining human life is pretty fragile, very fragile, far more than I ever had appreciated. Secondly, a significant reason why that is the case is because of our economic models and our financial models and the third thing was that that’s related to our ethics, and that was what really interested me in going back to my original philosophy. So I went back and did some philosophical stuff. I started reading stuff that I had sort of touched on about forty years ago, but then read quite widely in that area and what I was able to do was bring a public policy perspective as well as an integrating perspective.

 

So it’s part of trying to get a handle on all of this. It was a very fertile time for me. I’ve done a – what I call – a ‘wiring diagram‘ (see article). It’s on a one page and on the left-hand top are the three or four ethical positions like Aristotle, utilitarianism, the social contract and mapped it out, how over – in Aristotle’s time – over centuries, how they have moved from just being concerned about human-human relationships to include a human-Earth relationship. So all the significant philosophers today, have extended those traditions to deal with those issues.

 

So that was at the top. In the middle was all the economic models and how they have changed and at the bottom was the science and the major scientific discoveries and then I had little dots, related to major changes that had occurred and I found that was my way of making sense – now, I’ve given that as a lecture for over fifty-plus times and people have found it very helpful. So what I was able to do was provide an overview, an integrating perspective, to look at how the science and the economics and the ethical stuff had change in significant ways, but there were gaps, you see? The economic model that we have today is still based on crude utilitarianism and they haven’t made the changes.

 

The other thing that it helped me to do was really, then start to think, “well, what does this have for investment” and then that took me back to the journey that this book is about because this book is … Even though I wrote it in a month and sort of corrected it in about two months, with sending it out and proofreading and all that stuff that you’ll know about … It’s really a summation of what I’ve learnt over the last ten to fifteen years and how about ninety percent of the world’s investments are unethical.

 

I made some surprising discoveries. Did you know, for example, that while the New Zealand government was taking on the French government and the American government and the world generally, over three decades, about nuclear weapons, during all that time government investments were invested in the nuclear weapons industry?

 

Samuel Mann: No.

 

Robert Howell: No, a lot of people don’t. So part of what I’m on about is saying to people there is a connexion between the way you invest and your values and so what I’ve tried to do is make that connexion and to say it’s really important as individuals that we make that connexion and here are the tools to be able to put your values into practise as a taxpayer and as an individual investor. How do you select the KiwiSaver fund that is consistent with your values? How do you sort out which fund – managed fund or insurance company, or bank – how do you sort out whether they are actually caring for people on the planet? How do you get through all the PR hype in simple terms and start to use the power that you, as an individual have, to be able to make those changes? That’s what the book’s about.

 

Samuel Mann: You’ve said ninety percent of the world’s investments are unethical …

 

Robert Howell: Managed funds and sovereign wealth funds.

 

Samuel Mann: … Does unethical there, mean can operate without consideration of ethics or does it mean, somehow bad? Or is bad by definition if you’re not thinking about it?

 

Robert Howell: If you go through my Wiring diagram, that gives you all the sophisticated discussion, but at the very bottom line, for me personally, what it means is one needs to develop a principle for dealing with people – a human-human ethic, and then you need to deal with the human-Earth ethic. So for me, the human-human ethic is based on fairness. That’s the term that I would use. Other people use similar sorts of terms that have got similar sorts of mileage but just in simple terms, that’s the core concept.

 

In terms of human-Earth, I would say rather then exploitation – exploiting the Earth for human utility – one should respect the Earth. There are other terms – Schweitzer used reverence for life, there are lots of other terms, but for me, respect. So I want to then say of the companies that the New Zealand superannuation fund invests in and ACC and the KiwiSaver funds and my bank and my insurance company, the universities, the councils, do they meet those principles? Are they based on fairness? Do they actually abuse people in a fundamental kind of way – and I’ll give you an example with Nucor in just a moment – and do they actually respect the Earth, so that humans can live within the capacity of the Earth to support human life.

 

Now, at the moment, the way we run our investments and the way we run our business models and the way that we run our economic models, we are not living within the capacity for the Earth to support human life. Those are the two fundamental principles and I then have a series of more detailed questions that enable one to tease out whether that’s the case.

 

Just to give you an example of Nucor.  Nucor is the largest steel company in the United States. A number of years ago, it got pig iron from Brazil. That pig iron was produced using charcoal that came from the forests of Brazil from slave labour. A group of people in the United States, including – but there are others – the interface centre for court and responsibility, which is a grouping of Protestant and Catholic and Jewish investors with about a hundred billion under investment. They are the world’s best shareholder activists. So they ring along to Nucor and its management and its AGM and they put resolutions to say to Nucor they would adopt as policy, not to buy any pig iron from Brazil that was produced with slave labour and they also wanted Nucor to fund two groups in Brazil to independently verify that Nucor was doing what it promised to do. Now that took three years of negotiations.

 

So, here is a company Nucor that is using slave labour for steel. It doesn’t meet the human-human perspective. It’s not fair. So that’s one example. Plenty of examples in the human-Earth relationship. All the big Australian banks are invested in coal – fossil fuels. If we don’t get out of coal, if the world doesn’t quickly get out of the use of coal, we are into a two degrees Celsius plus warming. Now that’s got major implications and that’s likely to happen at the moment. That’s likely to happen the decade 2030 – starting 2030. It’s less than fifteen years away. So from a New Zealand point of view, a two degree warming … We have just had, recently, fires in Christchurch. In Auckland we’ve had heavy downpours which have caused quite considerable infrastructural damage. In the North of Auckland we’ve had a nine month drought, okay?

 

You get a two degrees Celsius warming, you’re going to have more droughts, more floods, more heavy rainfall and you’re going to have it more often. That’s going to have a major impact on New Zealanders, it’s going to have a major impact on our economies. Now, that’s just New Zealand, you need to look at what’s the impact in terms of Australia and some of our major partners we sell our milk and various other things to. It’s going to have a major effect on China.

 

So there are a number of companies that are simply not preparing us to be able to deal with this sort of scenario. So there’s an example of how you can apply the principles, in terms of human-Earth and human-human.

 

Samuel Mann: One of my favourite definitions of sustainability is ethics, expanded in space and time, and what I do in some of my teaching is expand on the trolley problem – the train racing down the track and it’s going to kill three people but you can save them but it’s still going to kill one and you can do students’ heads in quite quickly about getting them to the edge of utilitarian ethics, what happens when one of them is you grandmother, that kind of thing. My question is, well if you had a third alternative and you could divert it into a forest, what would you do? And if it’s just an empty forest, then the forest. But what if it’s got the last two remaining orangutan in it? You’ve got a much deeper understanding of this than me.

 

Robert Howell: These are lifeboat choices, aren’t they? Look, when you’re in the middle of a war, it’s really difficult for these choices and so what I would prefer to do is to slow the train down in the first place, okay? This is the strategic perspective that I bring and let me quote you an example of Shell – not my favourite company, but in late 1960s/70s they set up a strategic planning unit.

 

Now, at that time, Shell was saying that strategically we look at the oil that was supplied last year and sold and we had two percent and you had a gradual rise in the graph over a decade or so. The Strategic planning unit was asked to look at some of the strategic options and they said “well, instead of two percent, what if it’s twenty percent, what would we do as a company if all of a sudden the oil increased by twenty percent?” And then they started to say “well, these are the things that we could do.” Then the Arabs came along and did exactly that and Shell was very well placed because they’d done the thinking beforehand to be able to deal with how to respond to that.

 

Except, the shipbuilding sections – the tanker section of Shell – they didn’t want anything to do with this strategic planning stuff, right? And so when the Arabs increased the price of oil, they kept building ships until they had so many ships that they didn’t know what to do with them. They keep falling over them etc. Then they realised that in fact, the strategic stuff was actually relevant. So what I want to say is there are certain things that I can’t do. I think the time for averting significant climate warming … The easy options are gone.

 

I just think we are faced with some very difficult places and people will die and ecologies will die, animals will die. Nothing I can do about that but what I can do is start to encourage fellow colleagues – people like yourselves and people listening to this radio to say “let’s start preparing options for how we’re going to deal with adapting to these situations” and one of the advantages of the Shell analogy is that once you’ve done that, you can actually read the signs. The Shell people in the tanker division weren’t reading the signs and there are people in New Zealand, including our government, who bemoan the fact that another hundred year flood as arrived since the last five years and another one’s going to come and they’re not reading the signs. How many fires do you need, how many droughts do you need?

 

Well, if you start thinking about the scenarios and the signs we’re talking about, then you do read the signs and then you’re in a much better position to start preparing options. Some of those options are going to be very difficult. Can I give you another train analogy?

 

Samuel Mann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Robert Howell: I’m very critical of the SRI industry – social responsible industry – because I think that they have been captured by a model that’s not valid and that’s the United Nation’s principles that are responsible investment, it’s not a valid definition. A whole variety of reasons I can give for this but I’ll leave those to one side, you can come back to me if you want to. Now, what that means is that the New Zealand Superfund claims in its annual report “we are a responsible investment because we’ve signed up to the UNPRI,” but they’re invested in Exxon Mobil and they’re invested in Rio Tinto and a whole series of other companies that are really notorious for the way they treat people and the way they treat the planet and so the UNPRI is seeming to do something, it’s what I would say walking southward on a northbound train. It gives you the impression that you’re going in one direction when you’re actually going in another direction. That’s my other train story.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, I’m going to add another one then and – to further extend the space and time thing – if we could have an alternative track where we put the train onto some sort of space time loop, that it disappears for ten years, but then it’s going to come back in ten years and instead of two or three people, it’s going to kill off some large number – a thousand people, what would you do? And it really does my head in to think that I’m the person that’s supposed to know this stuff and my gut reaction is to go for that one. Why are we so bad at the ethics of the future?

 

Robert Howell: If you’ve got two hours with me to go through the psychology of decision-making, I might answer that. Let me give you a couple of suggestions. I think that if you’re a young family with kids, you’re worried about where you’re going to live, how you’re going to pay for your house, how you’re going to get a job that’s going to give you enough, etc., you get focused on the immediate short-term. It’s very difficult to start making significant changes out of that.

 

So you get bound up into the business-as-usual model. So that’s one thing. The second thing is that if you want to move away from the business-as-usual model in the company … I mean, I’ve bought an electric car, I’m getting solar panels in the house, getting more water tanks – because we’ve just shifted where we are in Auckland – but there are certain things that I … If I really wanted to be purely sustainable, I’d find it very difficult because how do I look after somebody who’s sick, who needs an ambulance? The ambulance at the moment uses petrol, so what do I do? Do I deny using an ambulance to take somebody to hospital because it’s using petrol? So, you’re faced with really difficult choices.

 

So what you do … I like the analogy of the good Samaritan. The good Samaritan came along and saw somebody lying in the gutter. The good Samaritan was a Jew, the guy lying in the gutter was not. He helped him. Bound up his wounds and took him in. Didn’t bother to save the world, he just wanted to help that guy. So my suggestion, my focus is, where you have the opportunities to help people in small little ways, do it. Because if everybody did that, then the world would change and that’s why I come back to investments. People say “oh, its too hard, I don’t understand finance” etc. But in my book I try and spell out in very simple terms, what we, in very simple ways, can do to use our little money to actually start making some changes and when you do that for others it’s very powerful. Not sure whether answers your question, does it compare?

 

Samuel Mann: I think so. What it leads me to is a question of can you live ethically, when, as you’ve just described, we almost can’t live sustainably?

 

Robert Howell: Well the short answer is no. The society that we live in at the moment – the food we eat for example, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is the food sustainable? Do we get tomatoes from Italy? If you’re going to the supermarket and then go through as much as you can – because the labeling’s pretty terrible – ‘made in New Zealand from New Zealand and imported stuff’, but if you really did an accurate assessment of our food and how sustainable it was, it wouldn’t be. Well, one of the alternatives is to actually grow your own food, but if you’re a mum with three or four kids, there is some food that you can grow – you can grow your herbs and get a little garden going, but it’s sometimes quite difficult to be completely organic and … You can pay a bit more for organic food, but your choices are limited. So you do what you can and you try and persuade … So, that’s why I say go and start using your money because that’s a way of helping people to make the changes.

 

Samuel Mann: So if it’s so very difficult for us to live sustainably and ethically, is there a pathway to a positive future?

 

Robert Howell: Erm, I think that we all make mistakes. Aristotle talks about ethics in the terms of being an apprentice – which I like – that is that you have to learn how to be good and it takes a while and there are some things that you need to learn at seventy that you can’t learn when you’re twenty. So it’s an ongoing process and there’s some very difficult choices on the way that don’t make it easy. My wife died from cancer two years ago. I thought that I knew how to handle grief because I’d been trained as a marriage guidance counsellor, you see? But I didn’t. So that was a really difficult learning time for me, okay?

 

The year she died, there were some good times but there were pretty difficult times, but the year after, trying to learn to live with her – my close intimate partner for forty-five years … rat-shit year. Terrible. And it really posed, for me, some very difficult, personal, moral questions about should I have a new partner? When? How? My family didn’t want that. A number of people said “don’t do it Robert, don’t do it,” yet losing that companionship was just terrible. So how did I prepare myself for that? Well, I thought I had but I hadn’t. So life throws at you stuff that you don’t know, okay? So, you’re going to make mistakes, that’s life. What you have to do is try and be as resilient and capable. Use the strengths as you can.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you have a word that you use to describe what we need to be doing? Do you use ‘sustainable’, do you just use ‘resilient’?

 

Robert Howell: I think ‘sustainability’ has lost it’s credibility like ‘God’. It’s become a PR term – sustainable companies. Well I want to know what they’re actually doing. I want to know what their ecological footprint is. I want to know what their policies are in terms of human-Earth ethics. I want to know what they’re doing by way of planning for a world that’s going to have two degrees plus Celsius warming. Those are my three questions of the companies. When I go to annual reports and when I talk with banks and so forth, my questions are where are your policies dealing with the human-human, human-Earth relationships and the policies and your codes and conduct, so forth. Secondly, where’s you ecological footprint? Are you actually measuring that? It’s not just CO2 or CO2 equivalent, it’s water use and effect on species and so on. And thirdly, what are you doing to prepare for a two degrees celsius plus warming world? Sustainability and resilience are part of those questions and those stories.

 

Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these conversations, we’re calling it ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes’, how would you describe you superpower? What are you bringing to the good fight?

 

Robert Howell: I’m not sure I like the term ‘a hero’, okay? What I would want to say is that if people can learn from the journey that I had, then I’m happy to talk about it. I think that the experiences and the stories and the learnings that I’ve had are not well-known. Not many people know about the government investing in nuclear weapons industries while they were opposing the French and the Americans. So I’m wanting to make those stories known. I’m wanting to alert the people in public office and organising organisations – both public and private – that the world is really facing some very, very serious challenges.

 

The thing that I brought to the think tanks – which composed of scientists and economists and so forth – was a public policy perspective and an ethical perspective. I asked questions like “what are your values and how do you integrate that into the dialogue?” So that’s what I bring. The knowledge of fifteen or so years of strategic perspective, talking about that journey. If that’s of value to people then I’d be happy to be known for that.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, I’ve got four more questions and four more minutes, so minute per question. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Robert Howell: Yes.

 

Samuel Mann: You talk about shareholder activists, is that the …

 

Robert Howell: That’s part of it, yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: What’s the activist role you have?

 

Robert Howell: Ah, well at the moment, I’m working with 350.org, amongst other organisations and I’ve been in dialogue with the Auckland council about its investments. I’ve taken them to the ombudsman and I’m providing examples and strategies and things to 350.

 

Samuel Mann: Have you always been an activist?

 

Robert Howell: No, because when I go back to the start of my career, what I felt is that I could best contribute to society if I worked within organisations to help them be more strategic and efficient, getting better value for money – if you got better value for money then that was a major contribution to society. So I’ve tried to do a lot of working with people. One story I haven’t told you about is that in the nineties I initiated a project to work with the Indonesian police bringing nonviolent training to the police in Indonesia and that was working with the New Zealand government to get funding and working with a group in Yogyakarta. So I was working within the system. But I’ve got to the stage now where I think a more public activist advocacy role is necessary.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, we’re now down to thirty seconds per question. What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Robert Howell: There are times when I get pissed off and angry. At times I want to finish on … There’s a bit of stubbornness about me. I don’t like people getting away with hypocrisy and stuff and also I’ve got three grandchildren.

 

Samuel Mann: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you like to have happen?

 

Robert Howell: That’s a difficult one. Well, I really would like the government to face up to these issues of climate warming and the fact that our economic model is bust, and start doing a proper dialogue and regulating. I called New Zealand government in New Zealand the Volkswagon of the Pacific because they’re cheating. I’d like them to be honest and engage with not just the money people of New Zealand, but everybody.

 

Samuel Mann: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Robert Howell: Read my book to be enabled to ask the right questions about which bank you choose, which kiwisaver fund you want, where you want to put your money and join with others to be able to make those changes.

 

Samuel Mann: Thank you very much.

 

Categories
business education philosophy

continuous happiness

 

Dr. Gagan Deep Sharma is from the School of Management Studies at the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. He works and teaches in finance. with a focus on sustainable investment, humane business, and the response of technical education to sustainability.

 

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. Each week we talk with somebody building a positive future and we try to investigate what drives them, what is their sustainable lens, how they’re acting as a sustainable practitioner. Today’s sustainable lens is that of Dr. Gagan Deep Sharma from the School of Management Studies at the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. He works and teaches in finance and he’s working in sustainable investment, humane business, the response of technical education to sustainability, and so on, all particularly with an Indian context. Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Gagan: Thank you.

 

Sam: Let’s start with the big questions though. Where did you grow up?

 

Gagan: Oh well, I come from the province of Punjab in the northern part of India. I come from a small village, I was born in that small village, Rampur. I took my initial education from there and grew up there to a middle class family, service family. Yeah, just like that. Then I took my higher education from the same district.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Gagan: Well, it was different when I initially thought. I thought I would be studying law probably. But, as I grew up, I thought that law is not my cup of tea, so I thought I’d rather go with teaching, and I ended up teaching.

 

Sam: What did you do your higher degrees on?

 

Gagan: I did my masters in commerce and philosophy. Punjab University is my university. Punjab University is one of the better universities, better known universities in India, and globally also. Then I did my doctorate in the field of management. I did it on the stock markets of South Asian nations. Yeah, so I studied the linkages between the stock markets of SAARC, South Asian regional block that we have.

 

Sam: The sustainable, environmental, social thing that you have going now. Has that always been a thing for you?

 

Gagan: Actually, it has not always been, but let me bring into perspective the other part. I started reading a lot of literature, not only on my field, not only on management, finance, and stuff, but I started reading literature on different fields like, for example, poetry. For example, on the short studies, the novels, the fiction, the prose, all of it. While going through that, I myself developed the interest to go into the poetry. So I wrote two books of poetry, which were in my local language, Punjabi. When I saw the field of finance and management from a poet’s view, that was a different lens altogether. That gave me a broader thinking, broader way to look at the things. I thought that finance, management, all these things, economics, by itself cannot be looked at in isolation from the other things of the world. This is where the initial change in my focus comes.

 

Secondly, in 2010, I came across a workshop, which was an eight-day workshop on human values and ethics. It was done by an electronics engineer, Ganesh Bagaria.  He is an electronics engineer, but he was talking about a different perspective. He was talking about what is the human goal, what is the goal of the family, how do we look at the universe? This was sensational for me. I was taken aback and I was shaken. “Man, what are you doing? What kind of stock markets, what are you talking about? Have you tried to put your things into this perspective? Have you tried to look at the world from this angle?”

 

The answer from within myself came, “No.” Then I thought it’s never too late to start thinking on the right lines, so I thought I’ll just look at the world of business, the world of management, the world of economics from the angle of a holistic perspective. This is the second way, the second shift that happens in my thinking philosophy. So from then on I shifted. As I said, I did my doctorate in global finance. All the doctorates that I’m guiding now are not in global finance. Those are in integrating finance with a holistic development, or sustainable development as you may call it.

 

Sam: If you had had that lens earlier, would you have not done that doctorate? Or could you have applied that lens to the doctorate that you did?

 

Gagan: Yeah, actually. Again, I did my post-graduation in 2001 and I started my doctorate in 2008. Had I had that lens before, I think I would have finished my doctorate by 2008 rather than starting it, because that lens does not hinder you, it helps. The biggest problem in the doctorate research is to find a problem, which problem to research on. Had I had that lens before, I think I would have had the problem before I could be able to identify the problem, well before. And I would have finished my work and then I would have been better placed to … I think would have been at a more advanced stage in my research on humane model than what I am today.

 

Sam: So this workshop that was transformational for you, it was on human values and ethics. What prompted you to go to that?

 

Gagan: Oh, it’s not so formal, but yeah. My university, probably I’ll put it in a very funny way, that two of us who were pretty naughty kind of. I was heading the department there, so my principal wanted to punish me. So he sent me for eight-day workshop. He said, “You should go there.” So I didn’t even look at the curriculum, what are they doing. I just thought that it’s a different place, so I’ll go, I’ll have fun. The other friend of mine, we thought that we’ll have some wine together and then enjoy the evenings. We won’t go to the workshop, as such. We’ll go on the first day and we’ll go on the last day. We were suited, booted. We wore our ties, we wore our suits. We were on the seventh heaven.

 

Then on the very first day when we went to the workshop, they told us to sit on the ground. The workshop was conducted on the floor. They said, “Sit on the floor.” So how would we, dressed in the suits with the ties, with all those formal pants and all, so how would we sit there? But we just talked that it’s rubbish how these people, I’m kidding. Then we thought, “Okay, no problem. Let’s spend an hour or so and then, well, anyway we are gonna run away. And we’ll be back only after eight days, when the concluding session is underway.  Yeah, that was the thinking, but …

 

Sam: What did they say in that first hour that got you to stay?

 

Gagan: Oh yeah. Actually, it was a very planned workshop. They had the plan to trap people like me. The plan was such that, initially, they got some people who came and spoke for two to five minutes. They were the people like me who were trapped before. They were sharing their own experiences, that “This is how we came. This was the philosophy with which, and all the thinking with which we came. And then we came here for an hour and then stayed for eight-odd days.” There were people who said that, for example, there was a guy who had worked in Septem used to be a real big company. He was a vice president there. He was wearing a kurta and a typical Indian dress. That guy was talking that “I left my job of vice president Septem. Another guy said that “I left my job, IBM, a very high position, and I started doing this.” That got us. We thought that “Let’s listen to everybody. This is not this place to run away, so.” Before I spoke to my friend about my intentions not to leave, he spoke to me and said that “Look here, I’m gonna be here.” So that’s it.

 

Sam: You said that was run by an electronics engineer?

 

Gagan: Oh yeah.

 

Sam: That seems a bit surprising too.

 

Gagan: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I’ll talk about it in slight more detail. That electronics engineer, he was dressed in a kurta, white coloured. He seemed to be an ordinary man, I mean really ordinary man, because it is Uttar Pradesh in which this workshop was. Uttar Pradesh is the name of the province. I thought that “He is such a layman now. What can he teach me?” When they read his degrees while introducing him, they said that there is no book in the library of the university, IIT, that he has not read. Every book in the library at that time has been seen issued to Ganesh Bagaria.

 

He has been going through the philosophy which we call as coexistentialism. This philosophy is called as coexistentialism. He has been into the philosophy of coexistentialism for long. You saw my presentation yesterday. I quoted A. Nagraj a number of times. A. Nagraj is the man who actually gave this philosophy. He went into the stage of samadhi in ancient Indian system. There is a stage of samadhi where you just get relieved of everything else that’s happening. He went into the Himalayas and did the samadhi for years.  After coming back he didn’t speak anything at all for years. Because he got realised to the coexistence. This is what he writes in his books. Then he wrote 13-odd books of philosophy. If I tell you the ideas of those philosophical verses, he wrote on human behaviour, he wrote on economics, he wrote on science. I mean whatnot, law? Whatnot, constitution? He wrote all those philosophical books, 12-odd books. Ganesh, he read all those books.

 

And not only that, all those books, he was in close company, he came across A. Nagraj like I did with Ganesh. He spent a lot of time and then discussed all those things with him. And he started looking at electronics engineering, or for that matter engineering, from that lens. That’s how he got into it, but yeah, I got into it like this.

 

Sam: So we don’t have eight days, but can you give us an insight into what the philosophy is?

 

Gagan: Oh, okay, why not? About eight days first. It is not necessarily eight days. The workshop is done for one day, for two day. I myself ran these workshops later for two days and three days for my students. Then it is also run for eight days, but as I said, in my feedback … We don’t call it feedback, we call it self-evaluation, which we do on the eighth day, on the last day. What I said in the self-evaluation was that I am afraid that this workshop was not eight day workshop. I’m afraid that this workshop is going to be running within me forever now. Eight days, you’re right you said you don’t have eight days, but I’m sure you have life. Not only you, but the listeners also.

 

What is it all about? It talks about the four levels. It says that, initially, it begins with what is the goal of the human? What is your goal, right? We keep on saying that, for example, my goal is say social benefit. People say my goal is natural benefit, this this this this this. The workshop takes you to the straight white, that through all that, you’re actually not looking at all that. Those are the means to an end, and the end is your own happiness. The ultimate goal the workshop proposes, it’s run in the form of a proposal, not in any form of sermons. Not any form of verdict. It is run in the form of a proposal. It proposes that the goal of a human is continuous happiness. That’s it. I want to be happy and I want to be continually happy, that is it, nothing more, but nothing less.

 

Then, for achieving the continuous happiness, it talks about the human programme. What is the programme that you have to achieve that continuous happiness? About the programme, it states that there are two important things in this whole universe. One is the human. Second is rest of the nature, right? Rest of the nature can also be classified into three orders. One is material order, plant order, animal order. And the fourth one, as I said, is human, so human order. There are four orders in this world. Material order, plant order, animal order, and human order.

 

Then the first three can be put into the head of rest of the nature, and the fourth can be put as a human. So human and rest of the nature. For carrying out your programme, for reaching your goal of happiness, the human needs to be in harmony with the other humans, this is what we call relations, and with the rest of the nature from which we take the physical facilities. In order to achieve the human goal, the three things that human needs to do is … number two and number three, I’ll come to that first. Number two is relations with the humans. Number three is physical facilities with the rest of the nature. And number one is right understanding about both of them. How much is required, how to get it, all of that. It is about understanding about these two.

 

In this way, this is the kind of human programme that is required to attain that human goal. This is the first thing. This is to happen within yourself. At the level of individual this is to happen, this understand is to happen, and then you are to realise that “Yeah, this is what I’m gonna do.” This process begins. Once this happens with an individual, the second thing which the workshop proposes is that it happens in the family. At the level of individual, as I said, at the level of self, what we call, it is continuous happiness.

 

At the level of family, so once this happens within the individual, within all the members of the family, when the family is prosperous … And I have developed my own definition of prosperity where we say that what you have upon what you need. What you have upon what you need. Prosperity has to do more with the denominator than the numerator. While we are working towards what you have, have more, have more, have more whatever you have. And if you do not know exactly what you need, then the glass will never be full. If I remove the base of this glass it’ll never be full. Things are like this only.

 

Therefore, in the family, it tells you about the denominator also. It guides you towards the denominator. What exactly do you need? And what exactly do you need is in terms of both second and third, relation and facility. It is not only about the facility, but also about the relation. When we do it this way, then the family has a possibility to be prosperous.

 

And when the families are prosperous, then the third goal at the level of society is fearlessness. Since when we are not prosperous, we will try to grab it from elsewhere. In poetry, I say usually that when one gets frustrated, one will choose the weapon. And with the weapon, the one who is weak will kill himself and the one who is slightly stronger will kill the other. Both of them are dangerous for the society. And both of them are achieved only when we are, not prosperous, but when we do not have the feeling of prosperity for that matter. When the feeling of prosperity is there within the families in the society, there is a possibility of fearlessness, which I think is a goal at the level of society.

 

And when you are fearless at the level of the society, when you know that you’re prosperous. You do not have to exploit the nature for attaining your own goals. For example, let me bring into perspective the example of my own province, where in order to … Because we people, the farmers in my area, we did not have a sense of how much exactly do we need. So we went for chemical farming and we have ended up damaging the air, we have ended up damaging the water, we have damaged the quality of land, we have damaged the quality of human beings because we are using that much chemicals. Reason? We did not know exactly where to stop. How much do we want to earn? We did not know what we need, so put infinity as a denominator, so the end result was zero. And as a result we kept on exploiting the nature.

 

When we are in a position to attain the first three goals, at the level of individual, at the level of self, we are continuously happy. At the level of family, that we are prosperous. At the level of society we are fearless. Then at the level of nature, we will live with mutual fulfilment. We will fulfil. Just in order to, I’ll take a minute, I know that I’m going a little in too much of detail, but this is eight-day thing that I’m talking about and giving eight minutes is fine I guess.

 

When we look at the four orders that I spoke to you about, material, plant, animal, and human. We look at these four orders. The first three orders cannot think. The fourth one can. Out of material, plant, and animal, these three cannot think. Arguably third can think or may not think, this is arguable, but the first two certainly cannot. Fourth can. And if we look at the damage that has been caused to the nature, the first three are very certain. The fourth is uncertain. If we look at the first three, material, plant, animal, plant knows what to breathe in and what to breathe out. Human body also knows. But the plant also knows what to do, where to grow up. It has a certain behaviour. If I throw this glass from up side, it’ll go down, that’s it, right? There’s no uncertainty in it. If I crush it, it’ll be crushed. If it is strong then it’ll probably crush my hand. The first three are certain behaviours. The fourth does not demonstrate a certain behaviour. And all the damage that has been done to the nature has been done by the fourth.

 

It is important for us not to manage the other things. We are too busy managing material, we are too busy managing plants, animals, all those things. Without feeling the need to manage ourselves, to think within ourselves and understand that it is the human which needs to be corrected, nothing else. This is almost all that the workshop speaks about. As I said, this is in the form of a proposal which one can verify at one’s own level. The good thing about this kind of a workshop is that now, we started small. Those people started very small. Now they are multinational also. We are holding these kind of workshops overseas also. Some workshops have been had in South Asia. We are planning to expand overseas also. These kind of things, wherever required will be done. This is not done for the sake of material. This is not done for the sake of money, no money is involved.

 

Sam: When you, after eight days, went back to work and you went away as somebody that was all into high finance and you went back, what did you say?

 

Gagan: Oh, I did not say anything, I did. Two of the important things that I could do … Rather, three of the important things that I could do. I was too much into research. There were 23 students who were studying in the MBA programme, I was heading the programme department, I was head of the faculty there. I called my staff and told them that “Guys, look here. We are not going to do anything which does not have a purpose.” So all the research, those 23 guys, our students, they were supposed to write a project each. We told them that “Okay, all those 23 projects will be with a goal. And they have to be placed somewhere within this.” I handled it myself and looked at all the 23 topics myself and made sure that those are somewhat related and somewhat placed within this framework. Then we went ahead and did those projects, 23 projects.

 

Okay, now, this is one. I’ll talk about the outcome also. The second important thing was that, since I was heading the faculty, I was also to look after the industry placement of those students. I must admit that this was the first batch of MBA holder, and the placement scenario was not too good. Employability scenario, not many companies are coming to employ those people. So when we did this exercise of 23 people doing their own projects on some meaningful issues, I requested my principal who punished me to come out to give me some funds, and I want to publish a book of the summaries of those 23 projects. I wanted the students to come up with the research papers out of those 23. I submitted all those 23 papers into SSRM, which is a social science research network, and got those published there.  Sanjit is one of my students, but he’s a friend and he was a colleague there, so I got him to do all those things, and he did. He also attended a workshop by the way, and is doing a PhD under me on similar topic.

 

I wanted him to look at these 23 papers and then we submitted it to the network, and then we got it published in the form of a book. Then I sent those books to almost all the industry that was around. To all those companies, with a sworn letter from my end, that “This is what our students have done. I’m sure you’ll look for the right tenant. And I think you can evaluate these people on the basis of that tenant.” So we did that, and what happened next is anybody’s guess. All those 23 people got their own offers, didn’t they? This is how I propose that, when you do the right thing, you do not have to work for the outcome. You work on the input and the outcome follows. This was pretty strange, and after that I’ve never looked back. I’ve thought earlier, I was also thinking that I would have to work for these people’s industrial placements separately, I will work for the research separately, I will work for the academics separately. But then when I realised that this is what, this.

 

This isn’t about this part, but I would again put into perspective one more thing. The other thing that we did was that, both of us who were there at the workshop, we thought that “Once we have some more understanding about it …” So we attended two, three, four more eight day workshops. This time we requested the principal to punish us again. We attended three, four more workshops, and then we maybe thought that there is somewhat clarity about it. We started with a smaller version of it, one day, two day workshop for all the university students at our campus itself.

 

Okay, so we could give this as a thought to those students. By the way, I forgot to mention that this was also a course which my university introduced, compulsory course for the students, which will run into four credits. Three credits later. But what we did was voluntary, one day, two day workshops, weekend workshops. I’ll tell you what happened again, another important aspect of it. The students who went to this workshop, when they come to me and say, “Sir, there is construction going on within the campus. There is labour which is working, they are living in the tents. Their kids are there. They’re here for around a year or so, two years, three years, whatever time it takes for the construction to finish. And those kids are not going to the schools.”

 

I said, “That’s true, but what can we do in it?” They said, “You talked about society in that workshop. We want to begin with an evening school for those workshops, and whichever student is free will go and teach.” I said, “That’s, wow …” I said, “I do not, there’s nothing stopping, so let’s go on.” We started with it. We gave it a go-ahead and the students started with it by themselves. We gave it a name, called Prayas. Prayas is effort. Hindi version of effort is Prayas. So we said, “Okay, let’s do it.” We started with it, we did it, and while doing this thing, I was also looking at the PR part of my college, public relations. Some of my friends who were in the media, journalism and media, they came to me and asked me, “Sir, give us some story. Not news, but some story.” I said, “Okay, fine, I’ll give you one story.” So I got them to interview those students who did that. They did a story, it was a national story, it got published.

 

Next day, newspaper carries the story that the students, the engineering and management students, opened the window of opportunity for the underprivileged lot. Story gets published. Next day, the education secretary of the ministry calls my principal and says, “How dare? How dare? We are promoting and we are boasting that our state does not have a single student who does not go to school. And you are teaching people, you are mentioning in your story that this is what is happening.” So the principal said, “I’ll get back to you.” He called me up, “What’s going on?” I said, “Let me show you what’s going on.” Both of us, we showed him, “This is what is going on. Anything that you want to say about it?” He called education secretary back and told him that “This is what we are doing, we are gonna do it.”

 

Sam: Because it’s the right thing to do.

 

Gagan: Yeah, it was the right thing to do, so we did it. And then the government wrote to us that “We would like to adopt this as a school,” which my principal denied. He said, “No, I do not want the government to do it. I will continue doing it. I will have my people continue doing it because the people can do more than the government can.” These are a few of the things that did follow the workshop.

 

Sam: Just in terms of the framework, the self, family, society, nature … The first one, the continuous happiness self one, is that different to the satisfying rational man generating selfish happiness that you would’ve come across in the finance and the stock markets and things? Is that a different concept or is it the same thing?

 

Gagan: No, it is different. Well, we need to classify in that, individual, you need to classify human into a coexistence of body and self. There is nothing religious in it, there is nothing spiritual in it. But scientifically, there is a thinking pattern within us which can be called self or conscious, and then there is a material component, which is the body. Body, again, acts certainly, with certainty. If you hit like this, it’ll pain. Self is the one which is conscious. So between body and self, and there are needs of the body and needs of the self. Needs of the body are limited, certain. And the needs of the self are different.

 

When you look at the facilities, facilities are required by the body. For example, there is extent, there is a limit to how much you can eat. The body cannot tolerate, we cannot keep on eating, eating, eating, eating, eating. But the self feels, I should eat more, I should eat more. It is the self. Your stomach is full, but your mind still feels, “Yeah, more.” That feeling of more, wanting to have more, is there in the relation of man. Right, so-called relation of man.

 

But when you look at the things from this lens, suddenly you realise that there is extent, we have to be actually relational.  In that way, classifying it into body and self is what is different in this theory. In the typical theories, we only look at human, I think most of us we look at human as body. When we call ourselves selfish, there is no self-involved. It is bodyish, not selfish. I myself often say that being selfish is the best thing to happen. If you know what is in interest of yourself, that’s fine, that’s perfect, then the goal achieved.

 

Sam: So when you apply that lens to technical education, and you’re looking at a school of management or electrical engineering or whatever else it might be, what does this lens offer to how we develop that education?

 

Gagan: Firstly, I’ll slightly modify the question and then answer it. Rather then, remove the word technical and let’s apply it to education, and then let’s come over to technical education in the second stage. Education will give us the right understanding, which I spoke about, about the relations, about the facilities. What do we require? What does a human require and how do we get that? Two things, what and how. What to do and how to do. “What to do” is value and “how to do” is skill. There are two types of education. Value education is the one that deals with what to do question. And the technical education is the one that deals with how to do question. No kind of technical education, or value education, can be enough in isolation. It has to be looked at in an integrated fashion.

 

“What to do” needs to be addressed first, even for the technical education students. Even for the technical students, like we spoke about the electronics engineer, and myself for management, professional student of management, student of finance and economics. What to do needs to be addressed first and then we need to address the how to do part.  You cannot take for granted that these are the skillsets to be developed. We only need to look at the need, that what exactly do we need? What kind of skills do we need? Why do we need that? What is the placement of those skills in the entire system? And then we impart those skills.

 

The technical education, now coming to the part of technical education, needs to look at what exactly is the technicality that we need to impart to our students. Once we did valuable to do that, then we should think of ways and means to impart that. For example, as a school can representation also yesterday, we need management graduates. But do we need management graduates only to solve the multinationals? Only to solve the companies like, for example, you look at the telecom companies, you look at the e-tailing, retailing companies. Do we only need the management graduates to sell their products? Or can the management graduates also look at the problem of the India? For example, I take the case of India. The problem is that we do not produce what we should produce. We are producing what we should not. We are producing through chemical methods and we do not produce through natural method.

 

There is a reason to that. The reason is that when you use the natural method, the output falls initially. Cannot an engineer, who’s an agriculture engineer, cannot he study what is the extent of the fallen output? How much output fall is there? For how long it falls? If we can think about these questions, for how long the output falls? How much does it fall? Are there any natural ways in which we can stop these things? Or reduce these things? If we can think of the ways and means, then this is one part. This is one engineering, thinking about it, finding the answers to these questions. Second is that cannot the education people go out and spread the answer to these two questions to the whole farming community? And then tell them that “Okay, this is what … So don’t be afraid of it.”

 

Once we are able to reach to the farming community, then the management graduates can make groups out of them and get to know exactly what to produce from the market area, from the sense of the market, and then act as a bridge between these two. Engineers can further help, electronics engineers can further help through agri electronics, through concepts such as green engineering and all those things, as to get the maximum out of the system that we already have. The management graduates on the other hand can also tie up with the bigger chains like Walmart, with the bigger chains, and then supply to them the natural product, which you and me and all in India, all of us in India, we are just ready to pay any price for it, provided we get the right quality of food.

 

If this can happen, there’s a very simple solution through which we can not only do good in terms of facilities, because we don’t only require more food in that terms, we also require the right food. The right product is also important, the quality of the product is also important. Going by that, I think this will solve the facilities in a good way, and we will be able to maintain the relations with the human order and with the rest of the natures. In this way, technical education has to fit in this system.

 

Sam: Is this a lens that is universally applicable? Can you point this lens at anything?

 

Gagan: Oh yeah, why not? Why not? It is only about understanding the lens first. It is not a material lens that you can just see through. It has to happen within yourself. You’ll have to realise the real things, and then only this happens.

 

Sam: You study humane business, which could be seen as a contradiction, if you’re managing a business in terms of maximising return, but I think you’ve just answered it in that it’s not … That question is too far down the track. You would see the question being asked much earlier, I suspect.

 

Gagan: More, I think, this is okay. Actually, Sam, I’m coming up with a model, I’m doing a research myself on the humane business, so I’m soon going to come up with a model of humane business. Maximising return, I put it the other way. The concept that I am giving is holistic value. We have talked about three things previously in economic literature. We have spoken about wealth, we have spoken about profit, we have spoken about value, and we’ve also spoken about return. What business generates, for me, is holistic value. As I said, if you’re able to generate the holistic value, your product sells itself.

 

For example, we spoke about the natural business example. I do not have to hire a Bollywood star to sell my natural product. I don’t have to pay to him for all that. I simply have to tell my people that this is what is good for your health. And not only tell them, I have to make them realise this. Once that happens, once they’re educated, so it is not marketing, it is education. Once those people, my consuming class is educated about it, your product sells itself. This is where I say that this business is not against the notion of profit. This is for the notion of profit. But profit is a term which we only used towards the stakeholders and that also for the share owners, just for the share owners. If we look at all the stakeholders, who are those stakeholders? All of them? Again, we put it in another way that the stakeholders will include the individuals, it will include the families, it will include the society, and it’ll include the nature. In the individuals it’ll include employees, it’ll include the consumers, it’ll include your share owners, your investors, and the ones who are not connected with you directly. All of them.

 

When you do the right thing, it’ll generate return for all of them. I think that’s more important. Profit? We are not leaving aside the profit. We’re including the profit within it. I’ll take a very small example in a minute. There are millions of farmers in India who are producing, and they’re dependent upon the government to buy their produce. The government in India, I’m not sure if you know about it and your listeners know about it. The government in India comes up with a minimum support price for agricultural produce every year, MSP. The farmers sell their produce at that MSP, minimum support price.

 

I came across a farmer … I came across many farmers, but while interviewing one of them for a research project of mine. I asked him that “What are you producing?” Most of the farmers in my area are producing wheat and barley. He was also wheat and barley. He said, “I’m producing wheat and barley through natural way.” I said, “Okay.” Just in an informal talk, I said that “Mr. Singh, will you please reserve some wheat for me this year?” We were in the month of February, it was in the month of February, and the produce was to come in April. I said, “Will you please keep it for my family, some produce? Maybe a couple of quintals? 200 kilogrammes my family will consume in a year. So will you please keep that?” He said, “No, sorry.” I said, “Sorry? I’m coming to interview you. I’m a university professor. I’m a high ended guy and I’ll pay you whatever it takes.” I thought, “How did he say no to me?”

 

Then I asked, “Why?” He said, “Sir, my produce comes in April, but I only take orders till May previous. So anyone who gives me order till May 2016 will be given the produce in April 2017.” Ooh, one year waiting. This is how the produce sells itself.  Mind you, this produce sells at more than twice the cost. More than twice of the typical produce, which is a chemical produce. And he does not have to use any chemicals in the produce, so his cost also comes down after a few years. This is how. This generates profit. Will you say that this does not generate profit for him? But it also does generate profit or value for the consumer, because other consumers will eat the chemical produce and then they will attract problems, diseases. The land will be in a problem. The other produce, which Mr. Singh is producing, generates not only the profit for him, but the value for all of the four stakeholders. This is what is holistic value.

 

Sam: So how does your framework relate to the notions of sustainability?

 

Gagan: I’ve already explained to you what is this framework all about. Let’s revisit what is sustainability now. UNESCO says that “Sustainability involves not consuming what belongs to your future generations.” Nagraj says that “Sustainability is not only that …” I mean, he does not use the word sustainability as such, but in his view sustainability is not only this.  You do what UNESCO has said while also adding value to the four levels. While also adding value to the human, to the individual, to the families, to the societies, and to the nature. In this way, the framework that we have discussed involves sustainability, but it involves more than that. Or it involves sustainability in a broader way. It does not look at sustainability only in terms of facilities. It also encompasses the relations between the humans or with the rest of the nature. And therefore, we do not go separately, for example, in one man, for society, for governance. We do what we are supposed to do, and everything else is outcome, is a byproduct.

 

Sam: How would you describe your superpower? What are you bringing to the superhero team?

 

Gagan: I’m simply bringing the kind of a need to think on what is required for yourself. Not just be preconditioned and thinking that I require a Nike t-shirt and that’s it. You need more. Not just what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but how will you live between breakfast and lunch? How will you live between lunch and dinner? How do you feel during that time?

 

I’m bringing the need to understand: What exactly do you need? What exactly do you need when you reach that point? Then you need more for your family. What do you need for your family? What do you need for your society? What do you need for the nature? All this, and there is no conflict of interest between these four, right? Usually we presume that there is a conflict of interest between families, there is a conflict of interest between Sam and Gagan, for example. There is not, there is none. I’m bringing this coexistentialism into the perspective. This is not being superhero, this is just being human. There’s nothing like superhero.

 

For example, I once asked Ganesh … We brought it into perspective, I asked him that “Sir, what is subconscious?” Said, “There’s so much thought about subconscious.” He said that “You better be conscious. So if you’re conscious, that’s it.” Similarly, someone asked him that “Do I need to meditate?” He said that “Once you realise what is to be done, once you realise all this.” So meditation goes on 24/7. If you are not to meditate separately, you exactly know what you are to do. Meditation is talking to yourself, knowing what yourself needs. If you know what yourself need through your conscious yourself, there is no need to be subconscious or unconscious of whatever.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Gagan: Well, Sam, a lot. On my family front? On my individual front? On the society front? On the nature front? I’ll talk about all of them in a minute.

 

On my individual front I’m relaxed. For example, I know I’m earning enough. I’m not seeing a need to go for extra earnings. I don’t need to go for anything extra than that. I’m okay. This is for my individual front, and I’m happy. I do not have to worry for the things. I do not have to worry for my facilities, I do not have to worry for my relations, I’m okay. Things are fine. Things are going fine. I will not say I have achieved, but I am in the process at least.

 

On the family front, which is the most important for modern man. I will give you two or three important things. My wife and I, we live together. My parents and my wife’s parents live in Punjab, which is a province 300 kilometres away from my place where I work, uni. We go to the families whenever we go to Punjab. We go to the families, we spend time with them, everything fine. When I was to come here, I did not have to worry about my wife being at home alone. There is so much bonding within the family that I’ve spoke about this and both the families offered, “We will come and stay with her.” My parents are staying with here. That’s the one part at the family level. I do not have any confusions, we do not have any questions. My wife had also gone to the workshops though. After the marriage she went to one, and one she had gone into before the marriage itself.

 

Second important thing, which I think the most important thing. My father was diagnosed with a tumour a year and a half back. We thought that we would go through the allopathic treatments and all that. While I was going through the workshop and all, allopathy said that we will have to conduct a Whipple procedure, which is a medical procedure, which is a very lengthy procedure and a very complicated one. You have to remove some parts of the body and then … It’s a very complicated procedure. Very costly too, but cost didn’t ever matter much. Health mattered. We were prepared to go for the Whipple procedure. It was slightly malignant also, the tumour.

 

While I was going through the workshops some years back, 2010, I came across the first workshop, and this was in 2015 when we came across the problem, we got to know the problem of my dad. While going through the workshop and while talking to those people, I had come across that Nagraj, he has also written about the medical sciences. About what are the natural ways to cure different things. What should we eat, what all should be done. So I took my dad to Nagraj. One of the fellows who lives with him, Mr. Sudhan. We went to Sudhan and Amba, who is the daughter of Nagraj, and Nagraj, who was sick. He was at the age of 97 at that time. We went to him, I took my dad to him. They said it’s fine, his self is fine. His self is clean. It is just the body which needs to be taken care of. They gave some medicine, some natural medicine, and said that “You will have to eat these for six months.”

 

We said, “Fine, this is nothing. Nothing much in it.” Just for six months, and this would’ve been in October, so this was pre-conference. He took those medicines for six months. Then I again spoke him that “Okay, this is what it is. What to do next?” He said that “Okay, as it’s your family, let’s go ahead and eat these medicines for three more months.” He kept taking the medicines for three more months. Then, after those three months, we went to him. He looked at, they would just touch from, they would just see the nose and then feel what exactly is the problem. They would not do any other diagnosis that just the nose. Then he checked it and he said, “I think the problem is gone. But, again, as I say for my family, let us eat it for two more months. Half for one month and then further half for the last month and then done.” I said, “Okay, fine,” so we did it. After 11 months we underwent all the tests, all the chemical tests, the CT scan, the 19.9 test, all the tumour tests, everything, and there is no tumour.

 

Sam: Wow.

 

Gagan: This is at that level of the family I think I could not achieved this for any other way. I think this means the most to me, and to you, and to all your listeners. And those guys did not charge anything. I would have paid millions of money and then still, I’m not sure if we could have cured. We would have harmed his body till that required to be opened up. And all the doctors were saying that “This is foolish. You should not do this. You should go for the procedure.” Then when the results came and the same doctor looks at the report and says, “There’s not any tumour. Gone.” This is at the level of the family that I have achieved. That I can relax and I need not to think much about the physical problems that we come across or we may come across in the times to come. And I do not need money for it, I need relations.

 

At the level of society, I think I’m doing something worthwhile. I’m in the process of doing something worthwhile. I’m guiding two, three PhDs which are on this line. In the times to come, I’m going to come up with a model, as I said, humane model of business, which I think will go a long way in the business due to the right thing. That is what will happen at the level of society. It is already in the process of happening. I also know more about how to manage my team because I can understand. I understand myself as a human, so I understand others also as humans. It is easy for me to manage the teams.

 

For the nature? All this is nature. For the nature, you do not have to plant trees, right? There are many people who plant trees. You only have to not to disturb it. That is the biggest thing that you do. You don’t have to disturb the nature, nature will take care of itself. In that way, I think I have achieved these kind of things at all the four levels, yeah.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Gagan: Yeah, I’m an activist because I work on myself, that’s it. Working hard on yourselves is an activism by itself. If you work on yourselves and the people can see you, this is what you are doing. The people who are close to you, they understand this is what he is doing and he is able to achieve some results. This transforms them also. This generates the eagerness to understand what you have understood, or what you’re starting to understand. In that way, I believe that activism is not much about showing what will … It’s not much about showing, but it’s more about doing on yourselves.

 

I come from kind of a family of activists. My grandpa was an activist, my maternal grandpa. He was an activist, he was a union leader. My father has been fighting all his life for the literary causes. I also kind of used to think that I’ll be a reactive activist, but then I realised that activism is more about this, rather than what I used to think before.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Gagan: Usually I just get out of bed and do some work for my family. For example, I go to the kitchen straight away and then get some water. I’m used to taking some hot water with some lemon and ginger and honey. That’s my first thing in the morning. That I do not only for myself, but also for my wife. I come from a society which is different. The wives do everything. This is something which I do. Then of course there are certain things, cooking, I do not know much about it, so she does it. It’s not that it’s only her who’s doing all this.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Gagan: Well, we have different challenges Sam. Actually, capitalism has 20 different set of challenges at us. I spoke about working on yourself, but the whole world is hell bent upon work letting you work on yourselves. For example, I thought of … the title of my second book of poetry was Man is Never Alone. So I say this in a different perspective, and you can sense your answer out of that, that the whole world is hell bent on making people alone. For example, the selfies, right? You don’t even have to rely upon others to take your photo. You can yourselves as selfies. You do not have to do anything, you just sit in a room then do all the communication by yourselves. While you and I are sitting here, we could have sat here and work on our computers or on our mobiles and communicated to the rest of the world without feeling the need to communicate with each other. The whole world is hell bent upon making people feel isolated. And isolated, but busy. But man can never be isolated.

 

This is the challenge, the biggest challenge is that it is very difficult to realise that they need to think about themselves also. They will think about material, they will think about plants, they will think about animals, they will think about the body, but not the self. The biggest challenge is that capitalism is trying its best not to let this happen. So how will we make it happen? You create a challenge. I’m sure, once we are able to talk to the people and once we are able to demonstrate what is right, rather than preach what is right, the challenge will be met.

 

Sam: Two more questions. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would it be?

 

Gagan: Oh, people understand.

 

Sam: That’s an easy one. And lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Gagan: Well, yeah. Your listeners should not only listen to the show, they should also listen to themself.  Listen to what are their needs in terms of relations and facilities. Then read the proposal that I spoke about. Read a little bit more about the proposal that I spoke about. The website is coexistence.in. They can go there to the website, coexistence.in, and then read a bit about the proposal. And if they need to, I’m being all available to cater to them. As I said, there is no material involved, no money involved, nothing. We can simply speak about this and help them understand what theirself needs.

 

Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Gagan: Oh thank you. Thank you sir.

 

Sam: You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We broadcast on Otago Access Radio, oar.org.nz, and podcast on sustainablelens.org. That’s Sustainable Lens like a lens we’ve been talking about. On sustainablelens.org, we’re building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Gagan Deep Sharma from the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in New Delhi.  He works in the School of Management Studies. You can follow the links on sustainablelens.org to find us on Facebook to keep in touch, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens via iTunes as well as all the other sort of pody places that you’d find that sort of thing. We’re everywhere. But do like us on Facebook. That was Sustainable Lens, I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

This conversation was recorded in December 2016 at the 5th International Conference on Sustainability, Technology and Education 2016.

Categories
philosophy religion

theology, science, environment and drones

Greg Dawes

Once you accept that government can decide without due legal process which of its citizens, or perhaps worse still, other countries’ citizens, can be put to death, because you judge them to be a threat, then we are in a very dangerous situation.


Associate Professor Greg Dawes researches the philosophy of religion. We discussed the relationship between theology, science and environmental considerations. We ask if there is a theological take on climate change? and what’s deal with evangelical churches and conservative denial of climate change? The pope got an airing, as did the morality of drone strikes (see his recent article).

Talking points

Sometime in the 19th Century God disappeared. He didn’t of course disappear from popular culture but he did from science.

The nature of science: to bring God into it would would confuse levels of explanation

 

Many Christians today interpret the biblical command in terms of stewardship, our task today is to take care of the natural world.  But it is nonetheless true that the religous view sees the world as human beings being quite distinct from the natural world -distinct in kind, not merely in degree.    That means a different conception of nature than you might have if you see human beings as continuous with these other creatures.

These views are taken quite seriously, that there are these preordained catastrophes awaiting the human race, but God’s elite will be spared them (…therefore it doesn’t matter what we do).

There’s no reason why you can’t be a scientist can’t accept that the natural world is created by God and yet the task of science is to understand how the world operates by means of natural causes and offer natural explanations – because God has created the world to function in a way not entirely autonomously from him but at least it has its own way of operating, so there’s no contradiction there, there’s no reason why you can’t be a Christian scientist, but on some issues such as evolution, it looks like you’ve got a fairly stark choice.  if you deny evolution by natural selection or our best scientific account, then you’re holding the belief that at some point God carried out some kind of miracle to create human beings, that’s a stark choice, you either take the science or you take something opposed to the science.

Sometimes science communicators act as though presenting the facts is enough, but you have to take into account that they’re trying to fit these facts into  a system of beliefs that they already hold,  perhaps hold dearly, and that might be held quite dearly, so if the two don’t quite fit it might be the science they reject.

I was stung into writing this by the attitude of the Prime Minister.

There was a day that politicians felt they should pay at least lip service to the rule of law.  That day sadly seems to have gone.

 

I’m not sure people are aware of what is going on with this campaign of using drones to “take out” people judged to be threatening.

There is supposed to be a presumption of innocence, you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this person is guilty of a very serious nominated crime.  The problem with these drone strikes is that there’s no legal process, the people involved never get a chance to represent themselves, and often it is not clear that they are guilty of any particular crime at all, they’re just regarded as suspects who might one day cause trouble for us.

“signature strikes”  – targeting any male of military age.

The Prime Minister’s use of the word prosecution was odd. A prosecution is a legal process.   The only process here is that the US President has decided with a group of advisors that these are the people to be killed. And sometimes their names aren’t even known.

(A memo that it might be legal) is a pretty dodgy basis to claim legality when on the face of it seems contrary to all principles of natural justice, indeed contrary to the US constitution.

(previously they used hit men on the quiet) The fact they felt compelled to do it on the quiet was at least something, because they were at least paying lip service to the rule of law.  When you call them out, call them to account and say ‘you’re not living up to your own standards here’.   When we abandon those standards, and give governments the authority to effectively do what they like, then we are on very dangerous ground

(How are they getting away with it?)  These are people that are a long way away, in countries we don’t naturally identify with, these are people we don’t instinctively identify with – they seem different from us – a geographical and cultural divide.

The US considers themselves to be under attack, but this language of war is deceptive.  To describe this as a war, as it has been since (9/11), but it is not in the traditional sense. And even if it were, there are rules of war.

 

Resources:

Sidney Harris: Then a miracle occurs.

Living under drones pdf, Armed Drones: President Obama’s Weapon of Choice graphic.

Left Behind series