Dharmic Impact Finance: A rare opportunity

Dharmic Impact Finance: A rare opportunity

Care compassion and generosity spring from the very soul of India, especially in its Dharmic traditions of Sikhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Starting from the home, where mothers have given unconditional love for generations, Indian faith has spread with its diaspora throughout the world, through Yoga, Meditation, our trained professionals like Doctors and Nurses and our business leadership and character, where it is often an unspoken driver of sustainable economic development and job creation.

The world of finance today is seriously powerful and yet profoundly damaged. Witness the rising inequality, the inflation and the direct chainsaw on nature that has been promoted by economic theories whose obsession is greed and accumulation through expropriation of land, water, animals and human beings. We urgently need to find new models, structures and methods where finance is used to enable and nourish equality and the environment. Given how deep the damage is, this transformation cannot be achieved without changing the core ideology and institutions of business investment and economics.

Pictured from left: Matthew Jensen, Amaro Bhikkhu, Nana Francois, Atul Shah and Martin Palmer
Pictured from left: Matthew Jensen, Amaro Bhikkhu, Nana Francois, Atul Shah and Martin Palmer

This challenge creates a huge opportunity for the Dharmic faiths. For decades writer, broadcaster and visionary Martin Palmer has alongside the late Royal Highness Prince Phillip, worked with faith leaders to raise their environmental consciousness and is now encouraging communities to take the leadership mantle in transforming the world of finance. In addition to the Abrahamic faiths, he is very keen to encourage Dharmic communities to become proactive in this challenge.

Investment needs to be directed towards projects which are purposeful and lasting and create jobs and opportunities for young people and also help protect the environment. Through his organization, FaithInvest, many leaders and communities are redirecting their philanthropy and investment.

Charity is central to Dharma. We know that our temples are heaving with donations from believers, but how and where is this money invested? Worshippers give in good faith and assume that the money will be used for Dharmic purposes, and not saved in banks who finance oil companies or deforestation. Good governance is critical to charitable organisations but not always practiced. The vast number of charities in India create a significant opportunity for professional governance which combines purpose with impact and prudent financial control and management.

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New finance tools like ‘Impact Finance’ which direct funding toward projects which have a measurable social impact are becoming very popular. They also enable charities to borrow money if they can demonstrate social or environmental transformation. These techniques move away from traditional philanthropy and can provide returns to lenders, increasing the ‘sustainable’ pool of development finance. Finance Professor Dr Devendra Jain at Flame University and I are keen to measure the impact of Dharmic philanthropy and develop new ‘screens’ to direct investment towards sustainable projects. Like Sharia compliant finance, can you envision companies queuing to show their ahimsa, jiv daya, anekant and aparigraha credentials? Investors have the power to force companies to do good and be good, provided this muscle is exercised. We know billions are being raised and invested every year, but the evidence and impact is often elusive and funds raised from Dharmic donors are not always invested in ethical projects.

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Just as Indian business has benefited from foreign direct investment of trillions in the last three decades, we could also obtain significant global finance in building a sustainable India. The United Nations have set tough Millennium Development Goals for all countries, and India is a signatory to them. Dharmic Impact Finance can create a whole cadre of new professionals driven by social upliftment and environmental preservation. India already has the base for this springboard in its cultural traditions and community institutions and practices. Let us build finance structures and organisations which spread kindness far and wide and see trees, plants and animals as family and care for them with that same spirit. Profits need not be sacrificed, but instead redirected and shaped by contentment and purposeful enterprise. Let our best hearts and minds reinvent and rekindle Dharmic Finance, just as they have transformed Indian business and enterprise.

Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulkshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.

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