The world is mourning the loss of a unique Queen, who had tremendous stamina and became the longest serving monarch. Her son, now King Charles III has for a long time been an ardent campaigner for the environment, like his father Prince Phillip. In 2020, King Charles III gave a very radical and timely speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
He asked a very pertinent question to the powerful leaders assembled: “Do we want to go down in history as the people who did nothing to bring the world back from the brink in time to restore the balance when we could have done? I don’t want to. And just think for a moment – what good is all the extra wealth in the world, gained from ‘business as usual’, if you can do nothing with it except watch it burn in catastrophic conditions?”
He launched a new Sustainable Markets Initiative which called for a paradigm shift in economics and finance – away from greed and materialism and towards putting planet and people at the heart of global value creation. King Charles III called for a balance between natural, social, human and financial capital, and an enhanced partnership between the public, private and philanthropic sectors.
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Unfortunately, in the teaching and science of business, environment, government and society are often treated as ‘other’ with profit being a primary motive. We know this is unsustainable but are unwilling to change our core thinking about materialism. Even students often do not want to learn about ethics and purpose, but instead how they can get a well-paid job and how they can maximise their income. Science has encouraged the myth that money is the key to all happiness.
King Charles has long recognised that respect for society and nature, requires a deep spiritual perspective on care and compassion, and business leaders need to embrace this to build a sustainable world. They are often very powerful and command vast resources, and these need to be channelled in the right direction. Fortunately for India, the Dharmic traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and even Zoroastrianism, have long emphasised the kind of systems thinking promoted by King Charles – we are all key members of the planet and need to take responsibility for our actions, and help protect society and nature rather than to harm or exploit it. We are nature and to harm it is to hurt us at the same time.
In my upcoming book published globally by Routledge on ‘Inclusive and Sustainable Finance’ I elaborate using real-life examples of how leaders living by these values are often ‘hiding in plain sight’. They are humble, caring, respectful of their suppliers and customers, and avoid going into products or services which involve the killing of animals or the destruction of nature. Such leaders do not separate their private life from the business conduct, and just as they value the home and the family, they see employees and customers as part of a larger family of relationships and responsibilities. If more of our students come to learn about this and research into such positive stories about business and purposeful leadership, the world would become better for everyone. It would help reshape the methods and content of education, and students could also go on field trips to visit actual businesses, small and large, and see how they are being managed and run in a responsible manner. The classroom can often remove them from observing and analysing the real world, and the professional theories and science may be insufficient in the kind of transformational leadership that is required. Even our temples and community centres should be sites for student visits to help them understand how people build a character of concern and compassion for community and all living beings.
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Like his late mother, King Charles will become the Defender of Faith, and given his past record, he will continue his deep respect for the Dharmic traditions of India. That is a matter of pride for all of us. We need not separate our beliefs from our textbooks and business conduct, especially when it relates to kindness and compassion for all living beings.
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.