Q: What is the greatest value of diversity?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: â€œWe no longer live in an isolated world. Our knowledge and communication are expanding, while our world is shrinking. Therefore, to survive, businesses cannot be territorial. We have no other choice than to honor diversity. It is now a necessity, not an option. It is in our nature, and it is a sign of intelligence and evolution when we feel that all the cultures, all the civilizations, all the different schools of philosophy, all belong to us. Unfortunately, prejudice based on ignorance is the greatest impediment to embracing diversity. For example, 25 years ago when we spoke about yoga, breathing and meditation in Europe, it was regarded as an oddity over here. There was so much prejudice towards Eastern influences. But now people realize that yoga is beneficial to their health, and they are accepting it. Similarly today, there is prejudice in some Islamic countries towards yoga and meditation. All these prejudice must be eradicated.
Q: Shouldnâ€™t diversity within companies involve more than discussing the percentage of women at the top?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: â€œIn many places, the first discrepancy and discrimination one sees is gender-based. Gender is the most visible; the most obvious today. So, gender and religion, followed by nationality or cultural differences, these all should be sidelined. However, I am not saying that you have to force yourself to find a person who is from a particular category, when they may not be as talented. That is also wrong. Talent must come first, and diversity should be secondary. In the name of diversity, we bring in people who are not capable or qualified to do the job. The business suffers as a result. So the diversity value should not come as a rule imposed on someone but it should come from within oneself. It should come from the transformation of our outlook rather than an imposition of a rule or government regulationsâ€.
Q: What is the starting point for leaders?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: â€œI believe the starting point for leaders is the boardroom; the office. To create an atmosphere of celebration, you need the right attitude and you have to bring in that attitude. This may require some form of teamwork, others need to instill it. An atmosphere of celebration, of trust, cooperation and a sense of belonging, all have to come. I have no doubt that there is a willingness among people to refresh themselves, they just need to have it put in front of them in an effective, viable way. They need to be given the opportunity. A business wonâ€™t last if it focuses only on productivity and net result. The company ultimately suffers because the creativity, the strength and the sense of belonging will ebb away. Similarly, the â€˜command and controlâ€™ system-the military system-no longer works. Only inspiration and motivation are effective tools. For that, one can apply some of the ancient principle from different parts of the world in the workplace, to make the work more enjoyable.â€
Q: Will the business world be organized differently in 20 to 30 years from now?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: â€œWe have already stated. In the past, the business world ran on economic pressure, because people had no other means. But today, the global market is so open and the choices are many and varied. People are more aware than it was a few years ago, so now they want to move around. If not here, they will find job advancement; it has turned the business view completely upside-down. Before, it was regionally oriented because you had to do a job and availability was limitedâ€.
Q: How can the workplace be improved?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: â€œOne of our programme components is entitled â€˜Let out the steam and get into the teamâ€™ – that is our slogan. In other words, take off your management shoes and sit with others in your company. Sit and talk to them and share your point of view. This type of interaction is an education. It empowers people and facilitates cooperation. We combine this with breathing techniques and exercises, where participants independently eradicate feelings of stress and take a fresh look at the situation.
For any business, you need intuition-and successful business is directly proportional to the intuition of the boss. Greater intuition translates into greater business success, if your intuition is wrong, you cannot be successful. Our programme is aimed at lessening the stress and enhancing intuition-this also brings out creativity and enthusiasm in the workplace. In todayâ€™s hectic world, people are often exhausted, and there is so much illness. Mental ill health costs the European Union an estimated 3 to 4% of its GDP, and this cost runs into hundreds of billions of euros. According to the World Health Organization, mental ill health accounts for 20% of the burden of disease in Europe, and mental health problems, including depression, affect one in four individuals at some time in their life. These techniques, taught in the course, of lifestyle change can help people enormously to overcome their illnessâ€.
Q: Is it possible for business people to integrate ethics with their daily work?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: â€œThe reason why unethical things are happening in business is because there is fear within individuals and that fear needs to be addressed by these spiritual practices. Thus, when you fear less; when you want to be trustworthy; when you want to be committed and adhere to the values, you would never commit acts of wrong doing that have the potential to affect the lives of thousands and millions of people. That is why business needs to embrace corporate social responsibility (CSR). It is not just an intellectual thing, it is something that has to come from the heart of every human beingâ€.
â€œProgramme such as ours are designed to facilitate that process. We host â€˜business and ethicsâ€™ conferences with successful business people who have completed the corporate programme. They come to share their experience on how to be successful and ethical. This inspires other business people to follow in their footsteps. Yet, often people think that if you want to be successful, you cannot be honest, but this is not the case. It is a bubble of illusion. However, balance is required; you cannot embrace CSR while allowing your company to sink. Equally, you canâ€™t gain at the expense of your employees, who suffer and eventually leave the company. Both strategies rock the boat. You have to achieve perfect balance. You have to look at your gains and how much you care about the people in the company, as well as how much you dedicate to CSRâ€.
Q: Your organization has touched more than 30 million people in 25 years, yet you have undergone tremendous growth. How did you achieve and organize that?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: â€œI never organized anything; I just let it grow organically. I was not a stumbling block. The organization is run by volunteers and we have leaders. I lend my name to the projects, and everyone else does the work!
On a serious note, the product that we offer is very useful to people, and we organize a wide range of activities. Our intuition works and any project we take on is a success. We now operate in 151 countries, with 41 main centres, and many local city centres. We also have 100 fee-paying schools and 108 tuition-free schools for the poorest peopleâ€.
â€œThe prerequisites for such an organic growth are patience, perseverance and clear intention! This includes clarity of purpose, flexibility to accommodate errors and a long-term vision with good intentions. For any business to grow organically, the leaders must also put a check on any feverishness and not indulge in blame games. This means that they must learn! Learn from the past, have a vision for the future and sustain enthusiasm. They must also have a sense of respect for all, performers and non-performersâ€.
Q: In order for people to feel better, is it a simple case of breathing, meditation and embracing intuition?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: â€œCorrect!. We are not taught at school or at home how to manage negative emotions, like feeling unhappy, sad, jealous or angry. This knowledge has not been provided. But if you are taught how to manage your anger and your own emotions using your own breath, then it does a lot of good. Acquiring that knowledge is possible with the help of breathing and meditation.
I have been in Buddhist and Hindu traditions for centuries, in China, Japan and India, through breathing and meditation. But the difference between our techniques and these old techniques is that ours suit modern-day people who have less time. This technique is so handy, useful and accessible in todayâ€™s modern societyâ€.