A trip to India is said to be an ‘assault on the senses’. It is also like a fuel-injection for the mind. Among the many, many reflections, learnings and inspirational experiences I gathered on a recent trip, was a new perspective on the importance of socially-conscious business practices for all the world’s citizens.
The most influential event in my trip, by far, was the day I met a baby girl called Sai Lakshmi. Sai Lakshmi was born mute with a sixth finger and clubbed feet in one of the many slums of Visag. I couldn’t tell you how old she is, because like many of the children growing up alongside her, Sai Lakshmi was born without a birth certificate, which means she legally doesn’t exist.
The wealth gap in India is a widely known concept. Once you’re there, seeing the people around you will tell you there’s an incredible imbalance in wealth distribution and it’s only getting worse. I’m not here to tell you “if the rich gave to the poor, the world would be a better place”, in fact I’m here to tell you that isn’t the solution at all. In 2000, India’s wealthiest 1% held approximately one-third of the country’s entire wealth; but by 2014 this increased to half the country’s wealth. As of September 2015, India’s 15 wealthiest people held more than half the country’s total wealth, according to Credit Suisse, with the other half being distributed among the remainder of the approximately 1.3 billion population.
The power and ability to facilitate change lies where the influence lies, and in India that’s with the top percentile of wealth, the owners and partners of corporate businesses. Donations and hand-outs may help in the short term but a sum of money moved from the top percent to the bottom will not change the world. What will, is using the power and influence of business to create lasting, sustainable change. You can’t drive out darkness with darkness, but with light. In the same way, money won’t fix a money issue.
What the world needs is more businesses reflecting on their values and asking themselves why they exist and what their purpose is with the people they influence in mind. You’ve got a choice; you can contribute to the negative or you can add something positive to the world. It is crucial for the sake of billions of people that businesses understand that they hold this power, which is the power to stand up and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, or in Sai Lakshmi’s case, don’t even exist within society.
If we believe the battle is already won, the battle can be won. The battle is won for us, inside us all; we just need to dig deeper and realise our potential, and in this case the potential of our businesses. We have the ability and choice to make long-lasting, sustainable change in our community, and, if adopted all over the world, the change will spread to the rest of the world. We are equipped, we have everything we need to do what needs to be done, so let’s use it to change the world.
Photography: John Fraser