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Diverse Ethics - Atul Shah - Wisdom Blog

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Dr. Atul K. Shah

The launch of JITO in the UK at the prestigious Oshwal Centre in London in June 2016, was a unique opportunity of celebration and an opening of new horizons. JITO stands for Jain International Trade Organisation, and it is a cultural business network headquartered in India, but now spreading its wings globally. Nearly twelve years ago, I was with its founding visionary Muni Nayapadmasagarji, who explained in Ahmedabad to me very clearly why he thought this was needed – if we are a business community, and as networks have always been very important, we must have our own formal network to help us share ideas, experiences and contacts. He was less than 30 years old at that time, with huge hope, vision and ambition.

Many of you know me personally, and know how much of my life and career I have dedicated to the global promotion of Jain culture and understanding. You have seen me breathe new life into the community through the creation of the global Jain Spirit magazine and the founding of Young Jains, alongside many other books and inter-faith projects, speeches, BBC broadcasts, and articles. At heart, I have always been an academic and lecturer, with PhD training from the London School of Economics, in the area of Business and Finance. I was glad to be present at this event, and would like to record my personal observations and reflections on the promise and hope it brings.

The context of the event at Oshwal Centre was very important. I was born in this Halari Oshwal community in Mombasa, Kenya, and remember hearing about business from childhood – it was part of everyday culture and language. My father, the late Mr. Keshavji Rupshi Shah, was a pioneering leader and visionary. As a lecturer in Business, I find it shocking how many young students from different cultures today have no such experience, and have seen how not having a business culture can affect their capacity to understand the nature of business and enterprise. All around me, I see Jains acting like entrepreneurs, even when they are doctors, dentists, opticians, lawyers, managers or even teachers. Its in our DNA and heritage to come up with new ideas and to develop creative solutions whatever role we play. It was therefore not surprising that the team which organised the launch including Dr. Manoj Malu and Dr. Narendra Sethia, who are both NHS consultants themselves – not businessmen in the traditional sense.

The pioneering 120 year history of the East African Oshwals is deeply impregnated with business and enterprise, with huge investments in schools, hospitals and community centres all over the region. Whatever the Oshwals did, they carried their culture and values with them, and succeeded. The community was itself a business network, as no such boundary between business and community was seen or experienced at that time. Many serial entrepreneurs like Mr. Mepa Shah of Nyeri saw in community leadership the highest honour, and were in truth what academics call ‘servant leaders’ today. This history is living proof of the power of networking. Even today Jains all over the country selflessly give their time to community ventures and projects, and this is a huge gift which has kept the culture and institutions alive. So far away from India, this gift of time and resources, is very hard, yet we continue to do it.

The stories of Jain business support are legendary and worth sharing with the younger generation. For example, when a businessman from Mombasa, travelled to Nairobi on a sales trip, there was no need for a hotel or restaurant. All they needed to know was where the Jain home is, and head there, and even arriving at 11pm at night, ladies would awake and prepare dinner, and a bed was guaranteed. This is how social capital was built and nurtured, the hard way, but also the selfless way. This is why also we are such a flourishing successful business community today – our roots and history must never be forgotten. Our unity is our capital, and so it our trust, interdependence and respect for one another.

The visiting JITO leaders from India, who themselves are hugely accomplished and successful like Banker Mr. Motilal Oswal, or Bullion King Mr. Prithviraj Kothary, were humble in their manner, and big hearted in their vision to create a global commercial and ethical network. JITO in India is also involved in various philanthropic projects to help young people and families grow and prosper.

Presently I am deep in writing a research monograph on Jain Ethical Finance for the international publishers Routledge with my colleague Dr. Aidan Rankin, who himself has written three outstanding books on Jain philosophy. I recently spoke about this at the Indian Institute of Management, and you may listen to the lecture here. My paper on Jain Business Ethics is number one in Google, and my global academic dialogues and conference and research presentations have taught me that the whole world of business has a huge amount to learn from the Jains. There are major gaps in knowledge and awareness, and given the global concerns with inequality, sustainability and ethical finance, the Jain voice needs to be heard very loudly and clearly as not only do we have ideas, but we walk our talk.  JITO opens up this possibility, not only to empower our own community, but also to show the world what it really means to trade with a Jain entrepreneur.

We Jains have much to offer the study of leadership, of management, finance, marketing and relationship business, as opposed to cold and calculative transactional trade, where business is a formula rather than a soulful enterprise. Our trust capital is hugely valuable, and we must fight to protect and preserve it. Our global success in diamonds is precisely because of this trust, and similarly our success in accounting, banking and finance is also because of our high personal ethical standards and the ‘self-regulation’ of our conduct and behaviour.

As a community outside India, we also face a big risk – that our culture will get diluted, that young people will run away from it, without understanding its beautiful history, art, creativity and enterprise. Such history is a core part of our strength and identity, and I feel strongly that if we lose our culture, we will ultimately lose everything. Modern day material success is making us complacent about investing in our culture, and this is a big danger sign from my perspective. Belonging to JITO can help us reverse that, provided there is cooperation and genuine partnership and love. We will also need to make investments in this process to help our young people retain our culture and values. The arts, music, and literature are as important to our future as our businesses, properties and bank accounts.

To succeed in UK, JITO needs to take the following actions:

  • Establish an infrastructure very quickly
  • Generate value by helping businesses, and allowing them to see the benefits
  • Establish good communications and social media
  • Never forget our values and integrity
  • Provide mentoring to young entrepreneurs and contacts
  • Engage with business education and training
  • Celebrate the success of UK Jain businesses and their ethics and values
  • Help Indian businesses come to Europe
  • Create a global Jain Think Tank

These are my modest suggestions and opinions. Feel free to add yours in the comment section below.

Article added on 12th June 2016 at 3:19pm