Building social consciousness

Sree Sen
Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Peace consultant Rukmini Iyer speaks of how her organisation addresses rage and works to bring purpose into organisations in order to sustain the environment and community they are built on

There’s a shift in corporate culture — blue-chip companies to start-ups — from looking solely at business profits to integrating social consciousness. The bulwark of such a firm lies with the leadership addressing the needs of the new, younger workforce searching for a purpose. Working within this sphere of organisation development is Mumbai-based Rukmini Iyer, who is a consultant and specialist in Non-Violent Communication.
With an experience in conflict-resolution, Iyer talks about the profitability of war, and how the right kind of leadership can develop a peace purpose within conscious capitalism.

Tell us about your venture and the foundation of your work.
Exult — the consultancy turned 10 on April 16 this year, with a market in South Asia and Middle-East. First eight years of my career, I was working in different corporate and academic institutions in India and Singapore. Personally, I was looking at a more expanded role which one doesn’t find in employment. The quest behind forming Exult was to have a more integrated approach towards corporate life.

Organisation and leadership development work in corporate through facilitation and coaching interventions is about how to lead an organisation and how to approach leadership, because the traditional definition of it is to be authoritative — and for stakeholders it is about how to make the business profitable. A business needs to have a purpose beyond profit. To say that business exists for profit is like saying you are living in order to breathe. Breathing is essential for life, but it can’t be the sole purpose of life.

It is the need of the hour to bring purpose into the organisation and to make people across boards aware of it. It’s the responsibility of leadership to articulate the purpose and that business policies are aligned to it, in a way that the business is profitable but also sustains the environment and community it is built on.

Business of war and peace-building in the corporate space.
My work with conflict resolution started off in the socio-political context. I worked in largely post-conflict nations like Cambodia, Thailand and Sri Lanka which were typically post-civil war regions. It is one thing to look at conflict analysis — what happened and why it went wrong — and socio-economic structure that leads to conflict, but as I worked in those places, I realised it is critical to work on preventive measure. We shouldn’t wait for war to happen and then figure out what went wrong.

I decided to integrate my work on conflict within the peace-building space. Conflict at any level happens because it is profitable and in some ways it is sponsored or endorsed.

There’s enough statistics to show that at a fraction of a cost that we spend on defence every year, we can obliterate hunger and poverty, yet we are choosing not to do so because it is more profitable to maintain war.

Peace building in corporate spaces is about staying anchored in purpose instead of in profits, which will anyways happen, and the firm will then also be conscious about why it exists and its contribution to the community and the environment.

As a specialist in Non-Violent Communication, what does it entail?
The primary philosophy behind non-violent communication is that at the basis, all of us — regardless of who we are and where we are — share universal human needs like love, affection, belongingness and simple validation of our existence. These are common to everyone, whether you are a prince or a pauper.

Non-violent communication is about identifying the need behind the screaming rage or anger — and responding to the need rather than the rage. Then, we end up communicating with the other as a human being and not as my enemy.

Firstly, one must acknowledge the judgment or blame or any other emotions that one holds regarding one self and the other person in an interaction. Then it is essential to step back and objectively look at one’s behaviour. A mother cares and loves her child and therefore I am angry when the kid tries to stick its fingers into an electric socket. The anger comes from a space of care but the mother must speak to the child from that space, instead of addressing the anger, describing her feelings, and then request the child.

Changing dialogue as millennial workforce enters businesses.
The conversation around learning and development has always been there but the approach to it has certainly been shifting. To a great degree earlier, it was all about a budget being allocated within the company and then the need to address change. That’s how corporate have approached Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), quality and other functions of business.
However, in the last few years, with the millennial workforce there’s a lot of emphasis on meaning. Here’s a generation which has grown up amidst a lot of turbulent times and are unsure of the future, including the technology during their times being very disruptive. For them it is critical to look at what and why. Hence the dialogues are now shifting to the purpose of the business.

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