When Startups were ignited by the Love Revolution
There's no shortage of questions and discussions around what creates value in the External World. Across countries, boardrooms, organizations, forums, committees, there are suggestions that we need ideas, we need sustainable models, economic progress and policies for lasting impact. We've seen structures emerge from assumptions that individuals are motivated by self-interest, we've even seen models where fear can be a driving force for progress. But what happens if we were to assume that the innate sense of contribution within each individual can drive value in the outer-world? Or as Vinoba Bhave framed it, that we're all 'Moved By Love'?
What would it take to drive value driven by the assumption that we're driven by the Economy of Service? As the economist Schumacher tries to bring out in his book - 'Small is Beautiful', we often tend to rely too much on external models, and neglect the importance of 'Inner Values' with which we make decisions. With these inputs as a hint, several months ago we had decided to experiment with a new format for birthing value. For all this time, we held that intention until the time was just ripe, the eco-system robust enough to hold something as radical as this. So it was only after hosting more than 15 Moved By Love retreats, that we experimented with what we called, Startup Maitri Space.
Late in the afternoon, on Day 3 of the Startup Maitri Space, 20 year old Parth from Mumbai shared an insight from his experience at the gathering. 'I always thought fear and greed were the only way we could motivate people to create value. The spirit of Competition always drives us to perform better. But for the last three days, I've come to see the true potential of Love'.
For three days, 40 people from across the country came together with the intention of creating value in their communities. From existing organizations that worked with Commercial Sex Workers, to fresh initiatives in bringing empathy into urban populations - there was diversity across projects as well as people.
There are several gatherings oriented towards Startups, but we knew from the outset this would be radically different. Right in the start we had participants share moments of transformation from their work. The question we were all exploring was how work could be an extension of our inner transformation - an attempt that Anupreet framed as 'Serving the World through service to our selves'.
All through the three days, you could see the field of love being built across the campus. From small acts of service like washing each others plate, or the mysterious person who folded Smriti's blankets in the morning, everyone was moved by the micro-moments of love. After presentations that explored the connections between our outer and inner ecologies, we all shared our intentions - or projects that we'd like to anchor over the weekend. Through a process that trusted the circle's intelligence, we broke out into teams for the rest of the gathering, to put our energies behind the intentions. A few hours after working on our projects, we all came together in the hall. As the mic went around in the circle and each team shared their work done so far, there came a pivotal point in the retreat. Sheetalben, who had been guiding the circle all along as an emcee, was moved to announce that she'd love to step out of her comfort zone and offer cups of tea made by her to any team member, at any point of time till the Retreat came to an end! It was at that point, you could sense the energy of the entire circle shift - and everyone was ready to offer themselves to be of service to one another.
From then on we saw all the groups stepping it up in ways we just could not imagine - Lahar's team set the campus on fire with offerings made by the team members of 'Art With Heart', Shital and the members of Chowk actually brought together the community through an evening of inspiration and co-creation. Atulyakala even made a beautiful film on the connecting with the deaf and mute as our own brothers and sisters. Over an above the innovative charts and structures that everyone was filling out we had folks actually going out and flowing the spirit of their projects right on the campus.
Often, I would be concerned about the dynamics of splitting into teams in a field held by generosity towards one another. But all those doubts dissolved when I entered the Retreat room halfway through the 2nd night. Not only were all the teams hard at work on their projects, but you could see members multi-tasking across teams as if they were families holding one another. Some of the film-makers working on two short films, illustrators putting out sketches by the hour, story tellers creating scripts for plays for the final day and 'business-types' making power point presentations. It was as through the spirit of Maitri had torn down the walls of competition that were otherwise holding back the value that was seeking to burst through.
On the final afternoon, with all the presentations lined up, we were moved to see how the commitment from the team members went beyond the realms of organizing and strategizing. Each and every team member of 'Atulyakala' that works with the Deaf and Mute, volunteered to Be the Change themselves and signed up to learn sign language themselves over the next three months! Vaishali held the microphone and shared her intention through the Sethu Bandh project. Coming into the three days, Vaishali who was otherwise comfortable only in Hindi and Gujarati was concerned about this gathering held by the 'English walas'. But all the Maitri that held the space, also held her as her team-mates encouraged her to share the spirit of her project in front of the audience and panel members. The entire room was transformed as she shared stories from her communities transformation. What was even more incredible was to see how her own transformation had been effected over the last three days - almost as if her potential had blossomed. At one point, when asked what guided her decisions and plans for the future, her innocence and pure intentions flowed through as she replied with one magical, yet powerful word - 'Love'.
It was a word that summed up all our intentions through this experiment - the power of Love had unleashed value in the world, none of which would be reflected in material metrics any time soon. It was value that would blossom from the cultivation in our hearts. And unlike most events that incentivised the 'winners' we had to think differently. In true spirit of honouring the circle, we asked the guest panelists and the entire collective to think beyond just the traditional forms of capital. To venture beyond the comfort of the tangible forms into the subtle. At the end of the presentations, we placed eight different earthen pots, one for each team, and asked the collective to offer their gifts across all forms of capital in them. What emerged left a lasting impression on us all. The collective came forward to make offerings ranging from simple blessings to more tangible forms like money. But more than the offerings, it was the spirit in which they were received. It was apparent to all of us, that it wasn't about what the teams had 'won' but the fact that they could invite countless others in their journey in service. Through simple offerings like prayers, or kind words, the audience felt like they were part of something beyond their individual selves - as if they were answering their inner call towards service.
As is the case with all our gatherings, it's true impact is hard to estimate. The ripples are already in flow. Mohini thought of countering erring children in her classroom with 'roses' instead of harsh words, while Smriti hopes to take some bold steps in transforming Atulyakala. Smita wishes to take this message into business schools across the country while Shital would like to bring about more practices to honour the subtle at the Chowk (a co-working space rooted in transformation). Lahar is plotting to to share the vision behind Art with Heart at more platforms. It's almost as if the spirit of Maitri has overflowed beyond the Retreat room, beyond the constructs of the Teams and into the communities that will see the flowering of seeds planted with noble intentions. I can't help but think that we're truly on the cusp of a revolution in the world of Startups - a revolution rooted in that four letter word yet again - 'Love'.
~ Jai Jagat ~ Glory to the Universe ~
Here are some images from the gathering.
And a video shot by Kanishka for the Atulyakala Team.