Creating Value, the Gandhi 3.0 Way

Posted by Siddharth Sthalekar on Feb 23, 2014

Sixty path creators from across the world responded to a compelling invitation to spend 4 days around Gandhi's 66th death anniversary and explore modern manifestations of Gandhian values. We called it Gandhi 3.0. From those in politics to businessmen, spiritual cultivators to social entrepreneurs, the diversity of the gathering was held simply with ties of noble kinship or 'Maitri'. 

But days before the gathering even began, volunteers from across the Moved By Love eco-system had been tilling the field in ways in which we couldn't entirely fathom. 

Kishan, from Delhi heard about the gathering in early January, and was inspired to join. Since the retreat was being hosted within the campus of the Environmental Sanitation Institute, he chose to honour the spirit of the founder, Ishwarbhai Patel who spent his life spreading the message of sanitation across India. Kishan took it upon himself to look after the cleaning of the toilets all through the 4 days of the gathering. Aabha, from Pune instantly rescheduled her plans to take over the kitchen so that we could offer wholesome meals to the diverse audience. Paragbhai, an entrepreneur in Surat decided to offer fresh, organic produce from his farm on the outskirts of Surat! Kanchan Mama, an elder who had dedicated his entire life to the ideas of Gandhi was moved to hand-spin cotton and offer the yarn to guests as garlands as they entered. The list goes on - from all over the country, volunteers came forward to offer themselves through small, yet committed and profound acts of service.

And that spirit of offering asked us to shift the way we anchored the space. Sure, there was a lot of organization to be done - after all, so many people were coming in from across the world. But in every moment, we decided to honour the spirit of the gathering. It was a decision that made us do things in radically different ways, but we ended up creating ripples that we hadn't originally imagined. From hand made gifts with inspiring quotes that adorned the walls and beds, to receiving each guest personally at the airport and train stations, it truly felt like we were embracing everyone with a heart full of love. At every point, we were forced to think in counter intuitive ways, and to deepen our commitment to our inner journey in service​, much like Gandhi would in his time.

As the circle gathered on the first day, we all held space with bated breath - waiting to see how the gathering would unfold. Although we couldn't put our finger on it, but the power of the subtle had already made it's ripples. The opening statement from Vinoba Bhave held within its words an message for us all: "When we will all see our role in society as servants, we will all light up the sky together like countless stars on a dark night. Don’t think of society as the sky on a full moon night. The moon's harsh light blinds us to the true and humble work of the stars. But on a moonless night, the true servants shine forth, as though they are connected invisibly in this vast and infinite cosmos." 

And with that, the intention was set. To to tune our eyes to see the true and humble work, the divinity in each and every one of us. And that happens only when we create a field of 'Maitri' around us. Often, this field takes on a more tangible form, and on Day 3, it was visible for all, when Prasad (a renowned author and corporate mentor) held the mic and shared how he's been making the shift from an Expert Mind to A Beginners Mind. On the first day, he was received by Neerad at the airport with a poster that read 'Welcome Home, Prasad'. Instantly, his mind raced and thought of it as a mere platitude. But those thoughts began melting away when he received a warm, bear hug from Neerad whom he was meeting for the first time. As he entered the gates, he came across 15 individuals who had dropped all that they were doing to simply offer a sacred song. He entered his room, and soon realized he didn't have his bath towel, since he's used to traveling to centres where they are offered. Immediately, word spread and he saw a neatly folded towel by his bedside. Later, he casually mentioned to Deven that he wasn't used to the culture of removing shoes outside rooms either, and therefore hadn't carried any flip-flops or sandals. Before he could consider going out into the city, he was promptly presented with a pair. All through the four days, he was presented with meals specially prepared for him without garlic - across venues. It was as though there was an ocean of love flowing through all these spaces - an ocean that had eventually broken down all the perceived walls that had been built between ourselves. It was that ocean that swept him up, to hold him like it was his own family. And all of a sudden, that statement, 'Welcome Home' didn't seem like a platitude any more since it was rooted in an honest practice. 

On the last day, Ritu came up to us and shared a letter she had received from Harsh, a volunteer at the gathering. 2 days ago, Harsh had heard that Ritu hadn't brought along any warm clothes. Promptly, he offered her his shawl which she was grateful to receive. Towards the end of the gathering she was preparing to hand it back to him, but instead received a letter from him. In it, he shared how his mother had gifted him this shawl, and as a child he would wrap himself within it to feel warm and secure. All through the years, all it took was the shawl to keep him warm, irrespective of the weather outside. In the past when he would lend the shawl to friends, he would ensure he received it back from them, but this time, he was moved to do otherwise. He now wanted Ritu, to accept his gift - an act that went beyond rational thinking. In iteself, the gift would be of little value to Ritu once she went back home - but when we acknowledge the roots of Maitri that fueled it, we realize it had the power to spark revolutions in our hearts.

Just two days after meeting for the first time, John Malloy, a native American healer from California was sharing a conversation with Neerad from Pune. As you would often find in safe spaces, Neerad ended up sharing some intimate moments from the time when his father passed away 20 years ago. He spoke about the ideals that his father stood for, and how that's led him to lead a more meaningful life. John was moved and thought of the passing of his own son. As you would imagine, watching your own offspring pass gradually through a fatal disease can be a life-changing experience. For the last several years, John had been carrying his son's ashes to offer them to a space sacred enough to honour his passing. As Neerad spoke, John was instantly moved to offer him to Neerad, since he felt it would be the best way he could flow the spirit of his son. As John shared the incident in the circle, there was a sense that we had made the shift from Safe, to Sacred.

Tracy, a renowned journalist from New York had flown 20 hours to make it to the Retreat. - after spontaneously deciding to respond to the invite. From a culture that's used to it's personal space and structure, she was in for a shock when she heard about 25 people celebrating her arrival even though it was late into the night. Although it took her a while to truly embrace where she was, she woke up the next morning with an urge to not close doors around her. Usually, she would have spent a few hours un-packing her belongings to create personal space around her. But somehow, for the first time in this strange and alien country, she felt like she was already home. As she stepped out of her home, she made a decision to keep the 'doors to her heart open', and embrace all that was to come her way. On the fourth day, she shared how she had been 'suffering Gratitude' and in a way, that was the results of truly receiving the gift and holding it - and her transformation wouldn't truly be complete until she had paid it forward, to create more transformation in the world.

So what was it then, that could create transformation of this nature? In particular, the question we were asking - what was the design that could effect this transformation in our selves? Clearly, it wasn't the 'agenda'. We suspect that it had to do with the fact that 60 souls from diverse background had come together to honour each other's being. To be able to hold space with one another and meet in emptiness. In that emptiness, we were able to offer each other our vulnerabilities, our dreams and in effect, our hearts. It was an emptiness that did not limit us to our material motivations, and begged of the divine to pour forth it's Maitri, to break down the walls and embrace us all - opinions and actions included. 

But all of this possible only because of the spirit in which this gathering was held. All of it through the spirit of volunteers who came together in the spirit of renunciation. They didn't simply offer us their ideas and possessions, but they gave of themselves with no clear return in sight. In that sense, truly 'Being the Change' as Gandhi would have put it.

Gandhi, as a phenomenon has been written about, discussed and explored at length in the past by academics, philosophers and social workers. Volumes have been written and countless speeches delivered about his true work. His impact has ranged from non-violent freedom for the country to the transformation of a Satyagrahi serving silently till date in a remote corner of the subcontinent. There's little doubt though, that Gandhi's personal journey in inner transformation fueled by his 'inner-voice' had led millions, if not billions onto this path of Swarajya. Even less doubt about the manner in which the spiritual upliftment of the nation was effected - through a paradigm that was rooted in Gandhi as a selfless leader. The context of his time demanded this approach, where a centralized British Raj offered itself as a meaningful 'opponent'.

But the late 50's,60's and 70's offered a different situation to his spiritual successor, Vinoba Bhave. In an effort to bring the spirit of one-ness in every village of the country, he walked in the true spirit of Servant Leadership from village to village, inspiring people through his Land-Gift movement. More than 80,000km, 14 years and close to 5 million acres of land were gifted within communities through this simple intention of approaching a village with humility, and seeking the divinity in each soul. But it was towards the end of his lifetime, that Vinoba came to spend years in silence, deepening his spiritual cultivation. It was during this time, that he offered us all insights into what the coming century would hold. In one edition of the Maitri Magazine, he said, “To progress, society doesn't need 'leaders' anymore.  This doesn't mean that we won't have great men amidst us.  I think great men will come and they will be vital for progress of humanity, but they will be so great that they will refuse to take up this position of leadership.”

Considering Gandhi operated in a system that was 'Many-to-one' in nature, Vinoba in a 'One-to-one' manner, perhaps this could manifest in today's world as a 'Many-to-many' paradigm. With today's gifts of technology and material capital, this could be a paradigm that harnesses all these gifts to unleash our true inner potential. 

As all the beautiful stories of transformation revealed themselves through four days, we saw the Many-to-many construct come alive before our eyes. As the ties between various people in the circle deepened, you could see how the value being unleashed was infinitely greater than linear ways of thinking. The question we all began to ask was, 'How did this shift come into being?' or more importantly, 'What were the change in our thinking, that led to this value creation?' Perhaps we could articulate some of them below.

When Gandhi spoke of Daridranarayan, or seeking divinity in the humblest of people, it was rooted in the approach of seeing a teacher in everyone. This was the core of every Gandhian movement - the principles of decentralization - and within that framework, an understanding that the value always lay at the edges. Clearly, Kishan, a visionary at one of India's largest CSR teams could have added value through a presentation instead of cleaning toilets, but that would have added to the importance of the Centre. In doing so, we would have created a scarce resource. In an almost humble and invisible way, volunteers like Kishan, Harsh and Neerad were creating micro-moments of transformation for all those present, and it wasn't until we reached a tipping point that we all began to honour it's true impact. It was as if each one of these volunteers were at a vantage point, and had unsuspectingly won over each of the guests with their unconditional love, without even intending to do so. It was an approach rooted in shifting from the Centre to the Edges, that taught us all the importance of assuming value everywhere. And it is in this model, that value is created when we are true, authentic selves, not our assumed selves under a spot light. We're less tempted to ask 'What's in it for me?' and more likely to ask 'What can I offer to the circle?'


On the second day, as we assembled in the Retreat room, we spoke of how the Friendship Oak trees of Mississippi had withstood the rage of hurricane Katrina. All around them, was wreckage - buildings, homes, cars, roadways - uprooted and tossed up by the fury of nature. But amidst the chaos, were the the Friendship Oaks of Mississippi that had stayed upright. Between all the man-made structures that had been wrecked, was a testament to the design of nature. While man-made structures were built with metrics like Efficiency, Nature's design was rooted in Resiliency. It was a value that allowed the Oak trees to stand tall for more than 500 years. A deeper analysis revealed that the trees were connected to one another through an intricate root system. During times of duress, they called upon one another, to withstand the storm. The inter-connectedness of the roots allowed for such strength. But such designs are radically different from what we're accustomed too. For years, decades or even centuries, it requires patience to continue toiling without any fruits in sight. But once our roots are strong enough, once we see our inter-connection to one another, we become impossible to uproot, even if we're bent in ways you cannot imagine. It would have been efficient to allocate volunteers as per their skills, have people continue their work instead of welcoming people at the gates, raise funds and hire taxis to receive people at the airport, pay expert designers to create the ambience, but it would not have lent strength to our root system. The chase for efficiency can often result in cashing out too soon, but the slow and patient work of building roots often pays in the long term.

Instead of using people to Work and create impact, this circle was rooted in the Labour of Love - volunteers were serving at the retreat simply out of the spirit of offering. It was a spirit that creates shifts in equilibrium because of the no-strings-attached approach towards service. An ordinary worker who was doing it for 'gain' would have left things at status quo, since the recipient feels like he was entitled to the experience, but not in this case. As people were showered with gifts, there was almost no outlet for giving back, and that caused a shift in equilibrium. The shift manifested as an inner churning, and the gratitude that resulted asked of us to receive, and pay it forward.

The ripples from a gathering as transformational as this have already been flowing in different directions. Ritu's speaking about creating spaces rooted in these values for educators across India, Shaheen hopes to pilot this way of thinking in deeper ways within the eco-system at Teach For India. Sheetalben is connecting with Datta and the community in Kerala through her Bhav Jatra while I even ended up sharing some of our insights at ISB last week. Of course, this is just the tip of the ice-berg as we're yet to see the impact of more subtler shifts. As I reflect upon this, I realize that it's futile to calculate impact in ways that we're traditionally used to. As we move to the subtler aspects of transformation within communities, it's hard to draw a direct line between a single cause and it's effect. Perhaps, we should change our lens from one of calculating the Sustainability of impact, to one of Regeneration. The ripples are still at work, creating transformation, but manifesting in ways we cannot even fathom as of now. One thing is for certain - they are constantly Regenerating, and creating change along the way.

It's inspiring to see how a gathering of 60 souls, committed to agenda-less inner transformation could bring about so much in a matter of 4 days. Through this gathering we experienced a transformation that we tried to summarize through these shifts. The gathering has left us not with answers, but with tougher questions that we're eager to ask - What would a design that manifested these shifts look like today? What would it look like if communities, organizations, economies led with the intention of inner-transformation first? We're still exploring, but with one leg firmly rooted in the known, and the other in the unknown, we've begun to trust the process of emergence. We've begun to have faith that all those seeds planted in our consciousness will one day sprout, and regenerate in a magical way to bring forth paradigms that we can't even imagine today. And it is those paradigms rooted in emptiness and transformation that will birth value in truly radical, yet sustainable ways. 

With a heart full of humility and joy in the spirit of Service,


And together, we built the story as Ellie incredibly managed to capture all the micro-moments of love from our 4 days together:

Shaily captured lots of photos that speaks volumes about the invisible bond that connects each one of us so deeply:


Posted by Siddharth Sthalekar on Feb 23, 2014 | permalink

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Previous Comments
  • Drishti wrote ...

    Beautiful :)

  • Harsh wrote ...

    Wow. Amazing Siddharth. :)

  • Datta wrote ...

    Hi just brought the reminiscence back in the heart- really wonderful!

  • Smita wrote ...

    Wow Siddarth I was not there but from the way you have captured it, is so enriching, am really grateful :}

  • Akhilesh Pathak wrote ...

    Siddharth, Universe is feeling happy to find 60+ evangelists of Love and Service and numerous others who are moved by these two eternal manifestation of Life.

    --Rabindranath Tagore

    Please let me know whenever you are planning something similar next time.