Thursday, December 25, 2008

Romanes Lecture at Oxford University - “A Poverty Free World – When? How?” by Dr.Muhammad Yunus

It is not often that we hear bold, audacious statements being made that can inspire a generation and prod us to take a deeper look at future. A future that is free from the constraints of the past. A future that calls us to action. A future that is possible. This was exactly what Dr.Muhammad Yunus did when he gave the prestigious annual Romanes lecture at the Oxford University. The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner said “Poverty belongs only in the museum where our children and grandchildren can go to see what inhumanity people had to suffer, and where they will ask themselves how their ancestors allowed such a condition to persist for so long.”

                It was my privilege to be able to listen to Prof.Yunus at the Sheldonian theatre. A large number of members of the university had assembled braving the cold winter evening to listen to his speech. Dr. Yunus is now renowned for the Grameen Bank that he set up to provide credit to poor people in Bangladesh and thereby transformed the lives of millions in the last few decades. The Grameen Bank model and its social impact apart, this lecture was an occasion to listen to his vision of the future of world and his opinion on the current financial crisis.

                A few things stood out from the speech personally for me. He drew our attention to the fact that Capitalism has failed to create a social impact on such a vast section of the world. He said that one reason for this is that we look at human beings only in a singular dimension; as a selfish being. In the new market place he suggests that profit making must be combined with social impact and that the collective intelligence of the business world must be employed to solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity today. Social business is the new mantra.

                While, speaking of the current financial crisis, he said that markets must be self-correcting. He suggested that there must be mechanisms firstly to flush out toxic assets out of the system through a participatory structure and secondly to identify bubbles and keep shooting them on an ongoing basis. This he says will lead to long term stability.

                Finally, he shared his vision of a future when generations will ask how their ancestors could tolerate something as cruel as poverty to inflict such a large population of the society when it could have been eradicated. Yes, we live in times when we have accepted it to be a reality in our society. True, there were times when people thought we could never land on the moon, that slavery cannot be abolished and that the earth was the center of the universe. It takes courage to think beyond.

                After the lecture I bought his new book, “Creating a world without poverty” not knowing what was coming up next. As I walked out of the theatre it was the Vice Chancellor Dr. John Hood who noticed some of us students with the book in our hands asked if we wanted Prof. Yunus to autograph it. We were thrilled at the prospect and joined him to meet the Nobel laureate himself. We were touched by Dr.Yunus’ smile as he autographed the book, made pleasant enquiries and also gave us an opportunity to take pictures with him. The evening was inspiring and will be cherished for long.

PS: The text of the speech can be read at,en/ . The audio and video of the lecture is available at . A video clip of his interview is available at

Monday, December 22, 2008

Simplicity is gentle

It was unlike any other day. I was taking a stroll on the banks of the river Isis in the Christ Church meadows. I paced up the last stretch of an avenue lined with beautiful English Elms that had shed much of its foliage. There was stillness and freshness in the lush green meadows. Along the Broad walk there are very few wooden benches. And on one of them, I noticed an old woman with a big white canvas spread over her lap. She wore a woolen cap, a sweater and a thick over coat to cover her fragile body from the cold of the Oxford winter. If not for all the paraphernalia spread around her on that bench, I would have passed her off as an old woman with dirty clothes who might ask for some spare change if you looked her way. I did look her way and she very gently asked “Are you from India ?”. I said “Yes” and there began a conversation that I will remember for a long time to come. I went nearer from where I got a closer look of the large canvas spread on her legs and held by her delicate wrinkled hands on which she was drawing beautiful, large pencil sketches of the big deciduous trees lined in front of her. As she made enquiries of what I study and how long I have been in the city, she told me she was herself an Economist who had devoted her recent life time drawing sketches of trees, writing stories and poetry around them and contributing in her own way to the literature on environmental issues. She told me she was a European of mixed ancestry. She was well read, philosophical, soft and bestows a memorable conversation. She also showed me her collection of books, poems and hand crafted cards with beautiful messages that she sells to passers-by. I bought one of them as a souvenir of the beautiful afternoon at the meadows, of the intelligent conversation in a chance encounter, of the perspective a stranger could offer me on life and of the gentleness in the simplicity of this old woman. She said “You have a gentle soul” and I acknowledged her with a smile. Zoe Peterssen was her name.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

'the' Oxford Union

12th October 2008, Sunday

Today was a quiet day. It was unlike most of the days in the last two weeks when I had self-inflicted a ‘being driven’ attitude to accomplish things, or rather to get a sense of something being accomplished. The Fresher’s fortnight of the Michaelmas term have been fresh but not very refreshing after all. There are an umpteen things that every new student at the University of Oxford is to take note of, act and then tick off on his/her ‘things to do list’. This is most part reflects on the innumerable activities happening in the University town and the wide array of activities that one can participate and enrich oneself in. The Fresher’s fair was a window to the world of a student at Oxford. There was everything from a Communist Society, Rowing and Cricket to singing, and dancing and Cultural clubs.

One of the rewarding choices I made today is to seek a life membership at the Oxford Union . The Oxford Union is host to some of the best debates in the world and eminent personalities have come and either debated or delivered speeches in this august place. The Union describes the origin well as follows “The Union is the world's most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. It has been established for 182 years, aiming to promote debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe.

The Union is steeped in history. It was founded in 1823 as a forum for discussion and debate, at a time when the free exchange of ideas was a notion foreign to the restrictive University authorities. It soon became the only place for students to discuss political topics whilst at Oxford. W.E. Gladstone, later to become one of the greatest British Prime Ministers, was one of the leading figures of the Union's early years. Gladstone was President of the Union in 1830, shortly before entering the House of Commons. Many others have followed him into politics, and the Union can boast dozens of former members who have been active in its affairs whilst at Oxford and then gone to become both nationally and internationally prominent figures.

After having read their literature and heard from its members personally (most others in Oxford recommend its membership too), I was sure this will be one of those ‘must experience’ things at Oxford. I am looking forward to witness No Confidence Debate this coming Thursday.

I look forward to sharing more on these experiences in future.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tea Break

Yesterday, it was like any other evening. Dark clouds hovered over in my neighbourhood. I just drove, wanting to be back home before it poured. Amma promptly brought me my evening cuppa chai. She was impervious to the irritability that I bring home from office these days. As I sat sipping my tea, something provoked me. It was irresistible. There was no place for second thoughts. I just braved myself out through the front door, into the sheets of water. Walking into those fierce showers, out on the deserted street, was out of the ordinary for me. It was a sprout of my impulsiveness. With bare feet and a few clothes on, I walked around unarmed in the rain, stretching my arms out in thin air and water. Until then, I was a stranger to the capriciousness in me.

Putting my face to the sky with closed eyes, as rain came down in sheets was such fun. When life could get at its monotonous best, small pleasures can kick in energy. Yesterday was one such. I came back and my half-empty cuppa chai was still there waiting to be finished.


Friday, March 28, 2008


StartingBloc aims at fostering a generation of leaders trained with a systems framework for understanding how each sector - public, private, and social - can work together to create a just global economy. Each year they select a cadre of young leaders to become StartingBloc Fellows. StartingBloc Fellows are trained in the most cutting edge theories and industry best practices towards sustainability, social entrepreneurship, and corporate social innovation. The 2007 Global Institute for Social Innovation event happened at London Business School, located at from July 18, 2007 – July 22, 2007.

The 2008 edition will happen in July at London Business School. From July 16th to July 20th, young leaders from across the globe will come together to attend sessions taught by leading academics, corporate innovators, social entrepreneurs, activists, and government officials.
The Global Institute for Social Innovation will be an opportunity to network with dedicated, entrepreneurial, like-minded people.

Read more :

Here are some pics from the 2007 institute...