IDCA: Values-based Leadership in Action

Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.
– Gandhi

I teach a graduate-level course at my university called “Values-Centered Leadership.” I ask my students to consider their own core values and how they have been shaped and informed throughout their lives. We study leaders whose positive values transform their organizations and the people who work in them to be more healthy, to grow, and to achieve their common goals.

My fall class includes a study abroad extension in India, and I will be returning their for the fifth time this December. Yesterday, for the third year in a row, I attended a conference sponsored by the India Development Coalition of America. Last year, I went to the conference even though I was taking a break from traveling to India because I find the conference organizers and presenters so inspiring. They all are leaders dedicated to poverty eradication and climate mitigation in India.

The values espoused by IDCA’s organizers are articulated in its vision and mission: “A developed India, free of poverty, ignorance, diseases, socioeconomic disparities, ecological disasters, and social disharmony.”  Their positive values also underlie their objectives: promoting networking, co-learning and collaboration among nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations and individuals engaged in bettering the lives of village and urban poor through scalable sustainable development initiatives.

IDCA’s organizers plan the annual conference around issues expressed in the acronym “WEALTH”: Water, Education, Agriculture, Livelihoods, Technology, and Heath. Presenters at the conference both inspire and inform through their stories of positive values turned to action.

The speakers yesterday included Jay Sehgal, executive vice president of the Sehgal Foundation in Des Moines, IA, and the S.M. Sehgal Foundation in India. He showed us examples of work being done to provide simple, sustainable methods for water reclamation and management in villages. His colleague, Pooja O. Murada, director of communications for S.M. Sehgal Foundation, impressed and inspired us all with her story of rural empowerment and transformation through a pilot community-radio project.

Dr. Nandita Pathak, director of a program in Chitrakoot, India, illustrated its comprehensive and holistic approach to rural community development through a Self-Reliance Campaign. Her organization, the Deendayal Research Institute, has worked with 500 villages around Chitrakoot to undertake several need-based interventions including: improving crop and livestock productivity; generating employment; improving literacy, health and hygiene; creating clean, green and dispute-free village environments; and awakening the social consciousness of villagers to their rights and responsibilities. In the last 10 years, almost 25,000 unemployed youth (men and women) were trained in various trades. This is important in stemming the flow of youth to over-crowded urban areas.

We also heard from Suresh Kumar Virmani, who while serving as managing director for his corporation, created the first school for expatriate Indian children in Muscat, Oman, a location in the Middle East where many people from India have migrated.  He led the effort to grow that first school with 50 students into a system of 19 schools with more than 35,000 children between 1977 and 2013. His words of advice that I hope to remember: “I never use the word ‘problem.’ Instead I use the word ‘challenge.’ Every challenge has its solution and every solution has a cost.”

Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, consul general of India in Chicago, shared his stories of positive impact efforts in India. He challenged us to become conscious of concerns in our own community with the words, “We work very hard to keep our own houses clean, but show little concern for what is outside our house.” He told us about his favorites efforts: the Rice Bucket Challenge, through which India families donate rice to neighbors in need; the Hole in the Wall Project which encourages children to learn; and the efforts to bring solar lanterns to rural areas where there is no electricity, such as Panasonics’ 100 Thousand Solar Lanterns Project.

Vijay Talwar, board president of the non-profit organization, SPLASH, told us about the organization’s efforts to bring clean drinking water to children in Asia and Africa by providing water-filtration systems to orphanages, schools, and hospitals.

Ritu Sharma, co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide, summarized the needs of women around the globe assembled through grass-roots research: gender-based violence, education and training, lessons in agriculture, and voice. She is the author of Teach a Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe.

Madhu Viswanathan, a professor at the University of Illinois, inspired and informed us with a presentation on his approach to community development through “marketplace literacy.”

During our wonderful Indian meals, I had a chance to talk again with Sailesh Rao, executive director of Climate Healers, an organization with a goal of regenerating forests throughout the world. He spoke of his positive vision that “everything is perfect and everything will change,” as humanity either chooses voluntarily to engage in the transformation required to save our planet, or “get dragged into it, kicking and screaming.” He told me he currently is working on updating his book, Carbon Dharma.

The above are just a few examples of the positive, values-based leaders I have been privileged to meet through the work of IDCA.

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