I remember the various thoughts crossing my mind as I sat and admired the beautiful skyline of Dubai from my hotel room. The energy and excitement that the city lights offered was electric! Quite literally ! The abundance of light and glory was mind-blowing! A number of us had gathered in the city for the TiE Global Summit (TGS) – the annual conference that brings members from all over the world to deliberate on the state of the entrepreneurship ecosystem we help foster around the globe, invest in interesting companies and have some fun while at it. We have all reached the stage of life where after going through our early struggles, have had our share of successes, and ‘arrived’!. I thought to myself – we may have had our own stories of personal ups and downs but at this point, are blessed to be where we are! We have done well indeed!
Almost immediately my thoughts went back to an earlier part of the year (which as I am writing this in Feb 2022, was exactly a year ago) when the state of Texas went dark due to the now infamous ice-storm of the century, leaving many of us crippled! Which provided many of us Texans some perspective and forced us to think a little deeper about things we take for granted. And made us take a more active interest in philanthropic efforts designed to bring electricity to masses that even today are deprived of it!.
Which brings me to the main point of this essay – we are a highly accomplished, successful group of people. Right ? I suppose so. Granted we have worked hard at it and are where we are. Let’s look at it another way. How much of what we are is sheer accident vs really our ‘right’ ? What differentiates me from the guy in a shanty without electricity in a remote village in North India, other than primarily, an accident of birth ? What is my responsibility to that guy ? How are we measuring our success ? Have we – each one of us – fulfilled our responsibility ? Have we given enough ? While we are on our endless quest to accumulate, if we pause for a moment and ask ourselves what we really need to live, it is amazingly clear that all we need is – food to eat, water to drink, air to breathe and a roof over your shoulders. Everything else is gravy, extra. And there are populations that don’t even have these necessities of life. What is our responsibility to these fellow beings ? Many of us have our foundations, give to our favorite charities etc., but shall we ask ourselves, can we do even more, perhaps collectively ? Can each one of us aspire for a bigger purpose, a higher calling ? And as a group, do we have a greater responsibility, a duty to care, for the ‘have-nots’ ?
It was extremely interesting that the underlying theme of many speakers at the TGS conference was about giving and compassion. What does Dr Mohanbir Sawhney, a world-renowned expert on marketing talk about ? About giving, a higher purpose, drawing from scriptures. What does Mr. Mohamed Alabbar who as Chairman of Emmar – that built most of modern Dubai including the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa and currently spearheading the ecommerce revolution in the Middle East through ‘Noon.com’ talk about ? Our responsibility to the under-privileged! What does the cricketer Gavaskar talk about ? His favorite foundation – ‘Heart to Heart’.
During the pandemic, the disparity between the haves and have-nots has widened even further. Not to be a pessimist but if the world continues down this path of divergence, it will eventually lead to a calamity as some economists fear. Which threatens our own sense of security . So, while we enjoy the fruits of our labor let us not forget what we owe to the less fortunate.
Perhaps it is because of this realization that we see renewed sense of awareness, giving back, and social entrepreneurship! Let us take up initiatives to identify, celebrate and participate in projects that involve philanthropic goals. Towards this, let us highlight projects with specific goals, championed by specific groups and individuals (whoever wants to talk about it, realizing fully well some don’t) that could benefit from broader publicity and support.
The limo driver that took me back to the airport in Dubai offered some wisdom and summed it up nicely in his native Hindi. While he had seen the city grow up and become rich in front of him, and in spite of his own relative lack of participation in all the wealth creation, he was thankful for what he had received and doesn’t miss doing his part to ‘give’ back to his village !
So let us ask ourselves what impact we are going to have, what legacy we are going to leave behind and what is our tombstone going to say about us !!