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Srinath Sridharan

Independent markets commentator. Media columnist. Board member. Corporate & Startup Advisor / Mentor. CEO coach. Strategic counsel for 25 years, with leading corporates across diverse sectors including automobile, e-commerce, advertising, consumer and financial services. Works with leaders in enabling transformation of organisations which have complexities of rapid-scale-up, talent-culture conflict, generational-change of promoters / key leadership, M&A cultural issues, issues of business scale & size. Understands & ideates on intersection of BFSI, digital, ‘contextual-finance’, consumer, mobility, GEMZ (Gig Economy, Millennials, gen Z), ESG. Well-versed with contours of governance, board-level strategic expectations, regulations & nuances across BFSI & associated stakeholder value-chain, challenges of organisational redesign and related business, culture & communication imperatives.

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Karma And The Modern Businesses

Companies that prioritise karma are more likely to build a strong reputation and earn the trust of customers, employees, and stakeholders, leading to improved business outcomes and a more positive impact on society as a whole

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What has Karma got to do with modern enterprises, stakeholder interventions and commercial intent? 

The concept of Karma is deeply rooted in Indian spirituality and philosophy, and it has been a guiding principle for individuals and communities for thousands of years. Karma is often associated with the idea of cause and effect. It refers to the idea that the actions and intentions of an individual have consequences, which can be positive or negative depending on the nature of the action. 

For most of us, the challenge is not in the concept itself, but in accepting that someone could have thought of such powerful values-ideology, in such simple and firm way, centuries ago. Hence we fight this, with a modern cover under what we think is religion or other -ism. But the reality is that ancient scriptures have such powerful messaging for modern day living. Humans have not changed in their core behaviour, as much as the changes in how we live in the name of modern society. We still have basic human emotions, that’s been unchanged for centuries - anger, greed, anxiety, fear, jealousy, wanting to conquer, endless needs, desire, and so on. 

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility and ethical behaviour in modern enterprises. Companies are increasingly expected to consider their impact on society and the environment, and to prioritise sustainability and ethical practices. At the same time, the concept of karma, the idea that our actions have consequences, has become increasingly relevant in modern business culture. In many ways, karma can be seen as the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) of modern enterprises.

Karma, in scriptures 

The Bhagavad Gita, one of the most influential texts from India, provides extensive guidance on the nature of Karma and its practical applications in daily life. The Bhagavad Gita defines Karma as the actions and intentions of an individual, and it teaches that these actions and intentions have consequences that are either positive or negative. 

"As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones." (Bhagavad Gita 2.22) 

This means that consequences of our actions in this life will carry over to the next, shaping our destiny and determining our ultimate fate. While Karma has traditionally been associated with religion and spirituality, it has practical applications in all aspects of life, including business. In fact, Karma can be a powerful tool for businesses to build a positive reputation, establish trust with customers, and create a culture of ethical behaviour.

Stakeholder capitalism is a concept that has gained significant traction in recent years, intensifying the need for businesses to consider the interests of all their stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, and the wider community. At its core, stakeholder capitalism aims to create long-term value for all stakeholders, rather than focusing solely on maximising shareholder profits.  This is where Karma is applicable to stakeholder capitalism conversations, , as it promotes the idea of taking responsibility for one's actions and considering the impact of those actions on others. 

Law of consequences

"Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues." (Bhagavad Gita 3.21)

This highlights the fact that the actions of a business leader can influence the actions of others, both within the business and in the wider world.

“One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water." (Bhagavad Gita 5.10)

This means that the true nature of our actions is determined by our intention behind them. Businesses can apply the principles of Karma by prioritising ethical behaviour, social responsibility, and a commitment to making a positive impact on society. One of the key principles of Karma is the idea that what goes around comes around. In other words, the actions and intentions of a business will have consequences, and those consequences will ultimately determine the success or failure of the business. This is particularly true in today's business environment, where consumers are more informed and more socially conscious than ever before.

Need for ethical behaviour

"Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do." (Bhagavad Gita 2.49)

In the business world, this means focusing on doing what is right, rather than solely on making a profit. A business that prioritises ethical behavior and social responsibility is more likely to build a positive reputation and attract loyal customers. This is because consumers are increasingly looking for businesses that align with their values and are committed to making a positive impact on society. Furthermore, businesses that prioritise Karma are more likely to attract and retain top talent. This is because employees are more likely to be motivated by a sense of purpose and a commitment to ethical behaviour than they are by financial incentives alone. In order to prioritise Karma, businesses need to focus on three key areas: transparency, accountability, and social responsibility. This means being transparent about business practices and decision-making processes, holding employees and leadership accountable for their actions, and being committed to making a positive impact on society.

Karma & shared values 

One of the key principles of stakeholder capitalism is the idea of creating shared value, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society and the environment. This concept is closely aligned with the idea of positive karma, which suggests that good actions can have positive consequences for both the individual and society as a whole. For example, a business that prioritises the well-being of its employees, by offering fair wages and benefits, a safe working environment, and opportunities for personal and professional growth, is likely to create positive karma for itself. This can lead to increased employee loyalty, higher productivity, and a better reputation in the community, all of which can contribute to long-term business success.

On the other hand, businesses that prioritise short-term profits at the expense of their stakeholders, such as by exploiting workers or polluting the environment, may create negative karma for themselves. This can lead to reputational damage, legal and regulatory challenges, and a loss of trust and loyalty among customers and employees, all of which can have significant negative consequences for the business in the long term.

Karma, as a context, can guide companies to act in a way that is ethical, responsible, and sustainable. Companies that prioritise karma are more likely to build a strong reputation and earn the trust of customers, employees, and stakeholders, leading to improved business outcomes and a more positive impact on society as a whole. As the focus on corporate social responsibility and ethical behaviour continues to grow, the concept of karma is likely to become increasingly important in modern business culture. 

Author (Time for Bharat), Policy Researcher & Corporate Advisor

Twitter : @ssmumbai