Strategy Execution Summit 2011: Reflections on four days with Satish Kumar in São Paulo

Please note that Maria has written an article about Satish in Portuguese:

I spent four days last week with Satish Kumar who was over in São Paulo to speak at the Strategy and Execution Summit 2011. The main theme of the summit was sustainability, and Satish had been invited by Maria Auxiliadora, Director of Education at Symnetics, as the keynote speaker.

Satish with Maria Auxiliadora

I was helping Maria by looking after Satish, accompanying him on his trips and basically making sure his time here in Brazil went smoothly. But it was also a great honour to spend so much time with him, and sometimes with Satish it is the little things he says when you are in a taxi, or having some lunch, or when he makes a comment to a journalist or one of the delegates which are so amazing. Here I will try and capture just a few of the many nuggets of wisdom he shared with me and so many others here in Brazil.

Satish has been to Brazil before, in 1992 when he was invited to speak at the summit in Rio de Janeiro, but this was his first time in São Paulo. I met him at the airport at 6am, and although I thought he may be tired, he talked with energy in the taxi on the way to the hotel. I told him how large São Paulo is, and of course one of Satish’s great friends was the late economist E.F. Schumacher, who wrote “Small is Beautiful” and also an essay called “Buddhist Economics”, so it was no surprise to find Satish commenting that we have to take care in building cities with no limit.

The concept of limits would be a theme that Satish returned to time and again during his stay here. Our natural world does have limits, but our economists never appear to realise this. Satish told how he had spoken recently at the London School of Economics. Noting how the roots of both economy and ecology relate to “home”, he say economics being a study of home, but that economists with their learned degrees from the great universities around the world were entering the world of work with no knowledge of how to manage their home, i.e. the natural world in which we live. And so with no knowledge of ecology, economics is partly responsible for the great destruction of the planet and its natural resources. Satish had told the LSE to change it name to the LSEE, the London School of Ecology and Economics, but so far they had not acted upon this sage advice.

On Thursday myself and Antonio, a consultant at Symnetics accompanied Satish to Natura, where he had been invited to meet some of the staff there and give one of his famous “fireside chats”. When you live at Schumacher College as I did for 6 months when doing my masters degree there, you begin to realise that the cognitive teaching part of the course is just one small component. When you live there, every evening it seems as if something magical and amazing happens, and Satsih would often give a fireside chat, where we would light a fire, and Satish would maybe talk for 20 minutes or so, and then ask people to ask him any question on any matter at all, no matter how big or small.

Satish at Natura

Andressa, my fellow MSc student from Schumacher College, and who also works for Natura had organised the chat, and Satish answered many probing and intelligent questions from the audience of maybe 25 or 30 people there. Satish has a wonderful way to connect with his audience when it is this size, and he spoke passionately about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic values. Natura is a great example of this, as their company motto is “Bem estar bem”. This translates as “it is good to have well being”, and Satish spoke about extrinsic values, such as growth, profitability and targets, compared to intrinsic values, such as well being, creativity, peace, health, service. Business at this moment in time only consists of extrinsic values, but we need to focus on intrinsic values first and foremost, and then have the extrinsic values as secondary. So for example profit is good, but only when it is the result of achieving well-being in ourselves, our employees, and the communities who we serve in our business enterprises.

However, Satish also told Natura that it should consider the optimum size of its business, and not always seek to grow too large. It was amazing to take a short walk with Guilherme Peirao Leal, one of the founders of Natura, as many of the staff there would stop and be full of joy to say hello. Guilherme also stopped to have his photo taken with a small group of 4 or 5, and it was wonderful to see such a connection between staff and the founder and head of a company. It is not often that a leader inspires that level of happiness, not so far as I have seen in the UK, Europe and the US anyway.

Back at the summit, Satish spoke to many delegates and also quite a few journalists who had come especially to interview him. Satish is not that well known in Brazil, although I am sure that with so many interviews in so many newspapers and magazines, he will be soon. Satish spoke about the need for trust in business, since trust is one of the most important values when running a business spiritually. People were amazed to hear his story of how we was inspired by Bertrand Russell, who at the age of 90 was imprisoned for peace. Satish was drinking coffee in India when he heard this news, and he immediately asked himself why he was not doing something for peace as a 25 year old, when someone so old was still prepared to go to prison.

Satish and a friend decided to go on a walk for peace, and at the boarder of India and Pakistan he said his farewells to his friends and family. Satish said that another friend was distraught, as he wondered if he would ever see Satish again, given then dangers. Satish’s guru had told him to go on this walk with no money, and so his friend gave him much food for his travels. But Satish declined, realising that if we went to Pakistan with food, it would be a sign that he did not trust his hosts to feed him. It was at this point that Satish was able to lose his fear of dying, since dying for peace was the most worthy of deaths, and if he were to not have food, he would see it as an opportunity for fasting. In the end, it took Satish and his friend two and a half years to reach Washington, where he met Martin Luther King, having received the money from Bertrand Russell for a boat ticket to get there.

Maria had worked hard to put together the most inspirational final day possible at the summit. Her feeling is that we are all going through a transition, and that old methodologies are no longer working in the times in which we find ourselves. Brazil perhaps has a mentality that did not work in the old order, but in fact in this new way of thinking, it is well positioned to take a leading role in the world, so long as it can protect its precious natural resources.

Maria had organised a panel session, which included a talk by Mônica Picavea who was representing Transition Towns Brazil. It was great to see a photograph of Totnes, home of Schumacher College and where the Transition Towns Movement was founded.

Mônica Picavea

Also speaking that morning was Guti Fraga, a wonderful actor and director who gave a very emotional talk about his work helping children in some of the most dangerous favelas, or slums, in Rio de Janeiro.

Maria with Guti

I too also found myself being asked to present at the summit for this panel session. I am a volunteer director of SBrasil, a social enterprise which was launching the first fair trade coffee in Brazil. This is coffee where 100% of the profits goes back to the community, and SBrasil have developed a brand called Villa Brasil, of which this was their first product, and I was honoured to be able to launch the coffee at the summit. Symnetics with Infinity had purchased the very first packets of Villa Brasil coffee, and each delegate and speaker was given a packet as a thank you for their participation at the summit.

I spoke about the business model, of how SBrasil is inspired by four key values, and how these values are infused in every aspect of every project it undertakes. It was also a great honour for me as an alumni of Schumacher College to be speaking at the same event as Satish, especially as he been talking to many people about the philosophy and way of teaching at the college, where experience is as important as the knowledge imparted.

Jackson and myself launch Villa Brasil coffee

Satish spoke to me briefly on the Friday morning about what he should say for his talk. Who was I to suggest to Satish what to say?! I simply said that the delegates at the summit would want to hear his message of deep ecology, about economics and intrinsic values, and also they would be touched and inspired by his great courage when following his heart and his convictions.

Satish’s Keynote Speech

And so following a talk by Marcelo Cardoso, Vice-President of Organisational Development and Sustainability at Natura, Satish took to the stage, no powerpoint slides, just himself standing in front of 250 or so delegates, business leaders and executives, to tell them of his deep connection to nature, and how business should transform, to be in harmony with the planet. This was a quite phenomenal speech, and I was sure that a small percentage of the audience may have felt slight discomfort, since Satish talks about the need to limit our growth, and to raise our level of consciousness to that point where we need to value nature in its own right, so see that a tree has intrinsic value in its own right, and not just in terms of economic value, for its ability to be exploited. It is an incredibly powerful experience to watch such a great spiritual thinker as Satish tell business leaders and excecutives that they should move to a thinking, a philosophy and a spirituality which honours nature, and give the same rights to nature as we give to ourselves. We as humans are a part of nature, and do not sit outside of nature, or at the top of a non-existent pyramid, with nature below us.

Satish takes questions from the audience with Maria Auxiliadora after his talk

But for a vast majority of the audience, many of whom had come to the summit due its focus on sustainability, this was a quite electrifying end to the summit. Satish had been speaking non-stop since his arrival, but I was a amazed at just how powerful his voice was when speaking, so full of conviction. He even broke out into a powerful and moving mantra, which touched all who heard it.

I was sitting next to my friend Jackson, the founder of SBrasil of which I am a director who sits on their advisory board. He had felt a strange sensation in his hand and arm, and for some reason not known to himself had felt compelled to take a photograph of Satish on his phone. Below is the photo, and as you can see, it really does appear as if Jackson captured the great aura that Satish has.

The Aura of Satish

This was a remarkable summit in many ways. Maria, along with Infinity Conferences and Exhibitions, had chosen the location with great care. It was in a partly open building, with many plants and flowers creating a natural and light ambience, with lounges where delegates could relax and network. Satish’s gentle wisdom left a great impact on all who he met, and Maria received many many messages of thanks, expressing their gratitude for her vision in bringing Satish to Brazil. Satish too had a wonderful time, also meeting 60 ex-alumni from Schumacher College at a dinner organised by Maria for them at a vegetarian restaurant called Goa, which really is like a little part of Schumacher here in Brazil.

Satish meets Schumacher ex-alumni alumni at Goa

Satish will be returning to Brazil in June of next year where he will be speaking at a summit in Rio. I am sure he will also use this opportunity to come back to São Paulo to see how many projects and activities inspired by the philosophy and ethos of Schumacher College have blossomed.

Satish at Pinacoteca Art Museum

14 responses to “Strategy Execution Summit 2011: Reflections on four days with Satish Kumar in São Paulo

  1. Hi Maria and Jackson, I would first like to send my very hearty congratulations, for your successful experience at the Summit in Sao Paulo, and it looks like the wisdom of a great elder and amazing philosopher Satish, brought something very significant to the arena, and proceedings.

    I loved Satish’s comments related to the intrinsic and extrinsic ideals, and the description of ‘building a town with no limit’s’.

    “Noting how the roots of both economy and ecology relate to “home”, he say economics being a study of home, but that economists with their learned degrees from the great universities around the world were entering the world of work with no knowledge of how to manage their home, i.e. the natural world in which we live”.

    I only wished I was there to capture his aura, as I can tell it was a moving experience for all. Jackson did very well to ‘Act’, as these moments are precious, making strides towards the essence of change, and the intrinsic balance waiting to unfold.

    Really look forward to coming out to Brazil to work on some creative projects, and learning all I can about your holistic developments.

    Transition Town, will be a global phenomenon, and I have a few ideas which I would love to explore with the SBrasil team, when the time is right.

    Warmest regards

    Kofi Allen

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