Posts Tagged 'volunteerism'

Jayesh Patel, Superstar!

Jayesh and Anar Patel

In October of 2005, I wrote a short profile of my friends Jayesh and Anar Patel, husband-and-wife and two-thirds of the founding triumvirate of the extraordinary Ahmedabad-based NGO, Manav Sadhna. Two years later, that small essay has received nearly 400 viewings and still averages nearly three hits per week.

Small wonder. Jayesh-bhai and Anar-ben are perhaps the loveliest, most optimistic, and broadly inspiring people I know. This is no small distinction, given that I am in the habit of collecting friends who answer to the general description “lovely, optimistic, and inspiring.”

Now, a group of filmmakers calling themselves the “Global Oneness Project” have created a beautiful portrait of Jayesh-bhai and his philosophy in a new video called “Living Service.”

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Dil se Dil Postponed. Long Live the Forces of Peace!

Dil se DIl Logo

Upon receiving a threat of mass violence perceived by the Indian Intelligence Bureau to be specific, credible, and beyond the ability of the government to provide adequate security the Dil se Dil Independence Day Friendship Celebration has been postponed indefinitely. There is no way for it to occur, as planned, on the night of 14-15 August.

Continue reading ‘Dil se Dil Postponed. Long Live the Forces of Peace!’

MāM Movies: Independent Filmmaking from the Heart

MaaM Movies, Mumbai

MāM Movies is all about film and all about energetic Bombay-based filmmakers; but it is not your typical Bombay dream machine. Not a single member of the MāM collective has ever shot an item number. And none has produced their first blockbuster – yet.

Instead, the dedicated young writers, directors, editors, and production technicians who call the 12-foot wide Andheri West walk-up their home-away-from-home (and frequently find themselves sleeping on its narrow roof terrace) are practicing their craft as an instrument of social change.

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Help Small Indian NGOs Find an Audience on the Web

If you want inspiration, look no further than India, where thousands-upon-thousands of small NGOs are working to improve the lives of people in small villages and major metros alike. Just don’t expect to find them on the web.

Many of the people doing the most amazing work are doing so in tiny organizations, driven by a passion for service, rather than any great love of actually running an NGO. For these people, admionistration is a necessary burden, not an end-in-itself. Too frequently, they do not have the skills, resources, or understanding to harness the power of the web. The loss is ours, as well as theirs.

But there are solutions — and you can be a part of the process!
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Putting Yourself Second

Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy - Dr. V
Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy

I had the opportunity to give a lunchtime talk to the associates of Harvey Siskind Jacobs LLP last week. The topic was How to Be a Lawyer. I won’t bore you with the whole presentation – they get paid to listen to my shit, you don’t – but let me touch briefly on one aspect, which has interesting relevance to the service community as well as to young lawyers.

Whether one is engaged in voluntary service or a service profession, there is an important sense in which one sublimates their own interests, desires, and comforts to the needs of others.

In the past 17 years of my law practice, I cannot begin to count the number of all-nighters I’ve pulled, meals I’ve missed, and personal engagements I’ve blown-off in order to make good things happen for my clients. My own affairs may be in disastrous disarray, but the matters entrusted to me by others were always given my most dedicated attention. It’s a modern version of the classic allegory of the cobbler’s kids going shoeless.

If you can retain a sense of objectivity, giving priority to the needs of another is a fascinating experience. It’s about more than just the professional responsibility we incur when we agree to accept a fee for our services. It’s not even about trying to perform well because we take pride in our work. It’s about a psychological transformation that occurs when we understand that others are counting on us to protect their interests. Sure, our sacrifice is intentional and premeditated. We do, after all, undertake representation willingly and with a full understanding of the work that might be necessary. But the more interesting aspect of our behavior comes as second-nature, derived from a deep-seated moral sense that we must do our best for those who rely on us.

It is the same with voluntary service. Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, who has dedicated his life to eradicating needless blindness in the poorest communities in the world, perfectly described this sublimation of the self in his 1991 lecture at Harvard Divinity School on rationalism and spiritualism, which was later published as Illuminated Spirit.

It’s a very, very funny experiment. You sit with a person from a village, a rustic person. Here is someone with all of the simplicity of faith in you: “Doctor, whatever you say, I will do it.” Now, how can I train myself to do perfection for her?

The transformative power of service is the same whether it comes from taking professional obligations to heart or from deciding to give attention to the needs of others with no thought of remuneration. But there is one difference: a difference of perspective. In the professional context, it’s all about putting yourself second. In pure service, it’s about understanding that there is no meaningful difference between yourself and those you serve. As Dr. V would say, “When we grow in spiritual consciousness, we identify ourselves with all there is in the world. Then there can be no exploitation. It is ourselves we are helping. It is ourselves we are healing.”

Looking at Service from an Entrepreneur’s Perspective

I spend the day at the TiE.YE ( forum for young entrepreneurs at the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley, a program bringing innovative business people together with a mix of undergraduates, MBA students, and recent graduates to discuss topics on the general subject of entrepreneurism. All the speakers were CEOs of successful, profitable start-ups – all but me. I spoke on behalf of CharityFocus.

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Blasts from the Past

... because the idiocy of manliness is an evergreen topic.


... because Canada and the US will celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays and, regrettably and preventably, not 1-cook-in-10 will serve a decent turkey.


... because everyday is Mother's Day.


... because the American Dream seems but a distant memory, given the country's dominant ethos of small-mindedness.


... to remind us that not every mix of Tibetans and Western spiritual seekers has to be nauseating.


... to celebrate the new edition of Infinite Vision published in India.


... reprised because military strategy seems more cruel and less effective than ever -- and certainly there is a better way.


... because cars are ruining Pondicherry, where I live. How badly are they fucking up your Indian town?


... reprinted because more-and-more people seem want to understand the gift economy. (Yeah!)

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