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What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like?

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2013 was given by Rt Hon Vince Cable MP. photo courtesy of Prem Prakash & Twisha Chandra

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2013 was given by
Rt Hon Vince Cable MP
photo courtesy of Prem Prakash & Twisha Chandra

The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills delivered the Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture in October 2013. The title of his lecture was What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like? You can read the full speech by clicking here.

You can read a review by Robert Fisher and analysis by Antony Copley below.

What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like?
By Robert Fisher

At the recent Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture, The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP spoke of Mahatma Gandhi as one of the three great 20th century political activists who along with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King brought to the consciousness of humanity some of the injustices that human kind has heaped upon his fellow man/woman.

At the same time reminding us of three 20th Century tyrants who had brought humanity to the depths of evil and despair, Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong who collectively killed millions in their attempts to control the destinies of many with their ill conceived ideological objectives.

And of the legacies of these six individuals, exemplified by the election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States of America, the emergence of India and China as two of the great economic powers in the world and of the recent joint American and Russian intervention in Syria in bringing about the destruction of its chemical weapons.

The legacies of Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong are not forgotten, there are still many within global society who would kill with impunity anyone questioning their authority or ideological beliefs.

Whilst Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela have undoubtedly helped to reduce the incidents of institutional racism and colonialism, sexism, ageism, classism etc. still exist and as was stated by Dr Cable, nonviolent direct action by all, wherever these incidents occur, will eventually bring these prejudices and injustices to an end.

It is noted that Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi were all individuals who fought against their political systems at the time to achieve their moral objectives.

The world of commerce and industry, based on mutual self interest has steadily moved on, perhaps providing some insight as to the way in which finding ways of working together can be more important than seeking to impose one ideological view over another. Politicians around the world will be aware of the impact the Internet has had on the political landscape.

Dr Cable spoke of globalisation, of economics and of ethics and of cultural and subsequent ethical conflicts between those who are the wealth creators in society and some who retain it to create even more money and of the differences between great wealth and deep poverty, inequalities and injustices in society.

Within the bandwidth of ethics that allows for freedom of thought and deed, I believe different and deeper truths and cultural values will emerge as nations converge and collective society moves forward in what I imagine Gandhi’s definition of Sarvodaya to be.

Globalisation, in this digital age, brings with it the hopes and aspirations of many and the potential for all cultures and nation states to collaborate in trying to address the many challenges that face humanity and earth’s subsystems, and the many opportunities in so doing.

Just under 40 years ago the combined intellectual capacity of only a few motivated individuals addressed the challenge of taking humanity to the moon and back.

It is entirely plausible that the combined intellectual capacity of humanity, connected, motivated and focused on addressing the many challenges we undoubtedly will face as we all move forward in eliminating extremes of poverty and injustice in society and the degradation of the natural world will be achieved. Gandhi and those like him have shown the many what only a few can achieve.

True economics, articulated by Vince Cable as social justice, equality and the good of all is not only aspirational it is logical and demonstrable through the concept of mutual self interest.

Whatever our views of capitalism are, laissez-faire or some other form of capitalism, we are part of global economic community and what we do in one part of the world has an impact in another. Dr Cable in his Ministerial capacity in relation to business, innovation and skills will I’m sure be aware of the need of a fine balance between government (regulation, innovation), and economic (stimulation and equilibrium).

Dr Cable spoke of the liberalisation of the Indian economy and of the dismantling of state control of its planning processes and what would have been Gandhi’s opposition in the protection of rural industries. I can see both sides to this argument, in the semi rural community within which I live I am aware of a balance that needs to kept in the development of any economy, local, national or international and of the need to support those whose aspirations are to the husbandry of natural / rural environments (you cannot eat software), and there is much more to true economics than generating GDP through irresponsible planning processes and ill thought through economic stimuli. I believe aesthetics and analysis both to be part of this liberalisation and planning process, soul with pragmatism.

The balance between materialism / consumerism / waste in a world of finite resources and the subsequent impact on global ecology I feel sure concerns the majority of people in society today and as set out in Vince Cable’s view of true economics it will be the innovators, scientists, engineers, businesses, social entrepreneurs who will address these challenges, but perhaps equally as important the spiritual / moral dimension to be included in this equation will determine the society in which we all will eventually live.

Dr Cable then commented on the benefits of the “green revolution” and of the efficiencies gained in multiple cropping, fertilizers etc.

Those cultures who have tilled the land responsibly for centuries will already be aware of nature’s natural and sustainable cycles, the green revolution will be nothing new to them. However irrigation and mobile telephony, in ways as yet to be imagined, will transform their lives forever.

Jevon’s paradox however puts forward the view that efficiencies gained through technological progress in accessing resources, tend to increase the rate of consumption and if this is the case I believe humanity must define and find ways of living within a sustainable global budget.

Vince Cable then went on to elaborate on the meaning of Swadeshi, as self-reliant village communities, independent from their neighbours for vital wants.

All modern communities of which I am aware are reliant on some of their vital resources from others. Within my own village community I can see many benefits in the reduction of waste by providing within its borders a balanced local economy and employment for its residents, whatever their aspirations are. In all transactions going forward there should be benefits, financial, social or environmental, but no transaction should be at the expense of the other, the metrics and algorithm developed to measure impact, an important factor in creating a sustainable and equitable society, wherever it exists.

Community cohesion and social mobility, mentioned by Dr Cable, should mean something different to the emergence of ghettoes in the city of London for highly paid bankers, or traveling miles to get to work because a person in his or her chosen occupation cannot afford to live close to their employment. These are complexities any economic system will have to deal with, but not, I feel, insurmountable.

Personally I can see some merits in Gandhi’s Swadeshi that should be nurtured, valued and protected, however this should be in a local / national /international / mutual self-interest context.

We have seen both positive and negative impacts of outsourcing our industrial and other capabilities since the 1970s to places such as the far-east and the impact of this short term bottom line thinking has had on the manufacturing skills base of the United Kingdom. There are now not enough engineers to rebuild our own critical infrastructures.

There is a comfort in the idea of British critical infrastructure being held in trust on behalf of its population by a British institution, built and managed by British engineers and if the money needed to build it comes from abroad I feel sure, within the concept of mutual self interest, this can be achieved.

Protectionism is not a viable option in modern day society, whichever industry people are in, but perhaps as is the current focus of Dr Cable’s attention in the development of government economic policy it will include joined up thinking in areas such as education, infrastructure, employment and planning.

Dr Cable then went on to state that he saw little merit in British Swadeshi, and in terms of international trade I would agree that the sum of the whole, in an international context, is much greater than its individual parts. However I imagine in line with government policy, localism, the decentralization /devolution of government and the organic development of clusters of various activities at a local level will inevitably provide the international community with significantly more parts to the whole, which perhaps will propel all nations, including the United Kingdom, who adopt the same model, into an age of socioeconomic and environmental equilibrium.

Finally Dr Cable went on to state that he wanted to see businesses in the United Kingdom that were socially responsible to customers, supply chains, workers and to the exchequer, by self regulation, by naming and shaming. I would add, naming and shaming, if it is to be effective in the world of classic capitalism, transparency and accountability must be part of this Process.

It was a good lecture and a shared vision for the future.

Where is the Gandhian Business Model?
by Antony Copley

No Gandhian could disagree with Vince Cable’s interpretation of Gandhi’s approach to economics as far as his lecture went. He stopped short of Gandhi’s late visionary hopes for the Indian economy, one that was to be taken forward by the left Gandhians, J P Narayan and Vinobe Bhave. No doubt, however, it would be naïve to expect a Secretary of State for Business to move beyond the conventional paradigms of the market economy and the overriding importance of economic growth.

Cable led us through a perfectly plausible account of the way Gandhi had to work within the constraints of a colonial economy, rejecting laissez-faire, the imperial policy which of course advantaged British exports, and a nationalist demand for protectionism, the wish of Indian business interests to play a significant role in shaping Congress policy. This would shelter emergent indigenous capitalist growth, a protectionism most strikingly expressed in the doctrine of swadeshi, the clarion cry of the nationalist movement in its outraged rejection of the partition of Bengal in 1905. I’m not sure if Gandhi ever actually endorsed swadeshi, his concern being to protect artisan industry against both foreign and Indian factory production. I think Cable’s may be special pleading in speculating that Gandhi would have gone along with a globalisation that saw Indian handloom products being sold as luxury items abroad. It would be interesting to read his exposition of this in a jointly authored book with Gandhian L C Jain. But one can agree that Gandhi would have rejected the economic nationalism of the Hindutva movement and the BJP, despite their claims that he was one of their own.

And of course he is surely right to argue that Gandhi engaged in this debate not so much as an economist, for he was no expert in this field, but as a moralist. His concerns were ethical. Cable overlooks the profound influence of John Ruskin’s ideas on Gandhi, above all on the sacred nature of work. Here was one reason for Gandhi’s championing of khadi, his high evaluation of the skills of artisan workers through his constructive programme. The relevant concept here is sarvodaya. It was a policy that did indeed look to the self-sufficiency of the village community. This was nothing to do with the highly regressive programme of autarchy pursued by the Axis powers and such latterday totalitarian states as North Korea. Cable, at the end, advocates forms of decentralisation and here he is seemingly on Gandhi’s wavelength. But something much more far reaching than local autonomy is encompassed in Gandhi’s vision.

Maybe this late Gandhian outlook was never coherently expressed, with his life so tragically cut short. The left Gandhians teased out the quasi-socialist implications of Gandhi’s vision of a new social structure which would radiate outwards from the village, inspired by an oceanic, quasi-mystical sense. So Bhave took up a national crusade of land redistribution, the bhoodan movement, though this was to be on a voluntary basis, appealing to landlords to hand over land to the poor. Narayan of course moved into left-wing politics and was a critical figure in challenging Mrs Gandhi’s increasingly autocratic rule that led to the Emergency regime of 1975-77. Sadly, Bhave and Narayan stood on different sides in that crisis. This possibly reflected the ambiguities in Gandhi’s own outlook.

Arguably Gandhi’s late vision represented a new paradigm on how the economy was to based. All along he had opposed the liberal capitalist insistence on growth above all. His was an economic vision of reaching out to abject levels of poverty but seeking no more than the meeting of basic human needs, a view that rejected a merely materialist approach and was inherently ascetic. This was the way of life in his ashrams. Really and truly here lay Gandhi’s new business model and Cable was way off target. Are Gandhi’s panchayats [small elected body governing a village] indeed so irrelevant?

When the banking crisis struck in 2010 many believed this exposed the inherently flawed nature of capitalism and the opportunity to move from its endlessly preached mantra of growth to an entirely new paradigm of a sustainable economy. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote eloquently of the need to respect our environment and not to exploit and abuse its resources. Of course all this was to tap into a long lament on such abuse from Rachel Carson to James Lovelock and many others. All this has taken on a horrible urgency with the recognition of the threat from climate change. A recent article in the New Statesman by Naomi Klein, ‘Science says: Revolt!’ (25-31 October 2013) describes how leading scientists reinforce this search for a new paradigm, the way government see the revolutionary implications of this new paradigm and are trying to suppress the scientists, and the need for direct action. In this context the ideas of Gandhi, far from seeming utopian, have an all too urgent relevance.

The way the Gandhian ashram and panchayat have been brought up to date and prove that they are not pie in the sky is demonstrated in an astonishing experiment in Gandhian-style communitarian living in Andalucia. In 1979 one Sanchez Gordillo was the first elected mayor of the pueblo of Marinaleda, today with but 2,700 citizens. In 1980 he led a hunger strike ‘against hunger’. In 1991 the 1,200 hectare El Humoso farm was taken over by the Marinaleda co-operative. It chose to develop an agriculture which maximised the use of labour and provide much needed employment. It was a rejection of a wheat based economy that used little labour and pursued mere economic efficiency. Profits of the co-operative are used to create ever newer employment. It is an anti-capitalist example which is catching on. Neighbouring Somante has set up its own co-operative on government owned land. Admittedly the Andalucian Workers Union were initially evicted in March 2012 but returned the next day and never left. Here, argues Dan Hancox, is just the kind of new economy that the indignados are seeking. (See his essay ‘Since the Financial Crisis, the Spanish Economy has been on its Knees. But one Village Stood and Fought’, The Observer 20/10/13 and his book The Village Against the World, Verso). Gandhi is certainly one source for Sanchez Gordillo’s visionary new economy. (Others are Jesus Christ, Marx, Lenin, and Che Guevara.) Gandhi’s attitude to labour, the need for both full employment and a shared labour within the community, is brilliantly realised in these two pueblos. It is of course equally a fulfilment of the ideals of Spanish anarchism.

Quite obviously Vince Cable could not have advocated such a radical new paradigm. He has no option but to stick with the mantra of growth. But here is in fact where a truly Gandhian business model lies.

Antony Copley is an honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent and a Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

A World of Limited Resources – The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013 by Natasha Lewis

The Abbey, in the little village of Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, was again the setting for this year’s Gathering, a week of attempting to live in the style of one of Gandhi’s ashrams whilst allowing a space for discussion into applying his principles to issues faced in the modern world. The building itself is a perfect facilitator for this event, providing several cosy sitting rooms, a kitchen and dining room dating to the 13th century, and a large Great Hall which has windows that open out into the main garden. The grounds give ample space for camping and sports including badminton, as well as a large kitchen garden which provides much of the delicious food for the week! The surrounding countryside also provides several beautiful walks along the river Thames.


The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013

Although some rooms are available in the Abbey itself, most Gatherers stay in the guest house annexe, which has the advantage of 20th rather than 13th century plumbing and heating! The braver amongst us, mostly families, camped and this year a camper van was also used for accommodation. Thirty Seven people attended over the first weekend, with people coming and going over the next week.

The premise of Gandhi’s ashram means that a great communal spirit is built up throughout the week, with teams taking turns to help prepare meals and keep communal spaces clean. The kitchen is usually the focal point, where children’s (and adult’s!) baking and craft takes place, as well as some of the most interesting discussions about the year’s theme.

After a help-yourself breakfast, the morning session begins with a brief meditation and sharing of information, then continues into the main discussion topic for the day. There is normally a short introductory presentation followed by discussion in small groups and then feedback. This leads into Shramdana, meaning ‘sharing of one’s time, thought and energy for the welfare of all’ in accordance with the way Gandhi’s ashrams were run. Lunch is eaten and, after a digestion break, craft activities begin later in the afternoon. It was Gandhi’s belief that time should be spent on useful tasks, and this period is used to follow his guidance. Crafts available this year were varied, including collage making, art using dried flowers, crochet and watercolour painting. One particularly interesting activity was spinning thread from a sheep’s fleece: we set up a production line including carding the wool, using the spinning wheel to turn the wool into thread and winding the finished wool into balls (and untangling it!). The spinning wheel was a bit trickier to use than I expected and unfortunately my wool alternated between being much too thick and snapping because it was too thin! After supper Gatherers are invited to contribute to the evening’s entertainment which included animal noises, poetry readings, slideshows and circle dancing. Then meditation and time for sleep before it all begins again in the morning!

The topic for this year’s Gathering was “A World of Limited Resources: Inspirations and Challenges in Sharing the Planet” which attracted many external speakers as well as new participants. This meant that there was often a talk in the afternoon in addition to the morning session. The first of these was given by an architect, Sandra Piesik, who is running a project reviewing renewable resources as construction materials, involving over 120 scientists and professionals. Her talk mainly focussed on developing architecture using palm leaves in the United Arab Emirates, and her efforts to rescue indigenous technology from the extinction imposed by the advent of globalisation and modern building practices. She highlighted the fact that concrete is not always the most suitable building material in every environment on Earth, and that there is a huge untapped source of building materials from the palm leaves from plants used for date production, which are currently wasted in the UAE.


The theme of the first morning session (Sunday) was Sarvodaya. This is a term coined by Gandhi to mean ‘universal uplift’ or ‘progress of all’ and was a fundamental principle of his political philosophy. We discussed some of Gandhi’s other main principles: Swaraj, self-rule;  Swadeshi, self-sufficiency; and Satyagraha, “truth force”, Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance strategy.

Monday’s theme was resource depletion: examining the effects of diminishing stocks of non-renewable gas, oil, coal and minerals on the world. We discussed particular industries’ impacts on the earth and its people, and possible substitutes.

Tuesday focussed on climate change and population from a biological perspective, as the talk was given by an ecologist. Human culture has gradually evolved from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle through small scale agriculture to the globalised economy we see today. However, this has occurred in a period of relatively stable climatic conditions for the past 5000 years, which has lulled us into a sense of false security. We were divided into three groups and attempted to answer three questions. The question for my group was: What attributes from our hunter gatherer and agricultural ancestors should we cultivate and which should we reject? We were also asked to talk about steps we could take to reduce our energy usage both on a personal and national/global scale. 
Ruth gave a presentation originally aimed at actuaries to show that in the economic world it is vital to take into account risks of climate change and resource depletion.

The World Economic System was Wednesday’s subject. Alan Sloan presented us with a thought-provoking presentation on a potential new economic system based on ecological footprints. Conventional money is not directly related to the material world, and he suggested that if the new currency were based on the resources available from the earth then this would help to solve the resource depletion crises we are currently facing, as well as relieving poverty in the developing world.


Four participants gave presentations on four ‘prophets’ on Thursday. John Muir was an American naturalist whose activism helped to preserve national parks such as Sequoia National Park and the Yosemite Valley. Ishpriya is a Catholic nun who founded the International Satsang Organisation. The Reverend Horace Dammers was the founder of the Lifestyle Movement. Frances Moore Lappé is the author of the bestseller Diet for a Small Planet, which advocated a plant-based diet as being much more conducive to food security.

On Friday we welcomed another guest speaker, a representative of Traidcraft. He gave a presentation on the organisation and their efforts to ensure that workers are paid a fair price for their products.

On the last evening we held a party, which was a sort of variety show with everyone offering their best party pieces. We had old home videos, games, singing, jokes, poetry, a small flute recital and some improvised circle dancing. The evening ended with a small tribute to the victims of the atom bomb in 1945, as it was Nagasaki Day. We went out into the garden and floated tea lights in little paper boats in a large baking tray filled with water, as incense smoke floated up into the night sky. It was a lovely way to end the week, which has been one of the most thought-provoking I have attended.

Who Was Fritz Schumacher? by Diana Schumacher

Who Was Fritz Schumacher?

by Diana Schumacher

E F Schumacher, the economist-philosopher, was born 100 years ago this year. The following article is edited from a longer paper written for the Schumacher Society in 2008.

Ernst Friedrich (Fritz) Schumacher was an unlikely pioneer of the Green Movement. He was born in Bonn in 1911, studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and returned to England before the Second World War to avoid living under Nazism. He died prematurely on a visit to Caux, Switzerland, in September 1977.

Although from a distinguished intellectual background, and having himself experienced a short but meteoric academic career in Germany, England and America, Schumacher always believed that “an ounce of practice is worth a tonne of theory”. Like Gandhi in both his outer and inner life he was a searcher of truth and dedicated to peace. Unlike so many of his contemporary academics, however, he needed to see these ideals translated into practical actions.

Fritz observed that throughout his own school and university careers he had given “maps of life and knowledge” on which “there was hardly a trace of many of the things I most cared about and that seemed to me of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of my life”. He saw the need to provide his colleagues and audiences with philosophical ‘maps’ and guidelines which related to actual reality. In the process, his life was one of constant questioning, including challenging most of the basic assumptions on which Western economic and academic theory have been based. What are the ‘laws’ that govern the ‘science’ of economics? What is the true value of money? What is the relationship between time and money? What is the real worth of work? And of development? These were the everyday questions which interested him as an economist.

In 1937, owing to Hitler’s frenzied ascendancy and his own feeling of the intellectual and political betrayal of Germany and its heritage by his nationalistic compatriots, he decided to abandon all social, family and business ties and to bring his young wife and son to London.

During the war, the family faced the hostility of being regarded as German aliens. They had to give up their home, and after being briefly interned, Fritz was hidden away with his family in Northamptonshire working as a farm labourer and was referred to by the very English name of James. At the same time (with the support of J M Keynes) he was seconded to do government research at the Oxford Institute of Statistics whilst at the same time working on his own ‘world improvement scheme’. Sometimes his ideas were appropriated by others, such as his contribution to the Beveridge Report in the early 1940s and to the Marshall Plan of 1947. Although he never received official recognition for his input to such prestigious schemes because of his German background, this did not disquiet him.

Although the expanding family was again domiciled in England from 1950 onwards, his quest for patterns of sustainability took him all over the world. He had experienced poverty, social injustice and alienation first hand, and felt that with his uniquely varied and practical background, he had something useful to contribute. As an economist he was derided by his peers for pointing out the fallacy of continuous growth in a finite world dependent on limited fossil fuel resources, but at the same time he became a champion of the poor, the marginalised and those who felt misgivings over the shallowness of contemporary values.

Philosophy and Religion

From his youth Fritz had always read prolifically. At one stage or another during his life, Fritz questioned all the main traditions, whether intellectual, national, economic or religious. As a young man he claimed to be a dedicated atheist, lecturing that religion and morality were mere products of history; they did not stand up to scientific examination and could be modified if regarded as inappropriate. Politically he was a person-loving socialist, the antithesis to Hitler’s fascism and an idealist with a restless mind. His values were very modern, based on the speed, measurement, efficiency and logic of the industrialised Western world which he inhabited. It was only later that he understood that such criteria were too inflexible, and totally incompatible with the more subtle ‘unconscious’ rhythms of the natural world. As a commuter from suburban Caterham (where he finally lived), to the National Coal Board headquarters in London’s Victoria (where he worked from 1950 to 1970), he used the train travelling time to study comparative religions and was greatly influenced by the French philosopher Fritjof Schuon’s The Transcendent Unity of Religions.

This ‘commuting’ period proved a most fruitful turning point in his inner life. He first studied notably those religions from the East, attending meetings and lectures on the spirituality of other faiths and began to practice meditation. Gradually he came to relinquish the atheism of his youth and to admit to the possibility of a ‘higher order of Being’. His changing economic and metaphysical views (which sometimes seemed contradictory) chronologically mirrored his own spiritual struggles and development.

There was, after all, a transcendent ‘vertical perspective’ to life: a hierarchy of orders from inanimate matter, through different levels of consciousness to a supreme consciousness or Being. After years of searching and inner struggles he had realised a way of bringing his lifelong paths of study and social concerns to a point of convergence and had reached his own spiritual homecoming. Finally, to the astonishment of Schumacher’s Marxist and Buddhist friends alike, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1971, six years before he died. It was a formal renouncement of his previously cherished views of the supremacy of the intellect and reason over the Christian virtues of compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love, the acknowledgment of a Divine Creator, and the integrity of all creation.

Buddhist Economics

In 1955, whilst working at the National Coal Board, Schumacher accepted a three-month assignment as Economic Development adviser to the Government of the Union of Burma, where he immediately attached himself to a Buddhist monastery. He soon concluded that the last thing the Burmese people needed was economic development along Western lines. They needed an economics suited to their own culture and lifestyle – a ‘middle way’ between the Western model which sought to increase material wants and consumption to be satisfied through mechanised production and the Buddhist model which was to satisfy basic human needs through dignified work which also purified one’s character and was a spiritual offering. The tools of economics therefore had to be adapted to people’s needs and values and not vice versa. Unsurprisingly, his report was not well received in official quarters, but the experience proved yet another turning in Fritz’s spiritual and intellectual development. He was later to coin the term ‘Buddhist Economics’ which, like Marxism, implies a complete rejection of the greed and materialism on which so much of modern economics is based and a respect for the value and dignity of meaningful work.

Sustainable Development

In tandem with his job at the Coal Board, Schumacher also undertook an intensive programme of international travel, initially to give substance to his proposals to save the collapsing British coal industry, and to encourage independence from the Western world’s industrial reliance on cheap oil imports from the Middle East. Alas – and to our cost today – he was successful in neither.

His aim was also to promote sustainable development strategies in the First and Third World alike. Food and fuel he saw as the two basic necessities for survival and sustainability. All communities and regions should strive to be self-sufficient in these as far as possible – otherwise they become economically and politically vulnerable. In this respect he was an early proponent of harnessing renewable energy in all its different forms and upgrading the existing traditional technologies.

Unfortunately Fritz was many years ahead of his time, and few took much notice. Putting his own self-sufficiency theories into practice, his was one of the first UK houses to have solar panels installed on its roof. He also personally became involved in sustainable agriculture; an enthusiasm which he claimed had its seeds in his work as a farm labourer. He spent much time on his organic garden, was President of the UK Soil Association, ardently supporting Richard St Barbe Baker and his Men of the Trees, and was an unflagging advocate of tree planting and forest farming schemes wherever he went.

India and Intermediate Technology

It was during an official visit to India in 1970 to advise the Indian Government on a Five Year Development Plan, that Fritz became deeply moved by the hopeless poverty and deprivation of countless thousands of people. He encountered a despair such as he had not met in other poor countries and realised that all the official government and other Western aid schemes proposed so far were completely inadequate. As a heartfelt response, in 1966 with a small group of committed colleagues including George McRobie from the National Coal Board, he founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), a London-based charity concerned with technology transfer. The aim was to give practical ‘tool aid’, skills and education to poor rural communities in developing countries rather than expensive highly mechanised equipment which was not appropriate to the understanding and needs of the illiterate majority and which put them out of work. What was needed was ‘production by the masses and not mass production’ using ‘technologies with a human face’. With Indian colleagues, he helped to set up in Lucknow the Appropriate Technology Development Association (ATDA), working very much along the same lines and supported financially by the UK India Development Group of which Fritz was Chair.

Schumacher also understood that Western aid to poor communities frequently simply served to increase their cultural and economic dependence, and to increase the gulf between rich and poor, educated and illiterate, young and old, even within their own societies. This still holds true. On the other hand, by respecting communities’ own indigenous and cultural traditions, providing them with skills and upgraded tools and recognising that each individual could play their part the communities would be enabled to achieve long term sustainability and security. This ‘middle way’ has gained increasing acceptance over the past forty years, particularly among the poor countries themselves. The ‘development’ charities which Fritz founded continue to flourish today, although ATDA has become the Schumacher Centre Delhi. The India Development Group became the Jeevika Trust; and the ITDG has been renamed Practical Action.

In 1950 Schumacher accepted the post of Economic Adviser to the National Coal Board, partly because of his socialist conviction that true economic sustainability would most readily come about through proper organisation and use of energy resources. He was also an early advocate of the principle of subsidiarity and realised that the workers themselves needed to operate within ‘human scale’ structures even within large organisations. The National Coal Board he hoped would be an excellent springboard for testing his ideas in practice.

Small is Beautiful

Despite growing recognition of Schumacher’s numerous projects, broadcasts, writings, and public lectures, the real breakthrough only came with the publication in 1973 of his first book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. This was written in layman’s terms, since it was mainly based on previous lectures and articles, but somehow caught the spirit of the times. Small is Beautiful was not just about appropriate size. It articulated what millions of ‘little people’ worldwide subconsciously believed: that unlike any previous culture or civilisation, twentieth century Western society, whether agricultural or industrial, was living artificially off the Earth’s capital rather than off its income. Its lifeblood was the ever-increasing use of non-renewable resources primarily by the rich countries at the expense of the poor. The world could not continue sustainably on the increasing curve of production and consumption without material or moral restraint.

A Guide for the Perplexed followed in 1977; other publications such as Good Work and This I Believe were produced posthumously and were based on his earlier writings in different publications. Over thirty years after Schumacher’s death, the wisdom, warnings and predictions contained in these controversial writings, are seen to be more relevant than ever. Many organisations worldwide have since developed one or other aspect of his work. Nevertheless the trend towards gigantism, the vast growth of mega cities, mass unemployment, unsustainable patterns of energy use, rampaging environmental degradation and social violence demonstrate that none of Schumacher’s simple, human-scale solutions have been interpreted correctly by those in a position to change policies. There is now an even more urgent need to revisit some of these fundamental prerequisites for sustainability. These include, above all, the transcendence of moral values; the equality and dignity of all people; the integrity of human work as the resource base of any economy; the value of local communities; and the need for decentralised decision-making and regional self-sufficiency wherever practicable, particularly with respect to food and fuel.

There is always a great danger to freeze a human icon such as Schumacher in the situation of their time, and not to allow for the fact that their own ideas would be constantly changing and moving on with changed circumstances. The revolutions in information technology, virtual reality and genetic engineering would have occupied Schumacher’s attention insofar as they affect our overall human condition. It is now up to a new generation to arm itself with the necessary knowledge and moral courage to find its own solutions to the contemporary interrelated crises and to build peace with all levels of Creation.
As Fritz Schumacher said in Good Work:

“I certainly never feel discouraged. I can’t myself raise the winds which might blow us, or this ship, into a better world. But I can at least put up the sail, so that when the wind comes I can catch it.”

Diana Schumacher is a Patron of The Gandhi Foundation and active in the environmental field. She was a founder of the Schumacher Society and founded its Annual Schumacher Award. She also co-founded the Environmental Law Foundation.

Book Review – Timeless Inspirator: Reliving Gandhi Edited by Raghunath Mashelkar

Timeless Inspirator: Reliving Gandhi
Edited by Raghunath Mashelkar

Sakal Publications 2010 HB pp369 ISBN 978 93 80571 48 5


This is a book on Gandhi that looks much more to the future than to the past. It takes the form of 45 short essays by ‘superachievers’ (almost all Indian). The idea came from the editor who is a distinguished scientist himself. While some of the authors are from outside the fields of science, engineering, IT, economics and business, that is where the emphasis lies. Raghunath Mashelkar says that engineers and industrialists always strive for ‘more from less’, but he had the idea of ‘Gandhian Engineering’ which would produce more (performance) from less (resource) for more (people) not just for more (profit). This would be a form of development that would fit with Gandhian philosophy.
I think the question that many of the authors are posing is, can a (basically) free market economic system with advanced technology solve the problem of inequality and poverty ? And the answer they give is – if done in the right way – it can.
Many of the authors correctly point out that Gandhi was not against technology as such but only if it did not benefit those at the bottom of the economic ladder. As some of the writers acknowledge explicitly there is a huge gulf between the increasingly affluent sections of the Indian population and the majority, living mainly in the villages, who remain desperately poor. India is by no means unique in that respect but it does have the largest number of the poorest of any country.
Kiran Karnik sees great potential for the Gandhian ideal of decentralisation in the new communication technology. Where there is electronic connectivity – and 100,000 Community Service Centres are planned in India – there is access to information from the web and so there is potential for outsourcing of some services and manufacture. Various costs are lower in small towns and rural areas so that gives them an advantage over city locations. Other uses of modern technology are suggested by Ashok Jhunjhunwala: in education, since the quality of village teaching is often poor, communication technology could provide tuition to village students to improve the level of education; health services in rural areas are deficient but untrained medical practitioners could be helped by voice or video link to qualified urban medical practitioners. In agriculture, ‘sophisticated callcentres’ are beginning to be developed and they could provide information to farmers on crops, weather, fertilisers, etc. Other provisions needed are smallscale agro-industry, microfinance, decentralised energy production eg solar power, biomass. Such development, the author suggests, could involve less consumption of goods than we in the West expect and the villages could resemble in essence those that Gandhi envisioned.
Other areas covered by the essays are innovative architecture, developing cheap medicines and low technology medical treatments, local governance (Panchayati Raj), community forests, multiculturalism, integrity in public life, gender politics, global warming.
One of the authors is a Friend of the Gandhi Foundation and neuropsychologist, Dr Narinder Kapur, who looks at Gandhian values in science and suggests that scientists should take a form of the Hippocratic Oath such as medical doctors have taken on graduation.
There is one major area that is largely absent from the book and that is nonviolence. I could only see one reference to India’s substantial armaments and that is by one of the few women who contribute an essay, Anu Aga, who says “[Gandhi’s] own India exploded a nuclear device in 1974 euphemistically calling it a peaceful nuclear explosion. The second explosion happened in 1998 and almost every Indian applauded. By joining the nuclear weapons race, we have turned our backs on the concept of Ahimsa and have further diverted our country’s scarce resources that could have been used for taking care of the poor.” But I wonder how many of the authors would agree with that statement. Nor are the negative effects that often accompany development tackled.
Nevertheless, there is much stimulating material in these essays and the idea that inspired it has been fulfilled to a considerable extent. The book is also an attractive hardback publication enhanced by line drawings of all the authors to accompany the short biographies.
George Paxton
The book can be ordered through a website http://www.timelessinspirator.com although the price in £ is not given.
Or contact Prof Narinder Kapur at narinder.kapur1@gmail.com
A kindle edition is also available at Amazon.co.uk

Mahatma Gandhi: A Father with No Nation – by Bhikhu Parekh

Mahatma Gandhi has most probably realised his ambition of attaining moksha [spiritual liberation] and is unlikely to return to earth. However, should he do so, he would be deeply disturbed by many aspects of contemporary India. He would be shocked at the corrosive corruption that has spread to all walks of life and eroded the great moral capital that he and his colleagues left behind by exemplifying in their lives the highest norms of public life. It is not the petty corruption of a junior government officer that would have worried him, but rather the way in which the common good of the country is constantly sacrificed at the altar of sectional and individual interest and the almost total absence of embarrassment and guilt with which it is done.

Gandhiji would be even more saddened by the depth and extent of poverty. On the official criteria of earning one dollar a day, 25% of our people live below the poverty line. But if this poverty were to be defined in terms of calorie consumption and the satisfaction of basic needs, the figure would rise to 60%. Gandhiji would see this as nothing short of a national shame. He would consider it a betrayal of his legacy that no systematic movement has been mounted for the abolition of poverty and the growing economic inequality in the 60 odd years of India’s Independence.

He would be equally disturbed by the country’s lack of an inspiring moral vision. It has set its eyes on becoming an economic super power by 2020 on a growth rate of between 5 and 7 percent. Gandhi would want to know the point of this. Economic growth exploits nature, creates deep inequality, puts enormous pressure on social and political institutions and encourages mindless consumerism. At best, it can be a means to a worthwhile goal but never an end in itself. Gandhiji would want to know what great moral and political ideals we intend to realise by means of economic growth and how we intend to make India a humane and compassionate society.

Gandhi would have been shocked by the increasing cultural philistinism and lack of moral idealism of the new middle class, on which he had placed his hopes for Independent India. The middle class of his time had a strong social conscience. It was bi-cultural and at ease with both the Indian and the Western tradition. It was both rooted and open, and took a morally serious approach to human life. It had certain standards by which it aspired to live and felt guilty when it could not.

The new middle class could not be more different. It lacks social conscience and has little regard for the worse off. It is rootless and is neither well versed in its own traditions, nor in those of the West. It is culturally and economically insecure and prone to panic. Its primary concern is to make money and spend it in shallow pursuits.

Faced with all this, what would Gandhiji have done? First, he would have mounted a campaign of satyagrahas against clearly identified and suitably dramatised cases of inequality and injustice. In doing so he would have offered the victims of injustices a badly needed alternative to Naxalism. Second, he would have built up a nationwide cadre (lok sevak sangh) of committed workers, dispersed them in villages and expected them to attend to local problems and act as a powerful check on the local power structure. Third, he would have set a personal example of incorruptibility and inspired his close colleagues to do the same. Fourth, he would have thrown up a political movement that would have cleared away the decaying and unprincipled political parties and created a space for the emergence of new ones. Finally, while confronting a situation like the destruction of the Babri Mosque in 1992, he would have explored all possible political ways of resolving the issue peacefully.

He would have put pressure on Hindu and Muslim religious leaders to work out a compromise, which was not impossible and perhaps suggested building a multi-religious complex around it to symbolise India’s commitment to religious pluralism. If Hindus had still insisted on destroying the mosque, he would have seen it as a grave violation of their great tradition of tolerance and an indelible stain on the national conscience. He would have felt that he had no choice but to embark upon a fast, even perhaps a fast unto death, to save the honour of the religion and the country that he loved more than his own life.

Lord Bhikhu Parekh is Vice-President of the Gandhi Foundation and a Professor at the
Centre for the Study of Democracy in the University of Westminster.

Mahatma Gandhi and Environment Protection – by Anupma Kaushik

Mahatma Gandhi never used the words environment protection however what he said and did makes him an environmentalist. Although during his time environmental problems were not recognized as such however with his amazing foresight and insight he predicted that things are moving in the wrong direction. As early as in 1909 in his book Hind Swaraj he cautioned mankind against unrestricted industrialism and materialism.

He did not want India to follow the west in this regard and warned that if India, with its vast population, tried to imitate the West then the resources of the earth will not be enough. He argued even in 1909 that industrialization and machines have an adverse effect on the health of people. Although he was not opposed to machines as such, he definitely opposed the large scale use of machinery. He criticized people for polluting the rivers and other water bodies. He criticized mills and factories for polluting the air with smoke and noise.

What he advocated in place of industrialism and consumerism was a simple life based on physical labour. He implored people to “live simply so that others may simply live”. For he believed that earth provides “enough to satisfy every man’s need but not any man’s greed”. So the rich must not only restrict their wants but must also treat their wealth as a ‘trust’ for the poor and use it for the welfare of the poor. This can be done only if people can distinguish between their real needs and artificial wants and control the later.

To him the real need meant to posses only what is absolutely necessary for the moment. To him this would not only help the unprivileged of today but would help protect the environment for the next generation as to him the earth, the air, the land and the water were not an inheritance from our forefathers but a loan from our children. So we have to hand over to the next generation at least as it was handed over to us.

He also believed that one must “be the change that one wants to see in the world” and hence he practiced what he preached. His life was his message. So he and his wife gave away all their property. They had nothing beyond the clothes that they wore and a change or two. He used scraps of papers to write brief notes and reversed envelopes for reuse to send letters. Even when he used to bathe with water of the free flowing Sabarmati river he consciously used only the minimum water needed for taking a bath. However he did not equate simple living with abject poverty. In fact he believed that to deny a person the ordinary amenities of life is far worse than starving the body. It is starving the soul – the dweller in the body. To him poverty was the most severe polluter. Hence poverty must be eradicated and that can be done only when everybody is taking their own share and not grabbing others’ share by limiting their needs and sharing their resources.

However his concerns were not limited to human beings alone as he had a very strong sense of the unity of all life. He believed that all creatures had the right to live as much as human beings and felt a living bond between humans and the rest of the animate world. He believed that humans should live in harmony with their surroundings.

The best part of Gandhi’s ideas was that they empower the individual. It is up to each and every individual to simplify his or her life; to share his or her resources and to care for his and her surroundings.

Dr Anupma Kaushik is Reader in Political Science, Banasthali University, Rajasthan, India.

Sustainable Development or Sustainable Lifestyle? – by M.R. Rajgopalan

It is now six decades since India became independent. When we start reflecting on our achievements, the scenario is somewhat odd: We have nuclear bombs and missiles and rockets and satellites side by side with bullock carts and hand pulled rickshaws. We have five star hotels with luxuries and comforts matching the best in the world. Right outside the hotels within a walkable distance one can see the poor living on foot-paths. Five to ten percent of our population is leading a luxurious life indulging in hyper consumerism. At the bottom, thirty to forty percent of the population barely manages to get a square meal per day – they often do not have proper shelter or clothing and sleep on empty stomachs. The remaining thirty to forty percent lead lives with various inadequacies and discomforts.

What has gone wrong? We have passed through ten five year plans for industrialising the nation, creating infrastructure facilities and village development. In villages, some roads, some hospitals some school buildings did appear. There was an improvement in farming techniques. Yet only the well-todo section of the villages got the benefits. The landless poor did not benefit from these schemes.


Development of any kind – be it urban or rural including sustainable development is problematic. The process of development means setting up of industries and creating job opportunities. There are the problems of environmental pollution, soil degradation, exhaustion of earth’s resources etc. Since the time of the Industrial Revolution development has been proportional to exploitation of the earth’s resources such as cutting down whole forests for charcoal, construction materials, firewood, furniture etc. The smoke emitted by the factories created atmospheric pollution. The use of petroleum fuels – Petrol, Diesel and Kerosene – as energy sources started in the first half of the 20th century and has reached maximum levels now. All of us know that petroleum is nonrenewable and the cars, power stations and factories, even as they play a vital role in development, are the main cause for earth’s pollution to dangerous levels. To quote Ranjit Chaudhuri:

“There is a fear that global famine of resources is impending. It is true that the industrial progress has brought many comforts and made some nations affluent. But it has made the world as a whole poor. Industrialisation has made the earth poor in respect of natural resources, fossil fuel, mineral resources, greenery, maritime resources, sanitation, health and ecology.”

Factories have rendered forests and greenery into deserts. The gulf between the rich and the poor has widened. Peace in the society and health of the people are deteriorating, violence and diseases are flourishing. Viewed in this background even ‘sustainable development’ would be a difficult proposition. That is the reason for the title of this paper. Sustainable lifestyle should be viewed in the perspective of the culture of the nation.

In ancient India, millennia ago, sages and saints lived in forests. The Upanishads containing the essence of Indian Philosophy were created in the forests. The ashrams, which were the places of learning, were located in the forests. Our sages lived in harmony with the plants and animals of the forests. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The whole earth is a family) concept was born in our jungles. Our forefathers perceived gods in the forces of nature. Air was Vayu Bhagawan, thunder and lightning – Indira, water was Varuna, earth was Prithvi, sun was Sungod, Fire was Agni and so on. In our contemporary world, these gods denote the earth and atmosphere and space. Life on earth is possible because of these forces. Mother earth sustains all life on the earth.

“From the centre of this world, the Sun radiates energy to the whole world – let us worship it” says Rig Veda.

The message from Yajur Veda is “Let there be Peace in space, Peace on this earth, Peace in the atmosphere and may the waterways and all things living prosper”.

Singing these lines if we pray to God will bring peace and happiness in the minds of those who sing and listen. Apart from the Vedas and Upanishads our Puranas and Itihasas like Ramayana and Mahabharata also contain such noble ideas. All these great works were created in verdant forests by great sages who lived in harmony with their surroundings. It is doubtful whether such noble ideas could evolve in multistoried buildings under ceiling fans and air conditioners. In truth, such a phenomenon has not occurred in this world. Gandhiji travelled through the whole of India in bullock carts and in third class compartments of trains. He lived in hutments of the Harijan busties. But for such a way of life he would not have become Mahatma.

Kumarappa, the Gandhian economist, guides us towards a sustainable life style. In his famous work Economy of Permanence he describes five types of economies in nature:

  1. Parasitic economy: Some plants which take nourishment from other plants are called parasites. The host plant which provides the nourishment often dies. While the sheep and cattle live on grass nonviolently, the tiger which eats them is violent and is a parasite. A parasitic economy is both destructive and violent.
  2. Predatory economy: The monkey which feasts on mangoes gets the benefit of its food without contributing to the growth of the trees. That way monkey is a predator. This economy is less violent but destructive.
  3. Economy of enterprise: The honey bee visiting a flower gets pollen and nectar as food. The honey-bee in turn facilitates pollination among flowers leading to the formation of seeds and propagation of plants. This is economy of enterprise – constructive and mutually beneficial.
  4. Economy of aggregation: Continuing with the honey bees, Kumarappa describes how the bees live in colonies and each bee contributes to the welfare of the colony. They have overcome self-interest and act for group interest.
  5. Economy of service: Kumarappa rates this type of economy as the best. He describes how the mother bird makes all efforts to feed young ones and risks its life when faced with enemies.

Sustainable life style could be achieved by adopting the following steps:

  1. Sustainable agriculture: We should give up chemical fertilizers and pesticides and substitute them with bio-manures and bio-pesticides. Vermi culture and vermi compost is a must for restoring the health of the soil.
  2. Khadi & Village Industries are eco friendly. They create employment and help in poverty alleviation. We have to encourage and promote Khadi and products of Village Industries.
  3. Appropriate technologies: We should adopt technologies which are simple and which our villagers are able to comprehend and operate themselves. Use of electricity should be avoided or kept to the minimum extent.
  4. Use of renewable energy sources: Coal and petroleum are nonrenewable energy sources and are getting exhausted very fast. Solar energy is limitless and inexhaustible. We can harness solar energy for heating and lighting. Water and wind energies can also be harnessed for producing electricity.
  5. Sylviculture – or growing trees: Cutting down of trees for fuel and construction of houses is inevitable. Our policy should be to plant two trees for every tree we cut. Trees as a source of energy is non-renewable if we only cut them and do not grow them.

Lewis Thomas has something to say about our attitude towards the earth:

“Except for us, the life of the planet conducts itself as though it were an immense, coherent body of connected life, an intricate system, an organism. Our deepest folly is the notion that we are in charge of the place, that we own it and can somehow run it. We are living part of Earth’s life, owned and operated by the Earth probably specialised for functions on its behalf that we have not yet glimpsed”.

At this juncture I cannot help referring to Gandhiji’s famous saying:

“The earth has enough resources for our needs – not for our greed”.

If we follow Kumarappa’s advice – especially the economy of cooperation of the honey bees and that of service of the birds, keeping Gandhiji’s ideals in mind we can surely achieve a sustainable lifestyle.

Rajagopalan is Secretary of the Gandhigram Trust, Tamil Nadu


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