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The HerKey Dialogues with Rohini Nilekani September 2020 Give to Grow

Sep 22, 2020

0:00:04 Neha: Thank you everyone for joining us today, and a very, very big thank you to Rohini who agreed to take some time out and speak to our HerKey Club, and I have a feeling that she agreed because the email invitation that I sent to her I very clearly stated what the theme of our month is. And as all of you know that we are kick starting the month of September with the theme, Give to Grow: Building your Leadership Brand by Giving Back. And which is why when we thought about this theme, the first person who popped into our head was Rohini, because that’s exactly what we have seen her do and achieve in her life, where the kind of growth that we have seen her achieve by the act of giving has been incredible and we’re very, very excited Rohini to have you speak to us today.

0:00:58 Rohini: Thank you.

0:01:00 Neha: Of course, as all of you know, that any time you’ll have any questions coming up during the course of this interview, please go ahead and start putting it in chat so that then we can call out your name once I’m done… I promise I won’t hog all the time with Rohini. Once I am done with my fill, then I can call out to you, you can introduce yourself and ask your question to Rohini. Yeah, but do put it on chat so that I know to call on you. Okay, so a quick introduction to Rohini even though she doesn’t need one, but Rohini Nilekani is an Indian writer, an author and a philanthropist. She’s the Founder-Chairperson of Arghyam Foundation, which is a non-profit that focuses on water and sanitation issues, and it was founded 20 years ago. That’s right. Right Rohini?

0:01:49 Neha: So we’re celebrating the 20th year of her baby which has grown by leaps and bounds now. And she serves as a co-founder and director of EkStep as well, which is a non-profit education platform. So Rohini, you have obviously been involved in a lot of different philanthropic initiatives, and it will be lovely to hear a little bit about your journey in philanthropy. What got you started, and how you chose, what is it that you’re passionate about and how you grew in that?

0:02:24 Rohini: Okay, that’s a big, big… First of all, thank you so much, Neha, thank you everybody. Thank you for all the women who have made time out in the evening when usually your families are demanding your time, to listen to me, and to share this conversation, which I hope will be interactive after the first few question rounds. So I think it’s a very important thing that has been started, this HerKey Club because women do need platforms where they can share and learn from each other too. So my journey of philanthropy began a very long time ago, actually, I combined the idea of philanthropy with also kind of, activist nature that I have. I was a journalist earlier and so as a journalist also I used to take up societal issues, and so I was a philanthropist also. I focused on a lot of societal issues that I call samaj-based issues.

0:03:18 Rohini: So actually, I started a non-profit in ’92 when my kids were real bachas because one of my dear friends had died in a road accident, and I thought somebody should do something to make India’s roads safer because we still remain the number one nation in road deaths. 150,000 people die unnecessarily every day on our roads, and so I started this little NGO with some really big names, Kiran Mazumdar and Jagdeesh Raja, and so many people. And for a few years we battled with this, but it was before it’s time, we were not very strategic and so it sort of faded out, but it taught me a lot of lessons about starting something, being an entrepreneur. I was a social entrepreneur, you are all entrepreneurs, and so that was my first lesson, starting something new and failing very rapidly, learning and moving on.

0:04:14 Rohini: In 1999, Madhukar, a person called Madhukar who was with Pratham came to me and said, “We need to work on children’s education in Karnataka and Bangalore. Will you join us?” And I was very ready at that time. So in 2000, I joined Akshara Foundation, which was actually set up by the Karnataka government as a public-private partnership to get all children into school and learning well as part of the Pratham Network. So I chaired that for a few years. We did a lot of work, and it continues to do extremely good work today, but I quit a long time ago in 2007. But in 2001, I set up Arghyam, and in 2004 I co-founded Pratham Books with the… And that was a real entrepreneurial exercise because the goal was to put a book in every child’s hand, and we meant it, so for that we had to completely disrupt the world of children’s publishing, we had to open out the idea of story creation, and today… Again, I left that in 2014. It continues to do even better than before, it has launched a platform called StoryWeaver, which any of you who have children can look at and get free stories in up to 200 languages.

0:05:30 Rohini: So I learned about how you create… Actually, it was part business in the sense we also sold books, and part philanthropy, because I put in a lot of the initial capital for it. So I learned rapidly how to do things at more and more scale. Arghyam continues, I continue to chair it. With Nandan in 2014 we started EkStep Foundation. Today it has been… We helped the Government of India and several states to put together the DIKSHA education platform, and it has scaled up very rapidly. In fact today’s numbers were that 12 lakh teachers have been trained, and some 175 million sessions have happened on that platform already. So going from very small nagrik standing on the corner of MG Road trying to make traffic better and failing, and to come into EkStep has been a journey.

0:06:27 Rohini: And all of that, we are putting our personal philanthropic capital into all these organisations, and we also support… I also support the dozens of other organisations around the country in areas such as independent media, environment is a big theme for me, access to justice and…

0:06:48 Rohini: I’m forgetting a few. Yes, I have a gender portfolio, it’s on young men and boys, and because I believe that we have to get to the source of any problem, and what is the reason why we have such horrendous news coming out about women every day. It’s because maybe we haven’t focused enough on the 200 million young men, males of India and what they are going through, and both for their own sake, and certainly for the sake of women, we need to create a lot of positive programs for them, so that’s one more of my portfolios. That was a very long answer to your short question. I’ll stop there.

0:07:28 Neha: That was fantastic Rohini, and in fact, you can count on HerKey members supporting an initiative that will change the mindset of young boys and men. Yeah. Please do let us know, anyway that all of us can help collectively. But you know Rohini one big question is that, in a country like India especially… I mean, the kind of problems that we can get involved in, are a dime a dozen. Yeah, I mean you just look around you and there are only problems, problems, problems. How do you pick and choose? How do you not get overwhelmed by the fact that there is so much out there, how do you also realise that, hey, every drop in the ocean makes the ocean? How did you go about this whole mindset and choosing the different initiatives that you wanted to be part of?

0:08:14 Rohini: Yeah. No, so I think the main thing is, for me, it was, what kind of society do I want to be a part of? What kind of society do I myself want to live in, right? Do I want it to be this unjust? Do I want there to be so many people who are losing agency for themselves? Do we want to leave for our next next next generations a really destructed natural habitat? So once you start asking those questions, you begin to think, where is my interest? And so, of course, in our case, to be very honest and fair, we became extremely wealthy, and it took me years to understand, that this wealth… I used to be very nervous about being wealthy because when I was younger in India, when we grew up in the 70s and as teenagers, wealth in India, was not looked at like something great, okay. In those days it was more sort of how, it used to be a socialist mindset, but more than that, the way… People always thought, if you are wealthy you must have done some gocha-pocha. Otherwise, there is no way, you can be honestly wealthy in India. To some extent, that was true also then.

0:09:24 Rohini: So when we became wealthy without doing gocha-pocha because Infosys was setup, we just happened to be in the right place, in the right industry, at the right time, when Nandan Murthy and everybody set up Infosys, we were really lucky, you know, the government was beginning to open up, the sector was not under government control. So we were able to make legitimate wealth. But as the wealth became so much, unprecedented, who would have thought we would become so wealthy, the responsibility of that wealth began to sort of weigh on me, and I had to work my way out of it and say, it can turn into an opportunity.

0:09:58 Rohini: Once I’ve made the mental switch that it can be an opportunity, then to answer your question, you have to start with, where is your passion? What are you most interested in changing? Like I said, in 92, when my kids were small, I said, the roads have to be safer. It could be anything at all, it could be how to do better online classes, if your children are as I heard earlier, jumping all around. How do we make it better for children? It could be anything at all, begin where your heart is, begin where you feel something needs to change, and then you know things just start to open up after that, because as you know, once we pay attention to something, then we begin to discover its nuances, we begin to discover opportunities, everything starts to fall into place.

0:10:44 Neha: Awesome. So but Rohini what were the challenges? Yeah, like tell us a little bit about how difficult it was also this journey of creating change. What are some of the biggest obstacles and how did you overcome them?

0:10:57 Rohini: See, creating social change, as everyone knows is far more difficult than even creating a successful business, and you know the biggest businessmen in the world have acknowledged this and spoken openly how it was easier for them to create these global businesses than to create change at the smallest level, social change. Because it’s… The incentives for change are so different in businesses and in… Say what consumers need you can find out, what societies need and are willing to do to create that change is much harder. So the difficulties really is that the effort and the outcome are not proportionate. You can put in tons of effort, tons of money, tons of resources, tons of passion, commitment, whatever, but you cannot linearly expect the outcomes to follow. I mean, even in business, that’s somewhat true, but in societal change, you have to be extraordinarily patient to see outcomes, and they may not be exactly what you thought they would be when you started on your journey.

0:12:02 Rohini: So you have to keep on experimenting, discarding what doesn’t work, keep on co-creating with others because this is about social change, not about your own change. So you learn very fast how to work with state actors, with governments, you learn quickly how to work with civil society institutions, right? You learn to accept failure and then you learn to keep the spirit of innovation going, I’m sure all of you do this everyday in your businesses, it’s not that different, but I think outcomes, lasting outcomes are harder to achieve, and you have to humbly accept that. You have to very humbly accept that and keep on trying.

0:12:48 Neha: Yeah, I think lasting outcomes and also measurable outcomes.

0:12:51 Rohini: Yes.

0:12:52 Neha: Yeah. I mean, this is not a one plus one equals two. And I put in this is my input metric, I will get this output metric and I am done.

0:13:01 Rohini: Exactly.

0:13:02 Neha: So Rohini, in fact many of the things that we talked about now if we extend this whole concept to leadership, and what is it that… What kind of leadership lessons can you glean from these journeys? You just spoke about accepting failure, you spoke about cooperating with so many other bodies, yeah. How can this really help in building leadership skills and creating that leadership goodwill as well?

0:13:29 Rohini: Yeah, so I think in your businesses or in your entrepreneurial set-ups, of course there is a starting phase where everybody has to buy into the vision and the idea. Otherwise you will never get the next member and the next team member and the next team member. So whoever is the founder and I assume many of you are the founders.

0:13:53 Neha: Yeah, Rohini, we have a combination of entrepreneurs as well as senior women professionals as well.

0:13:58 Rohini: Right, right, fine. So even if you’re leading a team or leading some division in your company, I think first of all, standing behind that vision, whatever that is, whether it’s the deliverables of a division in your company or whether it’s a startup that has a very clear goal of where it wants to go, I think the leader has to hold that vision in a very clear way. Not in a clouded way. It has to be very clear and the commitment to that vision has to be quite visible. The minute that vision is held in an authentic way, it transfers to everybody else. I genuinely believe that. I believe in the power of intent. Then… So the power of intent means the first thing, whatever it is, a non-profit, for-profit, you should know why you want to do something, and you should also know how you are going to do something, not in terms of which sales team should deliver what. But what are the ethical grounding by which you will do something. So the ends and means… A question at some point you all will keep on hitting, you have to be somewhat clear what values are going to guide you. And that transfers to your team very quickly.

0:15:15 Rohini: Secondly, I would say once the power of the intent and the goals and all are very clear, I think the grammar of the intent… How do you translate the power of that intent into the grammar of the intent? I think a leader will help the team to write out the articles of that grammar, that we will do this, we will do this because we want to achieve this. And I think that co-creation by the team, that translates the intent into actual outcomes. I think what everyone calls team leaders, you want to build teams, team building, I think good leaders always create space for good followers, they also create space for co-leaders, you can have a very flat and horizontal structure, but sometimes you don’t… Sometimes you have hierarchical structures, but people must feel comfortable with your leadership.

0:16:10 Neha: So that’s fantastic actually. And I see that a lot in [0:16:12] ____ as well. Having that shared vision with the [0:16:16] ____ team members, that’s what’s really driven our culture forward. So Rohini, how do you see that then extending to the company that you’re in, to your family, to the society and finally to the economy?

0:16:33 Rohini: Yeah, I mean, that’s a big question but… It’s really not very different. In our families as women, we tend to take charge and people let us take charge also. That’s the one place where people listen to you. There’s enough of those jokes around that my wife is my boss and all, it’s never really true. But in the sense women have the space in their homes and families to create a positive culture. That’s very important. You can create a positive culture with your children, your extended family, to say that we are not just family, we are a community, we are a country, we are globe, whatever it is. That we are more than this unit because we are interconnected to everything else outside. So to bring in some of those stories, to bring in the idea of nurturing more than just our private space, I think it’s something that all of us can do in our homes and families. And to do that, you have to experiment a little outside your home. You have to try to get involved in something beyond the family, beyond your workplace. That’s where Samaj is. That’s where the whole world is. That’s where also the biggest experimentation lab is.

0:17:46 Rohini: That’s where you can innovate. That’s where you can learn so many lessons and bring them back to your family or to your company. Find something that interests you outside your home and work, and then bring those lessons back, so that your children also get interested in larger issues of society. Otherwise, Neha, one of the things I worry about is it’s become much harder to be a good citizen now and much easier to be a good subject or a good consumer. Because companies easily make you a good consumer, today I have choice at my fingertips. Right? I can be a consumer every second of the day or I can be a subject of the state. And today globally states have becomes so powerful, so powerful that if I don’t think, I can just turn myself into a subject and say, “Well, I’m paying my taxes, that’s enough.” But to be a good citizen, to create the kind of society you want to live in, requires you to step outside yourself, step outside your family and step outside your workplace. It also gives tremendous personal growth and satisfaction, I can vouch for that.

0:19:00 Neha: Wow, fantastic Rohini. I am totally inspired. I really feel that it takes each one of us to actually change the world that we live in. So when we’re talking about citizen also… How do you feel it plays out when we look at problems that are relevant to India per se versus look at problems on a global scale?

0:19:23 Rohini: See some of us may have the opportunity to worry about global problems or think about global problems, some of us… It depends at what level you want to be… In the beginning you can’t start worrying about global problems. I think if you can, however, even if you work on… We have a phrase in Sanskrit, “Pindi te Brahmandi.”

0:19:40 Rohini: Means whatever is in The Brahmanda is also in the Pinda, Pinda is the small bija, the small atom, and Brahmanda is the whole universe. But they are not so different. What is in the universe is also in that atom, the design is the same. So, to understand that even if you’re focusing on something that… Forget about national, even if it is just with your residential block, it’s not going to be that different from the globe, okay? Human beings are the same, it’s just at a higher scale. So it doesn’t matter at what scale you intervene, it’s about how you intervene, and it’s about understanding how everything is connected to everything else.

0:20:24 Rohini: The World Wide Web is not just the Internet, it’s the web of personal connections. See we now know that one grandmother sneezed in Wuhan, and all of us are doing this program virtually instead of meeting each other, how much everything is connected to everything else. There are wild fires in California, but people in the Midwest of the US are getting affected. I mean, everything is very connected. If we understand those connections, then whether we are operating at a global level or just in our residential locality, we will be more effective. That’s what I feel.

0:21:00 Neha: Awesome. So it actually doesn’t matter, just get started, right? That’s your message. Super. Rohini, I’m gonna take some questions from the members, yeah, and then I can… I’ll jump back in a little bit later. Ganga, would you like to ask your question to Rohini? And it’d be lovely if…

0:21:17 Ganga: Sure.

0:21:17 Neha: When you’ll are asking questions, please introduce yourselves, preferably on video. We are all at home, so it’s fine if you are looking disheveled.


0:21:27 Ganga: Thank you so much, Neha. Rohini, thank you, it’s been such a pleasure to listen to you so far. And thank you also for the utter honesty with which you spoke about what you felt about the wealth that you came into, and the difficulties of that. I work with Exelon, I head marketing for the APAC region. But on the side, I also follow a passion, which is to do with the river, Kaveri. Partly because I come from Coorg, where the river is born, and she’s such a strong cultural symbol for all of us. At the same time, she’s a source of life in large parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. I drive a lot of communication and awareness efforts around what we want to do for the river, but it’s really hard to raise funds. And my question to you is, as a philanthropist, how do you decide what to support and what not? Because I’m trying to figure… What I do so well in my corporate life, how do I bring that same sort of success into something that means so much more to me?

0:22:26 Rohini: Yeah. No, it’s a good question. It’s not easy to raise funds. So as a fairly big philanthropist, we have pledged, Nandan and I have pledged to give away half our wealth. And we want to do it in our lifetime, and it’s not so easy to give away that money, but see, so many… We get so many requests, we can’t give to everybody because at the end of it, in the philanthropy, you have to have some kind of structure. Otherwise there’ll be chaos, right? And unfortunately we have to say [0:22:55] ____. Any philanthropist will… Anybody, even with a little… Doesn’t have to be at our level. Even a person who wants to give away something and wants to start, they should feel the connection to your cause. See sometimes we feel, my cause is so great, why don’t people give money to… But, when I did Safer Roads and I’ll go, it’s such an obvious thing, I’ll say, “What? They should support”, but that’s not it. We have to be able to carry our stories well, people have to be able to connect with the issue that we are caring about, even though there is moral undeniability, but connection should be made.

0:23:32 Rohini: It is an art, fundraising. Actually, lot more people are trying to help people raise funds. There are courses and stuff online in case you want to think about that, but I would suggest… There are also some donor platforms like Give India and others, they have created these market places where donors and people who need funds can meet. So look out for those market places, and try to find people in your community also are affected by your issue. Right now, it’s the Kaveri, every one is affected by water issues. But to do that, I would say, like you would do in your marketing and sales departments, do the right kind of storytelling, okay?

0:24:14 Rohini: Just look at a organization called Wildlife SOS. Just by creating really great stories about the animals that they try to rescue, they’re able to raise a lot of money very effectively. So I think storytelling has become a very important part of fundraising. It has be an authentic story, which connects people. Good luck.

0:24:37 Ganga: Thank you.

0:24:38 Neha: And no one better to do it, Ganga, than you. All your marketing lessons, you can implement it into this now.

0:24:44 Ganga: True. [chuckle] Thank you so much.

0:24:47 Neha: Good luck, Ganga.

0:24:48 Rohini: It’s a very important cause. Saving our rivers and regenerating our rivers is a hugely important thing, for not just the ecology, but also the economy of this country.

0:25:01 Ganga: Yeah, yeah. Thank you.

0:25:03 Neha: Awesome. Thank you. Anita, would you like to ask your question? And please do introduce yourself.

0:25:08 Anita: Oh. Thanks, Neha. Hi, Rohini. It is so awesome to meet you and to hear from you.

0:25:15 Rohini: Thank you.

0:25:16 Anita: And the need from each of us to step out to create a society we deserve to be in, so beautifully stated, thanks for taking the time to be here with us today.

0:25:27 Rohini: Thank you.

0:25:27 Anita: I am Anita Alexander, I’m a Senior Director for Technology at Wabtec. You mentioned about humbly accepting failures and keep going without letting the spirit of innovation die. What do you tell yourselves, when you fail to positively motivate yourselves? Or, what has helped you develop this muscle to recoup and keep going?

0:25:49 Rohini: Yeah. No, that’s a good question. It’s not that you don’t, sometime you feel really, “Oh my God, how did this happen?” You must allow yourself to grieve over failure. It’s not like this false positivism, okay? It’s not, “Oh, I failed. Okay, let me be cheerful about it”. That won’t work. It has to be an authentic process, so you have to say… You have to grieve over that failure, then you have to spend some time analyzing that failure. It’s very important, and then you can say, “Why you want to try again? Right. There must be some spark, it could be as simple as that I’ve to earn my salary so I’ve to do this, that’s fine.


0:26:33 Anita: That’s very true.

0:26:34 Rohini: Some incentive little there to try again, right? So bank on that incentive and you know lean into the incentive because there’s a genuine possibility that you’ll learn and succeed next time and then that keeps you going. If you experience one failure followed by somewhat success, and failure and success need not be at the global scale, okay, they can be at any scale. You learn that failures are going to be part of the journey. There is nobody who has not failed obviously, so you just pick up and keep on. It’s one step at a time. And we don’t want to glorify failure either, okay, by mistake also let’s not glorify failure. We are not trying to fail. [0:27:20] ____ that we are trying to succeed but failure will come. It is going to be our companion. And so to be able to be… The humility is important because failure teaches you, you’re not so great after all but then you try to become great by continuing in the face of failure, that became… That helps us to become great and not just feel great, that we continue in the face of failure.

0:27:46 Rohini: So there’s a lot of people in the corporate sector, there must be hundreds of TED Talks on this topic. So I just… [laughter] [0:27:55] ____ that’s okay.

0:28:00 Anita: Yeah, thank you so much. Thank you.

0:28:01 Neha: Thanks, Anita and thank you Rohini for not saying that we should celebrate failure. Yeah, because I also find it very difficult to celebrate failure. [laughter] It makes you feel happy to have the space to breathe my failure and learn from it and move on. Thank you for that. Thank you Anita for the question. So Surovi do you have a question?

0:28:21 Surovi: Yes, Neha. Just give me one second. Hi Rohini. I am Surovi. I lead the Diversity and Inclusion practice for Hinduja Global Solution. I think your session has been so filled with insights as well as funny anecdotes. I mean there is rarely a session where you can have your thoughts as well as your funny moments. Let me also tell you that this is one of those sessions where I’ve been taking notes so frantically because I feel like I’ll miss out on some of the precious words coming out of your mouth.

0:28:56 Rohini: They’re are recording it. Are you recording it? Yeah, they’ll give it to you. [chuckle]

0:29:00 Surovi: So, your candid-ness and your honesty about some of the things are so relatable. I mean you often look people with a lot of wealth on a certain mantle and it’s very difficult to then relate to them, right? You kind of feel that you… Like you said, they have the wealth, kuch gochi kiya hoga…

[foreign language]

0:29:22 Surovi: That sort of a thing. And one of the things that I kind of resonated with me was also in Melinda Gates book, The Moment of Lift, she also talks about very, very similar things as well and it was so refreshing to hear it from you coming from a real life person, not someone who I haven’t met. The question that I wanted to ask you Rohini was that considering both you and Nandan have been so immensely successful in whichever ways that you chose. I have two questions to this actually. So one was, did anyone have to take a backseat at at any point of time in terms of their careers of… When you are… Obviously, we live in an Indian set up, you know, we have our own priorities, all of us. So did anyone have to take a backseat, number one. And two knowing that you know… Did you ever kind of with the one person’s success, with each person’s success as a couple, did you ever feel being overshadowed or did he ever feel being overshadowed in any of the things that you were doing?

0:30:30 Rohini: No, I think they’re both very good questions and I’m happy to answer them as honestly as I can. I must say that see, Infosys was such a big idea, right? We got married at the same time as Infosys was born, okay. So from the beginning, the idea of Infosys was bigger than all of us, okay. Because they were like these professional, seven of them came together and under Murthy’s leadership said, “We’re going to change the way entrepreneurship in India is done and perceived” and so Infosys was the biggest thing in our life so let me not pretend that it didn’t come first. Okay, so yes, we… First of all, both of us in some sense, held the idea of Infosys bigger than us, right and that’s why there was a lot of delayed gratification that we accepted because we thought that… That’s why I’ve said that if you stand behind a vision and mission that is collectively accepted, other things seem smaller and that seems bigger so you’re able to do that. So definitely our personal lives took a bit of a backseat, but you know, we were young, it… For us it was no big deal. I mean some of the people who were older and for them they were older and for them it was more serious, we were just married, we were young, we were free, we were able to manage.

0:31:45 Rohini: But as Nandan be… As they became more and more successful and more and more obsessed with their work 24×7, let me not pretend it was really hard because he had no time for the kids even if he wanted to because they were literally working all the time. So at that time, I used to feel a bit frustrated because I had to be alone with the kids a lot and some of you… Those who have to stay at home with kids and we want to do things outside is not… Sometimes you feel lonely. Right, you feel like, “Where are all the other intelligent people in the world gone? So definitely, I went through that phase and which is why I started slowly coming out of it as the kids grew up. For six years, I stayed with the kids because I felt they really needed somebody who was there and I was lucky enough to be able to do that. Everybody can’t do that. I was able to and I made that choice, journalists can do that, you know, take a break and start again, so I did that.

0:32:38 Rohini: And then later you asked about being overshadowed so definitely Nandan was so big that I had to carve out my identity for myself. It was an effort. It took 10, 20 years to do that. Today, I feel very secure that I have my identity, that is in some sense, because we are both philanthropists, the philanthropy part is joined, the rest is very separate because Nandan and I are quite different in the work we do, in the way we think, etcetera, but now I’m comfortable in my identity. But it did take some time. Is Nandan feeling overshadowed by me? Somehow I don’t think so but you should ask him that, not me.

0:33:17 Rohini: I hope he would be, but he’s not going to be, he’s very very secure in himself, so I doubt that, and nor does he ever ever attempt to overshadow me. He has never stopped me from… I’m not saying he has the power to stop me, because I’m very strong, but even suppose it was a more patriarchal situation, suppose, he would never do that. Every step, when I asked for help, when he could give that help, he gave it. So, that’s my again, very long answer to your two good questions.

0:33:47 Surovi: No, it was so candid, and again, yet again, these kind of answers, and like Neha was saying, thank God, you didn’t say, “Celebrate your success, celebrate your failures,” like that. Had you said, that it was all fine, it was all normal, the answer… Sometimes, those answers, with all the good intentions, make you feel that there’s something missing in your life, “This is not normal.” So thank you so much for this, Rohini.

0:34:12 Neha: Yeah, thank you, Surovi. And Rohini, I have to add, that… I don’t know if you remember, but I had met you, about 15 years ago, in Jamnagar, and I had of course, heard a lot about Nandan, I hadn’t yet heard about you then. I remember, when I had met the two of you together, you really stood out as a force to reckon with. And had made a very very huge impression on me, even then. So yeah, I can totally believe what you said that, I don’t think he ever had the power to overshadow you or dominate over you.

0:34:43 Rohini: No, no, he doesn’t try, believe me, he doesn’t try.

0:34:46 Neha: Good. Thank you, for that. Shruti, would you like to ask your question?

0:34:52 Shruti Choudhari: Yeah. Hi, good evening, Rohini. It was… My name is Shruti Choudhari, and I work in construction, I’m Deputy Director of BL Kashyap, which is a listed company. It was very refreshing, your insights and anecdotes, and I think it was a… I had a very, very long day, but the evening is even better, thanks to you.

0:35:13 Rohini: Good, good.

0:35:17 SC: I just had a…

0:35:17 Rohini: You look very bright. You don’t look at all like you had a long day.

0:35:19 SC: Yeah, yeah, I’ve been site visiting, today. Did you ever face a dilemma of values versus the goals, that you had set for yourself, and how did you reconcile the two, if there ever was a dilemma?

0:35:36 Rohini: That’s a very good question. I think, in my case, there have… I have dropped things, which don’t fit well with my values, okay, but then again, I have been in the very very fortunate space, to be able to do that. We have become financially independent, how many now, 20, 25 years ago? 25 years ago. For the first 13 years of Infosys, actually, we didn’t have much money at all, but later, we suddenly became very wealthy. So, financial issues were now, no longer an issue. And in those days also, before we became so wealthy, in fact, at Infosys also, when decisions came, that crossed between the value and something that had to be done, they’d always try to take that path, that was the right path. And similarly in our lives, and in all the institutions that I have been a part of, you have to be able to walk away from things that you don’t believe, fit your value system. And sometimes, in corporate… In the corporate sector, I think, many times… So for example, as citizens, all of us look the other way, when some really stupid situations, where government… Business only requires everybody to give something under the table, or whatever it is.

0:37:00 Rohini: I have never personally had to do that, because I don’t go in the construction industry or the property. The whole set up is like that. Sometimes, I say, our laws and our processes of doing business or just governing this country are so poor, and need to change so much, that when we wake up in the morning, we’ve probably broken three laws already, because there are so many laws, and so many contradict each other, that we all have to work to make this fairer, more transparent and more clean. But wherever possible, I would say, examine your values, don’t simply have too many values, it’s not like you need to have 75 commandments that you follow. But what are the very core ones that you will not budge for? I think that’s what makes our life, jewel like, precious, honest. That honesty of the core values that we hold. It could be anything, I’m not going to prescribe what values you should hold. Some are universal values. Thou shalt not murder, I think it’s quite a universal value, but we don’t have to worry about murdering people [0:38:06] ____.

0:38:09 SC: Also wanting to murder come in, that remains in the mind.

0:38:12 Rohini: I’ve been coming from that, but the smaller things that you have to deal with, that you have to look away. Right. I think there’s… When you are personally taking advantage of your power, or to actually create something unfair, I think that’s when your value system needs to kick in more strongly. If you’re doing something that has by default, become something everybody does, perhaps you have to look the other way, because otherwise, you’ll have to challenge the entire system. But wherever possible, we have been fortunate, I have been fortunate, that I have been able to walk away from things that have made me uncomfortable, everybody can’t do that, and I will not judge. I will just say, figure out what are your most core value, and at least try to hold them dear. Right.

0:39:04 SC: Yeah, thank you so much.

0:39:06 Neha: That’s fantastic. Thanks, Rohini, for yet some more practical advice. Great. Anupama, do you want to ask your question?

0:39:14 Anupama: Thank you, Neha. Hi, Rohini. I am a calisthenics and a body weight coach, and a year, about a year or so ago, I had a chance to be a part of a community, with these really raw, 18 to 25-year-olds, who were all about workouts and shredded bodies and etcetera. So since it was a community and I was relatively older, about 26 then, I wanted to inspire them to get into serving some social issues, maybe, at least try not to throw trash around or help in some sort of an organization, go teach kids or something but I failed so utterly, I could not even get them to think about it. So how do you suggest that we… Can make a change or inspire the youth because they have so much energy, you know, I want to use that. How do I get them to turn, turn around and take a notice of social challenges?

0:40:15 Rohini: It’s a very good question, it’s a very good question. It goes back to saying, just because something is good doesn’t mean everybody will join you, right? It’s not automatic. So one is I would say to you is, maybe these people you are with, get them to sit around casually and ask them, ask some leading questions, do some kind of scenario building, that suppose ABC was happening, and there’s this problem to be solved, how would you people go about solving it? Right? Let them put themselves in that problem-solving mental model, and let it not be about something that you want them to solve, let it be somebody else’s problem, then they’ll start to engage… It is easy to give advice about somebody else’s problem solving, so you start them on that, but then I would say what I have found is for things like what you are saying, Gandhigiri works the best. Okay? We have to lead by example. If I sit around saying, “You better do this,” they’re not… In fact, they are going to do the opposite, they are going to rebel. Like so, whether it’s about picking up trash, right, if they see you do it, they will do it. When we were in Delhi, when Nandan was in the government, outside our big fat Lutyens’ bungalow, there was one teawala, and all the people used to take these… Come there, take this paper cups and then throw them there. So ek din, do din, teen din…

[foreign language]

0:41:35 Rohini: First I said, “Why do that?” Then I realized, that’s not what will do it. And then without judging those people because for them what was it, nothing. They were drinking the tea and poor things probably going to work somewhere else, construction workers, other people, they were just throwing the cup because there was no other place to throw it. And they were going on, they were not thinking about it. So, I went there for two, three days and picked up all the cups. And there was a thing and I put them into the dump. That’s all I did, I didn’t say a word. And I really didn’t do it out of… If I had done it out of feeling of superiority and judgmental-ness, I would not have achieved what was achieved. From the next day on till we left that bungalow, there were no paper cups thrown around. But if I had done it thinking I’m superior, it would not have worked. I’ve tried that before also, when I left superior and then it doesn’t work. So, I would say think and start like that. Right. You be the exemplar and also try to involve them in a conversation where they would imagine what they would do. Then perhaps those two things will get linked.

0:42:47 Anupama: Okay, I’m definitely gonna try that. I tried leading by example but that did not work as in yet… At least they didn’t take notice but maybe getting them and including them in a conversation would definitely make a thing. Thank you, thank you for the great advice.

0:43:00 Neha: Thanks Anupama. Kajal, would you like to go?

0:43:07 Kajal: Hi Rohini. I’m Kajal and I work as the guardian of the key with the HerKey Club. I have a 16-year-old boy, Rohini, and while I have been involved in small social causes myself in my own space where I volunteer from time to time, I’m part of a foundation where I offer services as well. I often wonder how… I know he’s young, he may find his own path but I do wonder what I could do in my space to make sure that at least his thinking is moving towards concerns that are larger than just us in our homes.

0:43:52 Rohini: Yeah.

0:43:54 Kajal: Yes. Sorry.

0:43:55 Rohini: It’s a very important question of parenting nowadays. Very important. The way we do it is what I can tell you because we keep the conversation with it… Even when they were with us, the conversation… Dinner time was very important. And conversations at the dinner table were very important. Always bringing up socio, political, economic issues, the best that we knew them and the best that the children could understand. So that they know that we are part of a microcosm, we are not separate. And to talk about the work you do. Your values and your work you’re doing will have an impact even without you doing anything about it. It will pass on. But keep the conversations going. Suppose you read some nice articles, suppose something… Talk about it and say, what do you think? Don’t say it as a diktat. 16-year-old boys will not accept their mothers diktat. That I can give you a diktat on, but…

0:44:52 Kajal: Absolutely.

0:44:53 Rohini: But anything which ends in a question mark. Not that I have always done it. Okay. My children and I have fought very nicely when they were that age. And at that age they are 100 percent sure that their parents are pretty stupid. So you have to leave everything with a question mark is what I have learnt. And that’s you lure them into something through curiosity.

0:45:15 Kajal: Absolutely. Sure. Thank you Rohini.

0:45:18 Neha: Absolutely, Rohini. I’m going to keep that in mind for my now soon to be, 11 and 8-year-old.

0:45:24 Rohini: Yeah. Yeah.

0:45:25 Neha: And also because they also need to find something that they will be passionate about. It might not necessarily be what the mother and father are passionate about.

0:45:33 Rohini: Absolutely. And also whenever possible, we say, what is satsang? Satsang is the company of good and wise people. Now you can’t call people into your home but this too shall pass. And when you can invite people into your home, please invite people who are doing stuff that you would like the children to be inspired by. Invite them into your home into your settings or go to where they are. Take your children to where they are. Make it a fun outing. But, if they will come with you. So, I think those things do help. By music also they get influenced. They do get influenced.

0:46:11 Neha: Actually, in fact in the virtual sessions even easier because there are such great stuff happening virtually and we can just get them to join you for sometime.

0:46:19 Rohini: Exactly correct. Exactly correct. So when my children were small, especially my son, who will certainly not accept… If I told my son, please read this book, he will 100 percent not read it. But I used to leave a book which I thought he needs to read, I would leave it casually somewhere and because he was an avid reader, he would read it. So, you have to find all these ways into their hearts and minds.

0:46:41 Ruby: Yeah.

0:46:42 Neha: Yeah. Thank you, thank you for that, Rohini. Ruby, would you like to ask your question?

0:46:48 Ruby: Hi Rohini, lovely to hear you today. Such a lovely, candid chat. A bit about me. I’m Ruby, a product owner. I came back from a five-year break, went from being a stay-at-home mom and built an NNP port. It’s a choice I made given the circumstances I was in and I’m an army spouse. My husband gets transferred every two years, so I don’t really have much of a choice there, but I try to work whenever possible. Currently, I’m on a break, transit. We’re moving to Bhopal next month. I wanted to know, what would you say to all the women out there who are coming from a break? How would they go about backing themselves especially sometimes when the odds are stacked against them?

0:47:30 Rohini: Yeah. No, I do remember that phase when I was trying to do small, small things to come out of my self-imposed isolation with the kids. And I was very diffident because the world had changed, the world changes faster. It changes… And now the pace of change is so rapid that it’s not easy for women to come back and it’s not smooth. So I think not fooling yourself that it’s going to be smooth and working really hard. I don’t see an alternative to working really hard. And I think you have to really work to not… See, a lot of women, they talk down to themselves in their heads, okay? They… We have… Some of us have low self-esteem. And we have to be aware if we are rubbishing ourselves. Sometimes, we do it without understanding and that is really not good. There are lots of books on that but to build up your self-esteem so that you are not your own worst critic. Sometimes, outside people are not even bothered about you, why should they criticize you? Okay, forget it.

0:48:45 Rohini: But sometimes, we… Our criticism is the loudest voice in our head. So, really learning to like ourselves or be there for ourselves as we climb back into our professions. Working hard. These are the two things that I can think of that I remember experiencing. Don’t expect success overnight. There will be a delay, unless you’re very lucky, which is fine. There will be a delay. You will have to catch up, but ho to jayega, hoga, definitely hoga…

[foreign language]

0:49:19 Ruby: Thank you so much. Lovely talking with you. Thank you.

0:49:22 Rohini: [0:49:22] ____.

0:49:22 Neha: We heard, Ruby. Good luck in Bhopal. Now, there’s a world of work from home opportunities that have opened up for women and especially in tech.

0:49:30 Ruby: Yes, yes.

0:49:34 Neha: And after that, you’d be [0:49:35] ____.

0:49:35 Rohini: It’s a good time too and Bhopal is a lovely place.

0:49:36 Ruby: Yes.

0:49:36 Rohini: So you’ll be in a great environment as well.

0:49:40 Ruby: Thank you, thank you so much.

0:49:41 Neha: Great. Aruna, do you wanna go next?


0:49:54 Neha: Aruna, you’re on mute in case you’ve not unmuted yourself.

0:49:57 Aruna: Sorry. Yeah, I’ll do that [0:49:58] ____.

0:49:58 Neha: Yes. [chuckle]

0:50:00 Aruna: Yeah. Hi, Rohini. I’ve been now listening to your responses to the questions. I missed the first half of the session because I was at a meeting but I have just been loving whatever you said so far. Candid and right, very practical, not really 360 degrees. So, one question that I have is considering both you and your husband are so successful, have you ever felt the need to underplay your achievements or your successes? With say extended family or with your kids or… Especially extended family or friends. When I say underplay, obviously, I don’t mean that you need to really go and talk about everything that you’re doing, but to really change the way you are in front of an extended family and friends vis-a-vis who you are say at workplace and other formal, professional get-togethers.

0:50:54 Rohini: Yeah. Well, that’s a good question. Nobody has asked me that ever, but it’s a good question, because, listen, children will don’t take any bullshit from their parents, okay? It’s no use my trying to tell… Me or Nandan trying to tell our kids how great we are, okay? So they’re not going to buy it. [chuckle] So that is easy. The extended family, if I… First of all, I’m only on two… I’m not even on… I’m not on social media, nothing, but if I were to go around bragging about my successes, I don’t think my extended family would tolerate it either, so you have to be able to balance how you project yourself. Right? Even colleagues… Nobody wants to hear about how successful you are all the time. And first of all, you’re never always successful, so…

0:51:40 Aruna: Yeah.

0:51:40 Rohini: So by God’s grace and many things coming together, yes, we have been able to do a few things, especially Nandan, to be quite honest, and Nandan is a good example. He does wield a lot of power but if you meet him or something, he doesn’t exert it forcefully at all, and that’s important because that’s not what he’s focused on. He’s focused on get… Effectiveness. He’s focused on getting things done, and to get things done, which require large numbers of people to willingly work with you, the last thing you can do is focus on yourself.

0:52:16 Aruna: Yeah.

0:52:17 Rohini: Otherwise, it would not be effective at all. It’s as simple as that. So we don’t have to go out of your way to underplay our achievements because that is also called humble bragging, okay? And you don’t want to do humble bragging. You know how people, by mistake, tell you how great they are [chuckle] that almost indirectly say how great you are, so [chuckle] we have to balance between humble bragging, bragging, and gracefully accepting your successes. Right? And it’s not… You’ll never be 100% successful in that. Sometimes you will brag. It’s okay yaar next day you’ll say, “What the hell was I doing?” And get over it and don’t do it next time. That’s all I can tell you.

0:52:57 Aruna: Okay. Yeah, sure.

0:53:00 Neha: So, Rohini, I just had [0:53:00] ____ a follow up question to that, that this act of giving and of philanthropy, of understanding all the problems that exist out there, does that help in the kind of humility that we see? With people like you, with Nandan, with Azim Premji, for example. Does that help in kind of giving a reality check to our successes?

0:53:26 Rohini: I tell you the… Trying to solve large, complex social problems is an exercise in humility. It’s an exercise in humility. You think you’re great, and you think you can solve them. One child’s education is more complex than sending a rocket to the moon. Okay, getting one child to fulfill her potential as a citizen, one child is more complex than sending a rocket to the moon. Sending a rocket to the moon is complicated but creating social change is complex. And that complexity can defeat you. I certainly can make you very, very, very humble very, very quickly. That’s for sure. That’s for sure.

0:54:10 Neha: Yeah.

[foreign language]

0:54:13 Neha: Shonali has a question also. Shonali, please go ahead.

0:54:16 Shonali: Hi, Rohini. My question is, it’s on the tail of this. Given that it is so hard to affect, societal change, does it overwhelm you, and what drives you to just wake up and do it again, and do it again and do it again? It’s amazing to do it but it’s frustrating too.

0:54:39 Rohini: See there are some things that are relatively easy in this whole journey of social change to which we have committed ourselves. Some things we did get success, right, like Akshara Foundation, we walked with lakhs of children, and communities to get them to be better than where they were in their learning journey. Pratham Books is almost an unqualified success, because tens of, millions of children have been able to get access to books and stories that they didn’t have before. So you also encounter success. And you learn, we have been lucky to be able to do it at greater and greater scale. We think right now, we are very excited as a team. Because we have co-created what we call societal platform thinking. And if anybody’s interested it’s, you can take it down later and send it to your group later.

0:55:34 Rohini: But so that’s, we have found we think, one way, it’s not the only way, there’s no such thing as only way, one way to help people come together and reduce the friction to collaborate to solve problems. And so that is so exciting intellectually, and also here, which I care about a lot, that everyday we… Today we had such a fun meeting, because we learned how well that the DIKSHA platform is going nationally, for example. So the more you invest of yourself and the more you see, ripples happening, the more committed you become the next day. And you do get some… It’s not only a journey of failures, right? Even in any anybody’s life, it’s not no such thing. So the successes make you feel very excited, the failures make you pause and say, “Oh my God, I better do it differently.” So there’s always some incentive to keep going.

0:56:26 Neha: And Rohini, how do you drive commitment with your team around that? Yeah, because, of course, I’m sure the kind of say salaries, packages that, not-for-profit must be offering would be below par, especially in a city like Bangalore, where you have this huge startup culture. So how do you make sure that you find those people, retain them and then drive these visions with you?

0:56:53 Rohini: Yeah. So one thing, I must say, we don’t pay so low. Wherever we are running our foundations, we don’t pay like, top corporate salaries, obviously. But one of the things that has to change in this sector is we have to pay dignified… We have to pay so that people can live dignified lives so that we do, but many others can’t get that who work in the sector, right? And commitment. See, remember, it’s not only salaries that drive people. It’s not… People are driven by different passions and interests. And when they get… Some of us thrive on monetary reward. Some of us thrive on other rewards so…

0:57:32 Rohini: So long as you can make people feel they’re achieving something bringing meaning to their lives, and making a difference. You’ll be surprised at how many people want to run away from the corporate sector and do such stuff. Obviously, they need to keep their body and soul together and their children’s education or whatever. But they are not hankering to get these crazy salaries, they want to find meaning in their lives. And we have had absolutely no difficulty finding people. Thank God, people are more social minded than you think, than we fear. They are much more social minded than that. And you create a decent job for them. And they really want to come and they stay together because as I said, we are very concerned about the power of intent, the commitment and translating that into the grammar of that intent. And that keeps everybody intellectually engaged. But also their hearts get satisfied.

0:58:30 Neha: Fantastic. Yeah, what better combination, right? If you can be intellectually stimulated and have heart fulfillment. Kanika, would you like to go next?

0:58:41 Kanika: Hi, Rohini. At the risk of sounding redundant. Everyone’s already shared what they feel, but I love your spirit. I think this is only session that I’ve just been constantly smiling. So thank you for being so honest, we really appreciate it. I have two questions for you. So, I’ve been in social work on a voluntary basis for best of 10 years, I have been educating children, something I think that drives a lot of fulfillment in my life. So for people like me, for a generation of women behind you who are looking up to you when growing in their careers, what is that one key message or a key advice? There’s so much you shared today, right, that you’ve suggested we abide by and second, very few people in their lives do the kind of fulfilling work that you’ve done, can you share of any instance where you were very touched or moved and something you cherish? Would love to hear.

0:59:39 Rohini: Okay, so for the first part, I will say what I say to everybody, no matter whether you have a corporate career, or you’re doing social work, or you’re just you’re raising your family, which is such an important aspect of our lives, I would say…

0:59:56 Rohini: Three words that I have put together a few years ago but I keep repeating them because they still remain relevant for me. Stay curious, okay. Curiosity is very important, otherwise, you’ll become smug. You know, remain curious, it keeps your mind open and your heart open. So stay curious. Stay connected, don’t isolate yourself, especially in these times, okay. Stay connected, find ways to stay connected. And then when you have chosen your path, which you… Whatever you are doing, stay committed, don’t be fickle. Stay committed through what we talked about, failure, success, all that. So I think curiosity, stay curious, stay connected, and then stay committed. This has served me well, and I hope it will serve you well too. And the other thing what has touched me so much. Yeah, you know, just what touches me is when I get to go on my travels and I don’t want to sound like some bandheeji type, but going and meeting the people in whose name you are supposed to be working and doing philanthropy, and just sitting down with them and talking to them, okay, that’s what gives me a lot of the feedback loops that I need, right?

1:01:16 Rohini: And then sometimes they’ll tell you about the amazing odds that they face and, you know, just to get drinking water to their villages or to just open a small library in their neighbourhood, or it could be writing a story, which then got them into a lot of trouble, all those kinds of things. And just even young children, if you’re… Once, in one village, the Siddhas… There is a community here that used to be nomadic sort of soothsayer, they used to tell… Fortune tellers. And those children are now they’re all settled in these villages, and we were able to set up a library there, and this kid got up and… And we were sitting and saying who wants to read? So this kid got up and said, “I want to read,” and he read the story in Kannada and we clapped and we were about to go to the next person, he says, “No, excuse me, I want to read this story again this time in English.” It’s such a simple thing, but he’d just suddenly said, I was so happy because he had found in himself the ability to do this, and he wanted to show it off, and it was because all those people had come together to make it possible. So small things, it’s always the small things that make me feel really reconnected to my work.

1:02:39 Neha: Fantastic. Thank you, Himanish. Thanks, Kanika. Shonali.

1:02:45 Shonali: So, Rohini, I have another question. So I grew up in a family that did a lot of social work as part of life, very Catholic, very, you know, you have to give back, you must do. So my mom from, I don’t know, from 11, 12, would go to the Mother Teresa orphanage every weekend and then bathe the babies of the lepers and her sisters and brothers all chose their own thing to do. When I tried to do that when I was in college, I went to a women’s shelter in Shivaji Nagar, a domestic abuse shelter, and what I saw in that small space, for five days after that I was in depression and I was really scared that I was gonna have some kind of a nervous breakdown.

1:03:32 Shonali: And then my mom told me, “You don’t have to… You would not be of any help to anyone if this is how you feel about it because you cannot pity the people that you’re doing this work for. There is no such thing. You cannot… ” Because that was the thing for me, “Oh my God, I have so much and they have so little, and it’s horrible.” How do you make that bridge? Because I would love to now get my child involved, because I was taken as a kid to orphanages, old age homes, blind kids homes, all of it. We were taken, we were… It was very rewarding. But I would always follow the person who was very comfortable there and do whatever they said, you know, let’s do a sing-song, let’s do a bingo night, let’s… I’d follow that person, but I couldn’t do it myself. Now, how do you bridge that gap to your child when there is such disparity? How do you teach that?

1:04:24 Rohini: I think two quick things. One is, it’s no use being led by either guilt or shame, okay. See, when I began, of course, there is a social guilt from it. I had… That’s why it took me so long to feel comfortable with my wealth. And for some time, I was led by guilt. I’ve not done anything wrong, okay. Now, I’ve done something very smart, I’ve invested in my little savings, I’ve invested in my husband’s company, so that was a smart thing to do, and it got disproportionate reward. But when we did become wealthy, I must admit, I went through a whole phase of guilt, “Oh my God, how can I have this when other people don’t. What am I supposed to do with it?” It took me some time, but then I realized I didn’t do anything wrong to make… In society, always inequalities exist and everyone should work towards reducing them even if we can’t ever finish them off. So don’t be led by guilt or shame.

1:05:22 Rohini: However, some of us may be empaths, there’s a whole category in that, a psychological category called empaths where you feel other people suffering much more, almost as though you had been suffering yourself. And to some extent, I used to also get very involved with other people suffering and then come home and then just, you know, burnout and that’s not gonna help anybody. So I had to work on myself to get that mental balance so that when I go there, you have to be a little detached and dispassionate, but committed. You have to be committed, but… So those are the two, three things to remember when you do that. And then therefore maybe you do it in small doses, maybe you don’t do things which directly expose you to the injustice because there are many ways to tackle injustice without going there and sitting with the poor or something. So there are many pathways to the poor. So do what makes you comfortable and keeps you strong, but don’t come from guilt and shame, okay. And keep building your mental capacities to deal with injustice because there is injustice in the world, and if we want to reduce that injustice, we have to be internally strong.

1:06:33 Neha: So Rohini, what are your thoughts now about the current pandemic situation, right? I know one of your good friends Manish Sabharwal, one of his favorite lines is that, “We’re all in the same storm, but we are in a different… Somebody’s in a boat and somebody’s in a ship, yeah, we’re in a different boat.” So there is, again, I feel like this social injustice that we’re talking about has gotten even more heightened during this pandemic. Can you tell us a little bit about your thoughts related to this and what we should be… What is the direction we should be looking at in terms of helping?

1:07:07 Rohini: Yeah, so no, it’s a huge challenge and it’s still unfolding. We’re nowhere near the end yet. I think what has concerned me most about what I see society is… What’s happening to society, okay? We have become suspicious of our neighbours. We are trying to isolate and protect only ourselves and yet we’re not being rational about it. So there are many things we can do to stop… You know, we talk about the surveillance state that will also become much worse during the pandemic. But, look at what we are doing as a society, like reporting on our neighbours… Is that how we should be behaving? Should we be… Instead of helping our neighbours, many of us are thinking that, “Oh my God, that… ” We’re assuming everybody is ill and we are gonna catch something. Again I have to at least sit and think about that. Start from there. Treat others like you want to be treated, during the pandemic. I think that’s a good place to start.

1:08:13 Rohini: And then, of course, if you have extra money or extra time, there are a million ways to help. That I don’t need to tell you, just look, there are hundreds of people who want your help, hundreds of organizations, so go and step out and do it because, you know, if we sit in our little bubbles, you feel more insecure and more scared. And then that… It becomes a kind of self-absorption. “I will keep my family safe. Arey baba that virus is not… Doesn’t… It travels everywhere, but sensible precautions will keep you safe. Don’t be engulfed by your fear. Don’t be engulfed by your irrationality. Don’t use the pandemic to cover up for things like, “Anyway, you didn’t like some people, so you don’t want to meet them.” I’ve seen people do that. So don’t do all that. Sit with yourself and say, “How will I treat others the way I would like to be treated during this pandemic?” And then, reach from your heart and your pocket and do something for somebody beyond your own family and self.

1:09:19 Neha: So whatever it is, do something, at least.

1:09:22 Rohini: Yeah, step out. I mean, this is a huge societal problem. There are going to be so many people in all sorts of need. Look first at the people whom you employ as maids or drivers or cooks or whatever it is, what are you going to do to help them? And think first. Don’t just think, “What is the policy-driven thing?” “What is a fair thing to do?” And then consistently do it. Don’t do it as sudden bursts of generosity because then that keeps them always under your thumb, right? So figure out a sensible way to help the people you employ. Figure out a way to treat other people on the street the way you want to be treated. Leave your masks on, and we can get past this, but it’s going to require society to come together in new ways that we’ve not had to do before. So think of yourself as a citizen and that’s something very important that each family must deeply think about first in their own homes.

1:10:23 Neha: And there’s a lot of talk also, Rohini, right now with this COVID Pandemic. I don’t know if you’ve seen this WhatsApp forward doing the rounds about how the countries that have handled the pandemic very successfully have something in common. And the WhatsApp forward basically shows all the countries which have females, women as heads of state. I mean, there are particular leadership qualities and attributes that, you know companies, countries have started noticing, that they feel that women bring to the table. What are your thoughts on that? Do you feel that we should look at it as a gender-neutral lens? Do you feel there are these unique qualities? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

1:11:03 Rohini: Yeah, I asked this question. I did a panel for BIC, it’s on YouTube, where I got Nirupama Rao, Geetha Narayanan, Rekha Menon and Arundhati Nag to speak about various issues of the pandemic and women’s leadership. And I said there are nine countries headed by women that seems to be doing a slightly better job. And is it because they are women leaders and is there something special to women? So I think the consensus was that there is a female element in everybody, and when we say female, you can attach qualities such as nurturing, being more open to questions, not needing to assert in a particular way. Maybe, there may be some qualities that are more feminine, but that doesn’t mean they belong only to women. So whatever we define… What Osho calls it the lunar side and the solar side, okay? So this lunar side which is softer, which is more accommodating may not be the prerogative of women because we have seen some women leaders even in our own country who are not exactly like that. So I would say nurturing the feminine side of our… I prefer the word lunar side, whether it is in men or in women has an advantage, I think a species advantage for us in the future.

1:12:29 Neha: Fantastic, yeah, because we are really trying our best to make sure that we get more and more women leaders, because I agree. I think with more diversity, you just bring different skill sets and capabilities to the table.

1:12:40 Rohini: Absolutely.

1:12:40 Neha: Divya, would you like to introduce yourself? And tell a… It would be great for you to actually tell Rohini a little bit about the work you’re doing as well.

1:12:50 Divya: Hi, Rohini. It’s such an honor to actually talk to you…

1:12:58 Neha: Divya we can’t hear you. We could, but now we can’t. Oh, you are on mute again.

1:13:07 Divya: So sorry. Hi, hi Rohini. This is Divya, and I am a huge fan. I started my career in Infosys more than 10 years ago, and worked at the Sudha Murthy Foundation, and that’s where I helped planting a lot of trees near the Mysore campus and that’s where my journey started. Today, I work in the climate space. And I am doing huge programs working specifically on helping with clean energy and also with a lot of tree plantations in India as well as South East Asia. One of the things I really wanted to understand from you especially is, what you just mentioned right now, like using the more feminine side of things. And so I find it very difficult myself, because even in the climate space especially, there’s a lot of men who kind of… Try to put things in a more perspective that it has to be done in a certain way, and I find it a little difficult to communicate especially. Because I see things from a more compassionate perspective, but I’m not able to kind of communicate that in my work. So you have had some really good points, like bringing the feminine side and also like being… I think the exact phrase you said was the grammar of your intention, that really touched me. I think I want to understand a little bit more about how you kind of deal with a lot of climate skepticism and how you think that women especially can drive that.

1:14:45 Rohini: Yeah okay, but when you say you worked at Infosys, you worked for the Infosys Foundation?

1:14:50 Divya: No, I didn’t, I worked for Infosys, but I used to volunteer with the Sudha Murthy Foundation while I was at Infosys.

1:14:56 Rohini: What is the Sudha Murthy Foundation? It’s a personal foundation.

1:15:00 Divya: Yeah, no no it was a part of the… The Infosys CSR initiatives also had the Sudha Murthy Foundation.

1:15:08 Rohini: Accha… That’s the first time I’ve heard of it. I must find out. Okay, so when it comes to climate skeptics, I think that’s a huge thing to have to fight all by yourself, I think that’s almost decided to be skeptic, its kind of climate skeptic. Its kind of hard to deal with them on your own, but you always have to keep on bringing good data to the table. Again see, my natural nature is a bit aggressive. But I have learned, to be effective, it’s no use just being aggressive. It just doesn’t work. So I’ve had to sort of learn how to be less aggressive.

1:15:52 Rohini: In fact, to be able to… See the minute… The minute we believe we are right, and the person in front of us is wrong, whether they are climate skeptics or anything that… That is what passes through, you can keep on talking, that won’t pass through. What will pass through is our moral sense of moral superiority. So how do you unbundle that in yourself and say, “If I was that person. Why am I… What is stopping me from believing in climate change. Is it that there’s not enough data?” So, if you try to put yourself more in the other person’s shoes, then you will talk to them as they might want to be heard. Or you know… The same principle is, how do you want them to talk to you? Right? Similarly you have to find a way to talk to them. Don’t assume that you are right. If you [1:16:49] ____ open, start from a position where you accept, right now you think you are right, right now even I think we are right on this climate thing. But that’s not how you’re going to achieve any effect. If we want everybody to help heal this planet…

1:17:06 Rohini: It’s not going to happen if we put ourselves into… You don’t believe in climate change and I do buckets.

1:17:12 Divya: Right.

1:17:13 Rohini: Finding the opportunities to bridge and there will always be small opportunities. Look out for those. And try to be less judgmental. I’m not saying you are judgmental, but sometimes when we are feeling we are on the side on the right… The correct side. So practice, watch yourself, get, keep data and studies with you, to be able to use. Changing peoples minds is not easy.

1:17:43 Divya: Yeah, you’re right, I think data. That’s what my takeaway is. Thank you so much.

1:17:48 Rohini: And studies. And studies.

1:17:49 Divya: I’m sorry, yes.

1:17:50 Rohini: We are not doing away with studies.

1:17:53 Divya: Yes.

1:17:53 Neha: Rohini I’m going to always remember that also because I very often find myself getting very angry when it comes to people who have such deep rooted biases about so…

1:18:05 Rohini: Yeah, me too, but my anger is not stormy as well as the times when I’m remembered to not be angry.


1:18:12 Rohini: How lucky as I get older its becoming easier, if I was like this [1:18:18] ____.

1:18:20 Neha: And lots of times when I am like this…

1:18:20 Rohini: See from the age of 61 its much better not to be like this.


1:18:27 Neha: Wow, okay. Rohini I’m glad you gave that away because it’s no way anyone of us even listening to you would have guessed that? Well, thank you so much Rohini for being with us today. This was absolutely incredible. I’m sure, me and all of us watching this have taken that a huge amount of learning. And what a wide variety of discussion topics, right? Starting from just focusing on the power of intent and then translating that into the grammar of intent, especially as a leader. Also coming from us from an area of no guilt and no shame. Because many times we approach philanthropy from those lens, and realizing that the kind of humility that the act of philanthropy can teach you and kind of leadership skills that it can hone in you. Because this has to be… Maybe not the most publicated problem you have solved, but the most complex, and of course, just you find whatever problem it is that you feel passionate about, even if it is as simple as it’s in your residential block… Okay, but you find a problem and get started. Yeah, we don’t have to all be solving world problems and world peace. Something simple and get started, and of-course the big take away that stay curious, stay connected and stay committed. So thank you so much, this was really a huge pleasure and honor to have you with us.

1:20:00 Rohini: Thank you, thank you very much.

1:20:00 S?: Thank you.

1:20:01 Rohini: And all the best to all of you. I wish you much luck, much power, much good intent, and please keep yourselves and your family safe.

1:20:11 S?: Thank you. We’d love to take one group shot, if everyone who’s able to can turn on your videos please do. Thank you.

1:20:21 Rohini: This is a new way of taking a group picture.

1:20:24 S?: I didn’t realize.


1:20:25 Ganga: We love to see you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

1:20:28 Neha: Before leaving I think Rohini, you must know that your energy has in some way transpired, not just to us, but everyone around us who were sitting. You know kids, spouses, etcetera, etcetera. Maybe pets as well.

1:20:43 Neha: And you have a… You won a lot of admirers today, not just for the work that you do, but the person you are and who you stand for. Neha, Shonali, Kajal, everyone who… All of you who’ve been able to make this session happen. Thank you so much. This is not just a session, this is much beyond that, and I hope Rohini, that the work that you are doing, all of us in our small ways could contribute to that and make this world a better place for the next generation.