A Second Life

musings

If one was to be given a second life with all the experience of the first at one’s disposal upon re-birth, would one live differently? And if so, how differently? There would perhaps be a handful of people who will say that they would live the second life no differently. Fortunate beings who had it all in the first life and are ready to have it all again given the chance. A huge number, probably the vast majority of people on this planet would come up with a thousand things they would want different the second time round. Then, possibly there would be a precious few who too would want it different; but more in terms of a more holistic lifetime achievement than in terms of worldly wealth or material comfort alone.

Now apply this second life possibility to countries instead of individuals and see what comes up.

The countries who would perhaps want it no different might mainly be from the northern hemisphere – countries in Scandinavia, Western Europe and North America. And may be Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere. Then, an overwhelming number of countries who would want it quite different in every which way, would probably come from Asia and Africa mainly. South American and Eastern European countries would possibly opt for some changes, although not as many as the Asian and African ones. Then you will have to look very hard to find countries who too want it different the second time, but in a spiritually uplifting sense. To live the good life themselves and at the same time do good for others.
One can argue that indeed such countries do exist and the grants in billions of dollars that some Western countries pour into the third world every year is evidence of the altruism we speak about. This is a fact that is difficult to deny. While aid, governmental or institutional, bilateral or multi-lateral, invariably has strings attached, grants need to be taken at face value. Grants at the country level are akin to corporate philanthropy at the company level. Cynics will doubt the purity of motive and attach any of a number of possible hidden agendas for the philanthropy, both at the individual and at the country level. But who are we to say whether such philanthropy is inspired by some sense of guilt or atonement, or inspired by true compassion and a finer sense of justice? If Warren Buffet can just wake up one morning and give away to charity a sum of about $ 37 billion in one stroke (that’s about our total export revenues for 2 years), must we be insecure enough to doubt or question his sincerity?

Let’s go further and apply the second lifetime opportunity model to the corporate sector. Things change dramatically here. One would be hard pressed to find a company who would want it no differently a second time round. Even the biggest multinationals with assets more than those of dozens of countries accumulated would probably want to change several things in the second life, to be even bigger and even more powerful. Certainly most middle- tier companies would relish a second chance to avoid making all those mistakes they did make or avoid losing all the opportunities they lost, stunting their growth and perhaps even driving some into irreversibly into the red. Would there also be companies who would use a second chance to do better for themselves and for the larger society at the same time?

I believe yes, there would be such corporate entities. More so later than now. A herald to this belief is that while still in the first life, so to speak, the phenomenon of corporate philanthropy is present. I believe this is an indicator even if the surveys tell us again and again that corporate philanthropy is in large part driven by certain individuals in companies practicing philanthropy, rather than because of a strategic company policy.

And like most other aspects of doing business today, corporate philanthropy too is evolving. Evolving for the better, from pure charity (that often may or may not be good for the recipients or even for the company itself) to true CSR or corporate social responsibility.

This, is the good news. If the corporate world was to be given a second life, there will be a larger number of companies who will use the opportunity to do better for themselves, and do better for others. These will be the companies who have awakened in the second life to the pursuit of the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits as the logical, the ethical and the profitable way forward.

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