People and organisations should aim high: Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas

Here is the part -1 of the text of Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas talk at Gyan Diksha Samaroh Commencement Ceremony of 22nd Academic Session at Sri Sharada Institute of Indian Management-Research, New Delhi held on September 2, 2017


I bring greetings and best wishes for His Holiness your 36th Pontiff and to all members of your Order, distinguished guests and the Sri Sharada Institute community.

I bring them from HE Don Carlos Gereda y de Borbon, Marques de Almazan, and the late 49th Grand Master of The Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. I also bring them from India’s Institute of Directors.

In many higher education institutions so called safe spaces are being established. Their ostensible purpose is to protect students from opinions and views they might find unwelcome, unacceptable or distressing.

One has to respect the wishes of people without overly insulating them from realities that sooner or later they are likely to encounter and will need to confront.

There are few, if any, safe spaces from certain challenges. We face threats from drug resistant viruses to terrorism. There are issues such as global warming, climate change and sustainability to address.

Advances in automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, disruptive technologies and the sharing economy threaten our employment and job prospects. They raise questions about what it is to be human and who or what you may be competing with in your lifetimes.

India faces multiple challenges. Like the extreme poverty that affects hundreds of millions, they seem always to be with us. When the founders of major religions were among us there were outsiders. They included people whom others referred to as lepers.

As great leaders, thinkers, artists and scientists have come and gone, those afflicted with leprosy have been ever present. They have been excluded socially and economically for over two millennia. They have been ostracised, rejected by their families and communities, ejected from towns and villages, and sent to leper colonies.

India accounts for some 60% of new cases that are diagnosed. Some two million people live in India with long-term effects of the disease. Leprosy is a curable condition. It can be treated. Like other challenges it represents an opportunity.

Today there are probably more opportunities to have an impact and make a difference than at any time in history. There are many outsiders we can reach, engage and embrace.

We need to understand the scale of the economic, social and environmental challenges we face and the extent of the opportunities they create to realise how precious, special and needed all of you are.

Social entrepreneurs – reformers – innovation in  areas such as basic sanitation – digital developments that reach rural areas – more inclusive corporate policies – the Bridges of Sports initiative – the creative arts. All of these, and all of you, have opportunities to reach, bring hope and deliver benefits to excluded communities.

The challenge for many concerned individuals and caring companies is how to widen access and improve the lot of the disadvantaged, while still looking after one’s own and stakeholder interests and remaining current and competitive.

Our inherited instincts and much of what we learn at a young age – whether from those around us or from those who have gone before – are concerned with ensuring our individual and collective survival.

Most of human history has been a struggle for survival. Success has often gone to the ambitious, the assertive and to the strong and the smart. They have often prospered at the expense of the content, the submsssive and the weak, simple and naively good.

At times, arrogance and wealth seem to offer more visible rewards than modesty and  wisdom. Yet as John Henry Newman pointed out virtue can be its own reward.

Wherever and whenever people have a choice they tend to favour associates, companions and suppliers who understand their aspirations and are competent, honest and can be depended upon.

Legitimacy and trust are particularly important today. Evidence of immoral or irresponsible conduct can be quickly captured on a mobile device and uploaded with the potential to go viral.

People and organisations should aim high. It is not easy to achieve more than you set out to do, or to become more than what you aspire to be.

Personal qualities can be developed, recognised and rewarded because they are regarded as acceptable, or worthy, or because they lead to success. From whose perspective should we look at success – from the perspective of an employer, an entrepreneur or individuals seeking to do well for themselves and/or for those they aspire to help.?

Read Part 2: Threats and challenges have been an ever present feature of the human experience: Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas

Also Read Part 3: Leadership and entrepreneurship are about thinking as well as doing: Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas

*Prof. (Dr) Colin Coulson-Thomas has helped directors in over 40 countries to improve director, board and corporate performance. In addition to directorships he leads the International Governance Initiative of the Order of St Lazarus, is Director-General, IOD India, UK and Europe, chair of United Learning’s Risk and Audit Committee, Chancellor and a Professorial Fellow at the School for the Creative Arts, Honorary Professor at the Aston India Foundation for Applied Research, a Distinguished Professor at the Sri Sharada Institute of Indian Management-Research and a member of the advisory boards of Bridges of Sports and the Arvind Foundation, and ACCA’s Governance, Risk and Performance Global Forum.

An experienced chairman of award winning companies and vision holder of successful transformation programmes, he is the author of over 60 books and reports. Colin has held public appointments at local, regional and national level and professorial appointments in Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, India and China. He was educated at the London School of Economics, London Business School, UNISA and the Universities of Aston, Chicago and Southern California. He is a fellow of seven chartered bodies and obtained first place prizes in the final exams of three professions.