Sunday, February 24, 2008

Smile! You've just been tagged with kindness =)

My friend Pavi calls me yesterday while I'm in the grocery store.

"Hey Birju, are you in Berkeley?"


"Close to Taste of the Himalayas?"

"about 2 miles.  why?"

"I need you to tag someone right now!"

Her surrogate grandparents were visiting from Michigan and wanted to eat at the restaurant Karma Kitchen was running out of, even if they weren't staying long enough to actually experience Karma Kitchen.  Well, when Pavi heard this, she wanted them to experience the generosity of Karma Kitchen.  As soon as they left, she started calling people she knew around Berkeley.  I was called last and by accident, but through some stroke of luck I happened to be somewhat close.


As soon as I heard about the opportunity to serve, I wasn't going to let it go.  I immediately dropped the carrots and asparagus I was carrying, ran out, and started on the 2 mile trip to the restaurant.


I get there and spot the diners.  Turns out it is 5 people, all at this upscale Indian restaurant, and they're pretty engaged in conversation so I'm pretty sure they don't see me (not that they would recognize me anyway since we'd never met).  I see the restaurant manager, Rajen.  He's a great guy (obviously, since he lets us run a gift-economy experiment from the premises every week!) and i thought I could let him know what was happening.  He agrees to let me pay for their meal.  I write a quick note to them wishing them a wonderful remainder of the day from an anonymous stranger, drop in a smile card, and take off.


They had no idea what had happened!  Turns out, neither did I, as I left right away.  Later I found out through Pavi that they were blown away =)  awesome on so many levels. 


It's like nobody can take credit for it, but a wonderful series of conditions presented themselves as an opportunity to make someone's day, and we decided to take the opportunity.  just gotta keep looking for the opportunities!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

True Life: I Work for CharityFocus

It's hard to classify what exactly I'm doing here in the Bay Area. Nipun once called me a volunteer executive committee intern, so i've been going with that, but really the job is pretty catch all.

I was thinking about how i'd capture what I've been doing as a job description. So far, I'd say it was

-doing small acts of kindness

-looking to be of service to whoever it is that i meet in whatever way i can

-use my skillset (business, technology) to do 1 & 2, and build on new skillsets

-meditate and practice present moment awareness

Weird job description and yet it has resulted in the most fruitful experience of my life to date. I'd like to share what i've done this week, but the caveat is that it is not necessarily indicative of the work. When this week started, i didn't have much of an idea of what would come up, and yet without any planning plenty of good stuff has happened.

Monday started with a long meeting about our new project. This is part of a new rollout of what CharityFocus is doing to try and make it easier to help others in the world by connecting people who need help to people that are looking to provide help (no money exchanged of course). It's currently in development though, so going to take a bit to go forward. In the evening I head to Nipun's house to have a debrief of his trip to New York City (where he spoke to Columbia on generosity, sparked a movement, etc lol). And there was meditation.

Tuesday was about Karma Kitchen. We were trying to figure out how to proceed with the project, where to proceed, and specific logistics about it. In the evening I went down to Santa Clara to meet 2 wonderful folks and see how we could serve. Joe is from India and he had been selflessly serving for 40 years building sanitation systems in the poorest of villages in rural India as a leader of GramVikas. He has saved tens of thousands of lives and bettered the quality of life for countless people, and recently was deemed a Skoll Fellow (with a $1M offering). Dipti is from the US, but was so moved by GramVikas' work that she has been in India for the past several years building renewable energy systems for rural villages there. The vision is to leap entirely by the system of energy that we're in now. And there was meditation as well =)

Wednesday is meditation day. The evening is marked by 40ish people coming to meditate and share their thoughts. The day is spent shipping smile card orders and preparing food as service for the meditators. There's hundreds and hundreds of orders to be shipped every week, and as this operation runs lean (to say the least), we do it all ourselves. In addition to this, we met up with Andrew Hoppin on this day. Andrew is something akin to VP of Utopia for NASA. He is trying to create open communities for sharing information in that space and get people to learn from each other in ways that aerospace has never seen (and he's trying to add a bit of spirituality to it too).

So far today on Thursday I've been with Pavi and Viral, and we've been writing, trying to get some research for the next thought-of-the-week and doing more work for Karma Kitchen, which will hopefully be re-opening up soon (and perhaps have a HBS case study on it soon as well). and of course there will be meditation ;)

So on this Valentine's day, I want to share this poem (not written by me) and just be open to the good things in life.

one more thing. an old hindi song on this valentines day:

here's a translation i found on the internets:

Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai,
ke jaise tujko banaya gaya hai mere liye


Tu ab se pehle sitaron mein bas rahi thi kahin,
tuje jamin pe bulya gaya he mere liye.


Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai,
ke ye badan ye nighanon meri amanat hai,


Yeh geshuon ki ghani chhaon hai meri khatir,
ye hothon aur yeh bahen meri amanat hai.


Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai,
ke jaise bajti hai shenhaiyan si rahon mein,


Suhag raat hai ghoonghat utha raha hoon mein,
Simat rahi he tu sharma ke meri bahon mein.


Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai,
jaise tu muje chehagi umrabhar younhi.


Utthegi meri taraf pyaar ki nazar younhi,
main janta hun ke tu gair magar younhi.
Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai,



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My first go on the catwalk

Early last week my friend Mita asked me if I was interested in auditioning for this fashion show she was in.  It sounded interesting, and i had no idea what it really entailed, so i was like 'sure!'  Well, this set off a series of events that led to me doing a runway show of high-end fusion formal attire created by some designers i've never heard of but that apparently manufacture some really nice (read: expensive) clothes. 

I showed up for the initial rehearsals and i sucked.  i sucked at walking.  i can't tell you enough how humiliating that is, to be told that you suck at walking.  lol.  after many hours of trying to get it right (and the choreographer yelling at me), i finally got to the point that i didn't embarrass myself.  it was fun too, as far as new experiences are concerned.

 Pic from Mita's mom, professional pics later...

Earlier in the week I had the opportunity to meet some really cool folks.  The first was the CEO of Inferential Focus, a think-tank that basically sees things before they happen and helps their clients because of it (they saw the avian flu, housing boom, etc before it happened).  He had this really cool idea about helping people and Nipun and I (mostly Nipun) took part in seeing how we could serve the process.  He was a really cool guy and I was glad to have met him.


Also we had a meeting with Mark Finser, the chairman of the board at RSF Social Finance and general partner of TBL Capital.  The guy is just awesome in all ways.  He's given over $100M to folks running businesses geared to help the world and now switched over from offering debt to equity. 


Its cool but weird.  I've had the benefit of going to so many meetings since i've been here, but the meetings have no agendas.  the idea is to be in each others presence and see what manifests when nobody comes at it from the point of 'i want.'  its so refreshing to start a karmatube meeting with a 'check-in' where everyone talks about what's going on in their personal lives before we even say a word about WORK, and how we start and end karma kitchen meetings with a few minutes of introspective silence.  it changes the dynamic of the entire interaction.  all of a sudden, everyone is talking and thinking about 'how can i help you?' instead of the other way around, and it also doesn't really feel like 'work' anymore.  its a joy to be a part of. 


i have no idea what the next week will be like but i'm looking forward to catching Shaq's debut in purple and orange.  would be nice for my team to win a title once every millenium.  now that the red sox have won a couple titles, the phoenix suns are the most cursed franchise in american sport.  maybe that ends this year?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Missing Peace Project

Last night we went down to Palo Alto for a meeting with Darlene Markovich and Tenzin Tethong, among others. These folks are Chairman and Exec. Director of the Committee of 100. Their job is to call attention to the struggle in Tibet in a peaceful way (their members include Pierce Brosnan, Arun Gandhi, Coretta Scott King, Richard Gere, Desmond Tutu and Robert Thurman).

While there, we learned about the Missing Peace Project and were treated to a presentation by the only art therapist in the Federal Prison system. The Missing Peace Project was created to call attention to the core values espoused by the Dalai Lama using art. It resulted in an award-winning art exhibition that is currently touring the country (and drawing tens of thousands). Here's a couple of the art pieces:




If that wasn't awesome enough, the presentation was spectacular. We heard about the only prison that involves art therapy inside its walls. I can't share specifics, but the presentation showed slides of art created by the inmates and how they changed and embraced peace through the process. It was truly amazing, especially considering that every art piece came from the part of the prison for the mentally ill/criminally insane. Makes you think why this isn't incorporated in more places, jails as well as corporate America! Art builds community.

We're going to do an article on her on DailyGood pretty soon, so if you're not on there, get on there (it goes out to hundreds of thousands of folks)!!! One of the things she needs is pieces of fabric (as her budget doesn't allow for much latitude), and we'll call attention to how you can help with that if you wish. Also, if you're interested in related stories of prison reform, check out this film about mindfulness meditation being incorporated in jails, with stunning success. That's all for now...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Gift of Gratitude and Concentrated Experience

I'm writing this on a saturday night and trying to figure out how to coherently write about what happened just from wednesday until now.  every day here contains about a month worth of experience.  perhaps it could be called a spiritual mba, i don't know, but i feel like i have to get it down so i don't forget it.  apologies for the long post.


there are people here doing amazing things in the space that i'm interested in: the confluence of business, technology, and spirituality. 


alright, wish i could write a beautiful and touching narrative but will have to stick with brute force hard nosed chronology:



weekly wednesday meditation night.  I meet a gentleman at the end of the night that's amazing.  He is a serial entrepreneur currently the CEO of a tech company.  Pretty young guy (maybe 5 years older than me), and he's just quit his job.  he turned down millions of dollars.  instead, he bought a ticket to thailand and will be meditating in some off the grid monastery for the forseeable future.  hearing this guys story was inspiring, especially considering he didn't even quit because he hated what he did or he only did it for the money.  he loves what he does, but he'd rather devote his precious time to introspection and service.  amazing.



this was a long day!  into the early afternoon I had a charityfocus meeting with a friend in London.  we're planning to build something really cool here in the near future and started working on plans for it.


after this a few friends headed to visit Professor Shariq at Stanford.  This meeting was unbelievable.  Professor Shariq is amazing, the guy has basically accomplished every form of material goal you could have, and now he's a program director for Stanford in a social entrepreneurship program that can only be described as spiritual (in my minds eye).  He has discovered that the best way to create an effective leader (especially one that is socially conscious) is to make sure that the persons actions, words, and thoughts are aligned.  of course, this is hard, each one of us lives a life of contradiction in many respects.  so he patented an intense technique to allow the person in the hotseat to recognize that which they stand for deep in themselves.  He calls it Real Time Venture Design Laboratory (ReVel).  it is intensive.  10 hours of sitting in a room with experts who are there with nothing on their mind but service.  however, i'm doing a horrible job of explaining it, so i may just leave it at that.  however, i will say that what is happening here is the incubation of a practice that is going to change leadership, and i want to be more involved in it.


from there we head to another building at Stanford to see a talk given by Reverend Heng Sure.  Gotta say, of all the 'monk and nun homies' that Nipun has introduced me to, i feel most connected to Heng Sure.  He sang some songs about Buddha with his guitar and answered some very deep questions, including why celibacy is included as part of the buddhist path (as one continues along in the path, not at the start!)  The question was asked by the director of religious studies at Stanford, and we had an interesting conversation after about the nature of desire.  cool stuff.


Next we head to another room at Stanford where a class is hosting Nipun to come speak to them, as it is the anniversary of Gandhi's assassination.  Nipun proceeds to deliver a one hour lecture with no preparation, and it is the most moving talk i have ever heard.  he talks about the value of selfless service and how it can be implemented in our daily lives from the smallest level.  He is bar none the best speaker I have ever seen.  people were leaving with tears in their eyes and talking about how they needed to rethink their lives.  Every day with this guy is a blessing...


From there we take a trip back to Berkeley with friend Hitesh.  He shared with us his social entrepreneurship plan to help the downtrodden in developing worlds be able to compete (can't share much more than that), and we discuss ways to be of service.


that was one day.  lol



After lounging around in the morning, I spend the afternoon moving into my new apt in Berkeley.


The evening is spent in a dinner meeting with a veritable who's who of service all-stars, pretty much every one of them sub 30 years old.  we talked about synergies between what we were doing and perhaps how we could serve together.  the roster of accomplishments for these people was awesome:

-prof. srikumar rao, who runs a personal mastery course in various top schools all over the world and has been featured in Time magazine, NY Times, and Wall Street Journal.

-a stanford phd student who is using technology to help farmers in developing countries

-a berkeley phd student that is using wireless videoconferencing technology to bring medical attention to villages in developing nations

-a columbia mba that is running an online video website owned by a major media company

-a former dot-com entrepreneur

-a stanford mba student who had national acclaim starting a non-profit to help Argentina and also lived as a homeless person to get a feel of what it was like

-another berkely phd student using persuasive technology to get developing nations to adopt basic medical standards

and then there was Nipun, Guri, and I.  what a trip this night was...



Had a long afternoon meeting about Karma Kitchen.  We're hoping to get it up and running again shortly, and I plan to play a role in it while i'm here.  It should be awesome!

Ended the evening by heading downtown with my friend Mita for a birthday party.  SF is very hilly =)


I've been asked a few times 'why do this?'  i mean, i just go around meeting people and learning about what they do and see if i can be of service in any way.  you'd think that it'd be hard to get a real deep experience going this route.  traditionally you'd be correct.  however, when the connection you bring to the table is a spiritual one, something that is based on a shared experience of introspection, the amount you get out of every meeting is .... just more.  This is why i'm so thankful to Nipun, who has been arranging a lot of this as part of CharityFocus.  I just get to ride the high of this job.  its nice being an intern/executive committee member of CharityFocus :P


to add to that, the broadening of perspective i've been lucky to experience as a result of this is worth its weight in gold.  i mean, a lot of this stuff i didn't even know that people did at all prior to coming here.  turns out not only do people do it, but they need help, and will take yours, especially if you offer it freely.  i'm trying to think more and more about how to incorporate this element of life into my future consulting life.  it would be nice to connect McKinsey to some of these people doing such great things and use the business sense to discover ways to get more people access to the solutions.  still a ways off to do that though ;)


One thing I didn't mention is that through everything i've been doing here, we've been meditating 1 hour every day.  its not much, but maintaining that has really been useful.


alright, time to sleep so i can get ready for another week of 'retirement' life! =)