What does it mean to live a good life? Is it having all your material needs met? Or is it feeling fulfilled?
We had the honour of listening to Mr. Mohandas Pai, former CFO of Infosys, current Chairman of Manipal Group of Education. Mr Pai has many successes to his credit from the corporate world – notably being judged Best CFO while at Infosys, the first Indian company to list on NASDAQ, and even conceptualising their revolutionary stock options scheme for employees.
Even as he achieved these landmark successes, Mr. Pai experienced a feeling that something was missing. As he said in his speech, many people achieve success in their career or business. Yet a question keeps nagging at them – ‘what should I do with my life?’
This question marked a turning point in Mr. Pai’s path to philanthropy. He found himself , in conversation with Mr. Madhu Pandit Dasa, President of the ISKCON temple in Bengaluru (and an IIT educated engineer!). Mr. Pai suggested to Mr. Dasa that he run a mid-day meal scheme for children, and with a donation from Mr. Pai and others the project was on its way!
The mid-day meal grew to feed 30,000 children, and soon citizens of Bengaluru started to write in, asking them to feed more children. The scheme was formalised as The Akshaya Patra Foundation. They gained support from the Government – Murli Manohar Joshi, then HRD Minister, gave the NGO its name. (Akshaya Patra in Sanskrit means an inexhaustible vessel that never runs out of food.) Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat invited them to set up operations in his state, as did Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan. Children eating the food performed better on health and improved their educational attainments! The NGO currently feeds 15 lakh children a day in 11,500 government schools across India, and is one of the largest feeding programmes in the world.
Listening to Mr. Pai gives one the feeling that he has received more than what he has given. He said he feels a renewed sense of purpose, and now works harder than he did at Infosys! He feels that working for a cause has given him tremendous energy to achieve more – not for himself, but for his country and his society. It is truly a selfless sense of giving, driven by the cause and those that benefit rather than any personal sense of satisfaction. Indeed, Mr. Pai says that he is ennobled to be able to work like this.
How many people do we know who have so much meaning and purpose in their lives? True humility evades many successful people, though Mr. Pai does not seem to be one of them. His philosophy of giving is ultimately a philosophy of living – it does not have to do with how much money you make or how much you want to give.
It is driven by a desire to create value for others. As he said, it has given him more energy and purpose to achieve this objective. This energy is indeed present, and infectious!