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Wednesday, 8th December 2021
Diverse Ethics - Atul Shah - Wisdom Blog

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Outcomes of an inter-faith engagement initiative with Diverse Ethics

At the London Jain temple in Potters Bar, enjoying the Paryushan Festival

At the RSPCA Southern Region Office, where Diwali was celebrated with a Ganesh Rangoli painting by the local Hindu community

Outside the Jain temple in Potters Bar

Inside the Balaji Temple in Birmingham

Enjoying the Sikh 'Langar' at Nishkam Centre in Birmingham

In conversation with the Brahmakumaris World Spiritual University in London

Outside the famous BAPS Swaminarayan Hindu Mandir near Wembley, London


You are doing a unique job in providing leadership to the RSPCA in helping it to diversify. This is a tough agenda and most leaders shy away from it and push it down and out. What is your motivation?

I have really enjoyed visiting amazing faith communities throughout Britain with the help of Diverse Ethics and meeting very inspiring and motivated leaders. What I am trying to do is to recover the original purpose and mission of the RSPCA. The founders saw that compassion was indivisible, and people should be the voice for the voiceless. I have travelled all over the world and had the privilege to meet people from very diverse backgrounds, cultures and faiths. I have found that people of faith have compassion for animals. What I am seeking to do is to recognise this huge resource and goodwill that exists among all faith communities in Britain and learn from them and work with them. In making this connection, we will be far more powerful as a voice in representing creatures who are powerless to be heard. It is a big challenge and we have a long way to go, but we are very excited by this and feel it is the right way to grow the RSPCA.

Research shows that very few CEO’s engage with diversity and make it their priority. We have published a book on this called ‘Boardroom Diversity – The Opportunity’. How can we convince CEO’s to change and use their power and influence to change?

I feel there is vast opportunity here for the entire UK charity sector as faith communities are run as charities, and have members with strong values of regular giving of time and money. This adds up to a huge amount of volunteering and charitable giving for no expected return. In attending these community celebrations and festivals, I have seen multiple generations and I have seen disabled people being respected and playing a useful role. Children and the elderly are all together sharing festivals in total harmony and mutuality. I have also seen respect of people with mental health problems in these communities. I have also seen visitors from all races and faiths being fed without any questions asked as to why they are hungry or where they come from or which race or faith they are. This is diversity and inclusion through practical action. I have seen educational institutions being established where children from all faiths are welcome to attend, without any discrimination. This covers everything that would be constituted as a charity under English charitable law. To my fellow charity leaders, my answer is what an extraordinary thing you are missing here by not engaging with these outstanding cutting edge communities.

To wider public and corporate leaders the same truths above apply – these communities have much to teach us about the pressing problems of today and the real creative solutions that we can apply to resolve these. If we do not engage with them, we are missing an extraordinary amount of positivity, truth and wisdom. These faith communities are providing very practical, very real solutions of tackling wider problems of Britain and the World, building enterprise into the culture of their members, so there is an enormous amount to learn here. They are regenerating inner city areas where political parties have failed. The message to fellow leaders is that if we do not do this active learning, visiting and listening, we are being foolish to ourselves.

What do you think about the support Diverse Ethics has given to the RSPCA in its diversity agenda?

I have an aspiration to engage with diverse communities, and I can only realise this if I have a guide who knows these communities and can helps me meet them on their own terms. Through the help of Dr. Atul Shah, I have felt very comfortable and been allowed to be myself and not be too self-conscious or reserved. It is also clear that Diverse Ethics has huge respect among these communities which are so diverse and inclusive in their own way. They hold you Atul in high regard and respect, and I would encourage others to connect with Diverse Ethics and listen to what you have to say as it is truly revolutionary and transformative. Let me be clear - there is a huge amount of self-interest by the RSPCA in the work we are doing - you will help tansform this organisation. This will make us much more powerful as a result.

Very few leaders approach their work holistically. Organisations think in silos. How can we help change the mindset of leaders?

Most leaders are caught up in the immediate and the urgent. This tends to drive out the strategic and the important. My phone has gone off twice whilst we are doing this interview – the easiest thing to do is to respond to the immediate. In so doing, it is easy to lose sight of the strategic and the important. I have a very good team and with the support of my Directors and with the support of Andrew Wigley, I am allowed a bit of time to step away. The difference between management and leadership is that leadership has to have ambition. Leaders need to identify the small number of things which are critical to the future of their organisation, and once you have identified them, you need to hang on to them and not let them slip away. One has to be clear about the destination – I am a great fan of Steven Covey and his key message is Begin with the End in Mind. In the RSPCA there are a lot of people doing tremendous work, but are they reflective of 21st century Britain – does our lack of diversity help us or hinder us? I am finding that the people we are not connecting with have the same value system as us, and our failure is a huge detriment to our current position. The leadership principle is to focus on the strategic and the important and for us, diversity is hugely important. Too many leaders are driven by the short term and end up managing rather than leading the organisation.

Article added on 31st January 2013 at 11:23am