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Integrating Compassion in Capitalism
[Thursday, September 29, 2016 10:12]
By Tsewang Namgyal

With RDTS community leaders and supporters in December   2015/file
With RDTS community leaders and supporters in December 2015/file
Through personal experience, I have begun to appreciate modern business negotiation tactics that focus on the importance of trying to fulfill your own interests while understanding and meeting the interests of others.

I realized that the application of compassion means not getting stuck in your position, but making a genuine effort to reach the best possible outcome for all sides, since this is good for both you and society.

Here I would like to briefly share with you a few highlights of my personal journey, arguing the importance of integrating compassion in capitalism.

My journey

In 1992 I emigrated to the United States under a special program of the U.S. government for Tibetan refugees living in India. I had just graduated from Upper Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) in Dharamsala, India. The school is affiliated to and supported by SOS Children’s Villages. SOS is a school system founded by an Austrian philanthropist after World War II for orphan and destitute children that now operates in 134 countries.

Before emigrating to the United States, I met with an elder teacher and close friend of my father — Dema Loche Rimpoche. After some initial small talk, he told me with confidence that compassion for others is in your self-interest. I had been taught compassion-generating techniques at an early age, but somehow his confidence and warmth added to his meaning. With about $100 in my pocket I took my first airplane flight and went to the United States.

In Pennsylvania, my first job, like that of many immigrants, was washing dishes at a local restaurant. About five months later I enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve to partly finance my college education. At Dickinson College I greatly benefited from the compassion of others. Considering my poor economic situation, professors and staff went out of their way to help me, whether by giving me their old clothes or by getting a discount for my eyeglasses. Fellow students invited me to their homes during vacations.

At college, my view and understanding of the world also started to change.

How my attitude changed

I entered college driven by political activism. In 1994 I was involved in the initial set-up of Students for a Free Tibet (SFT). After graduation, I served as one of three founding board members when the organization was formally registered. The organization has now grown to more than 600 chapters globally.

One focus of our energy during this period was demonstrating against bad business practices, in particular those we thought hurt Tibet and Tibetan culture by destroying Tibet’s environment or legitimizing China’s occupation.

During this period, I spoke at various events, including at the TCV school in India, to support the further development of student activism for Tibet. Two of the students at TCV in attendance were Tendor la and Tenzing Wangyal la. Tendor la later served successfully as SFT’s executive director and Tenzing Wangyal la served as an SFT board member for many years.

I reflect on my past involvement with SFT with much pride. Many of my fellow activists over twenty years ago are now working parents spread across the globe continuing to make a positive difference in the world on a number of fronts. I know the current SFT members will also use their experience to bring awareness and justice where it is most needed.

Prior to emigrating to the United States, I used to think that business was the reason for many of the conflicts around the world. I assumed that the business world was driven only by narrow self-interest, so I believed that the end result was always net negative. At college, I had an opportunity to read the 18th-century political philosopher Adam Smith and gained a better appreciation of the market economy. His thoughts slowly changed my mind.

The first insight from Adam Smith’s writings was that the thought leaders who helped develop the market system were driven by a compassionate motivation to improve the livelihood of society in general. They were able to come up with innovative solutions that leveraged our narrow-minded self-interest and competition to benefit the greater good. Later they further developed the system to mitigate the risk of abuse by placing checks and balances in government and the market.

Occasionally there is an assumption that compassion means giving up on your interests and appearing kind. Through my journey I have now met with a few of the most successful and influential business, political, and thought leaders in the world. They are living proof that compassion and competition are not mutually exclusive. In addition, one does not need to look kind or do something popular to make a great positive impact.

The unique aspect of a capitalistic system is that it allows individuals who are caring or narrowly self-interested to contribute to society. It recognizes the reality of differences in human motivation and works with it rather than trying to change it or create a utopian society.

Partly inspired by the power of capitalism and my interest in development work, I entered the banking sector and later earned an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Compassion in the workplace

I feel fortunate to work for one of the world’s largest financial institution. My current responsibilities involve financing and monitoring multi-billion-dollar energy and infrastructure projects in the Americas. My work has allowed me to learn how deals are structured and negotiated, the impact of macroeconomic trends, and how changes in commodity price and government policies affect people’s livelihood. In addition, it has allowed me to visit a number of projects that our bank has financed, including wind farms, solar projects, LNG facilities, mines, pipelines, and infrastructure projects.

Such visits have allowed me to appreciate the critical role played by banks to finance projects that are important for our existence. In addition, banks help promote entrepreneurship, serve as an instrument of governments’ monetary strategy, and provide a venue to deposit and borrow funds.

About three years back I shared with my manager my interest in introducing mindfulness and compassion-generating techniques within our bank. My manager was supportive.

A modest number of us then launched a Mindfulness Group program within the bank. As in most financial institutions, stress levels were high. We introduced the concept of mindfulness as another stress-management option.

We were driven by a genuine effort to see how we could be of some benefit to our colleagues, our bank, and society at large. One of the primary guidelines for all volunteers is to make this effort secular and not bring any religious bias or personal agenda to our work.
There was an initial healthy dose of skepticism. Recent scientific reports and demonstrated benefits of mindfulness and compassion techniques at other corporations gave us some legitimacy. Results spoke for themselves. The interest and support have grown significantly since then,. We currently have more than 600 members throughout the Americas. One of our events attracted up to 1,100 colleagues.

From a business standpoint, compassion has shown itself to help break down mental silos that physical effort cannot, improve productivity, and give the practitioner more leverage from a negotiating standpoint through a better appreciation of the interests of others.

Due to our success within the bank in introducing mindfulness and compassion techniques, I had the opportunity to speak at a few business conferences, including a Wisdom 2.0 conference in Google’s office in Dublin, Ireland, on the benefits of integrating compassion into business. It has been an amazing journey of learning and sharing.

Through my work in our bank I have also helped develop a relationship between the bank and SOS Children’s Villages. Our firm has financially supported SOS projects in Chicago, USA, Mexico City, Mexico, and São Paolo, Brazil. Some of my colleagues have donated and sponsored SOS children globally. This has been a particularly meaningful experience because we Tibetans were kindly supported by people of other ethnic communities, and I know first-hand the effectiveness of the SOS school system.

My exposure to a number of different cultures has allowed me to develop an increased confidence in the value of Tibetan culture, in particular those associated with the Nalanda tradition. It is clear to me that the Nalanda tradition, which is based on compassion and reason, can play a critical role for a flourishing global society. This is something that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been promoting for a number of years, and I fully agree with him.

There are currently more than 7 billion humans living in the world. In 1800 there were a billion people. It is estimated that there will be approximately 9 billion people in 2040. We live in a world that has finite resources but is driven by consumption. Technology is looked upon as the saviour to support an increasing world population. Common sense tells us that we are taking too many risks and it is only a matter of time before our earth will not be able to support our existence. I cannot think of any culture other than one driven by compassion and reason that can help sustain our existence. That culture is found at Doeguling, Mundgod, which hosts the greatest living resource and knowledge of the Nalanda tradition.

Reimagining Doeguling

A few years back, several of my friends and I took up the daunting challenge to transform Doeguling, Mundgod (www.doeguling.com), into the world’s leading place to study the Nalanda tradition and Tibetan culture. Located in Karnataka, India, Doeguling is one of the largest Tibetan refugee settlements, with a population of approximately 16,000 and more than 4,000 acres. The settlement is home to the Ganden and Drepung monasteries.

Doeguling currently suffers from high unemployment among the youth, poor health and sanitation conditions, an economy that depends on donation and remittance, poor infrastructure, low ground-water resources that threatens the settlement’s existence, poor land rights, and an uncertain future. We know to preserve the culture we need to create the conditions where the youth are excited to live in Doeguling and the place will attract new talent and energy. My friends and I spent time with the community leaders in Doeguling to understand and brainstorm with them to put together a vision and plan. We have been able to share our goals and obtain support from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Karnataka State, and the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).

As a result of our effort, we were able to help community raise approximately $500,000 from Karnataka State government toward repair of Doeguling’s main road, completed a detailed assessment report worth $100,000 raised over $30,000 of working capital, organized the community to execute the plan, trained community leaders, gave feedback to CTA to help negotiate a sensible land lease agreement with the Indian government that, and raised awareness through social media of Doeguling’s value to the world.

The task in front of us is still daunting, considering the refugee status of the community, lack of land clarity, lack of funds, bureaucracy, poor internal organization, and internal politics. The outside world is also not very aware of the importance of Doeguling and the fragility of its circumstances.

Once we get more clarity about the land situation and the community has raised initial seed funds to pay for the cost of qualified consultants, we have offered to help negotiate and monitor work to develop a detailed business and master plan for Doeguling.


In September 2005, I worked with Barbara Barrett, who was then Chair of Thunderbird’s Board of Trustee, in inviting His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

It is exciting to note that former Thunderbird President Angel Cabrera, a fan of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was involved in the development of the Thunderbird Oath of Honor. This is similar to the Hippocratic Oath that is taken by physicians but is customized for the business world. Many other business schools have taken Thunderbird's lead or in parallel have developed similar oaths. I believe the visit by His Holiness played a role in nurturing this idea.

If poverty is a disease, finance is one of the best medicines. Just as a doctor needs compassionate motivation, knowledge, and effective medicine, I believe, financiers have the unique ability to alleviate poverty because they have the most relevant knowledge and tools.

Integrating compassion in capitalism has the greatest potential to alleviate poverty and develop a flourishing society. This is because compassion gives you mental peace, clarity, energy, and direction. Capitalism allows you to develop to the full potential when it comes to productivity because it encourages efficiency and results. Without mental peace and productivity, we cannot have a flourishing society.

The author is an MBA graduate (Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society member) from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and works in the Investment Banking field in New York City. He currently serves on the Board of The Tibet Fund.

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.

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