Breaking Walls in Wall Street

Birju Pandya–  Investment Manager, Gift Culture Pioneer

birju pandyaFavorite quote
“Service does not start when you have something to give. It blossoms naturally when you have nothing to take.­” – Nipun Mehta

A Minute of Silence
Compassion is not an act of bravery. It is the path of least resistance.
A few years ago I was working in a investment fund. On my one year review, the principal of my investment fund called me to his office and said, ‘Birju, you have done well. What do you want?’ That is a godfather offer if you work in an investment firm. I did not know what to ask. I paused for a while, then I said ‘I know what I want. Every time before we have a team meeting, I want us to spend a minute in silence’ My boss stared at me for what seemed like a very long time, and said ‘No’. We talked some more and he offered to consider my request. I guess he must have considered what else I could have asked, so the next day he agreed. I had come prepared with my singing bowl and we started that meeting with a minute of silence. In the four years since, the transformation that has happened in my organization is nothing short of astounding.
The one-­minute of silence became two, extended to five minutes before some meetings, and 30=­minutes of silence once a week. And then it became even deeper. As a team we began experimenting with random acts of kindness. We would go to restaurants, pick a random table to pay for and reflect on it as a team. This soon evolved into a practice, and we were doing 21­-days of gratitude and 21-­days of mindfulness, and multi­-day events where investment bankers are talking about how to bring their services in line with the compassion that we were practicing. And so now we have an investment firm, perhaps the only investment firm, where taking a loan means a commitment to perform 21-­day acts of kindness.

Compassion happens in small frequent continuous series of steps. They are perhaps
imperceptible day to day. This is how the impossible becomes the inevitable. I had been
practicing my own meditation and reflection practices over a long period of time. The small stories that lead to big moments are often unsexy. When I was offered a choice about what I wanted, it was not a difficult or brave decision to prioritize a minute of mindfulness over a bonus or a raise. That is because of the years of internal work that preceded it.
When I am talking about the Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa, I am talking about the Michael Jordans of compassion. But just because I am not a Michael Jordan doesn’t mean I should not go out and exercise. Exercise is really is valuable for me, my family, my culture. So is compassion. It is not a case where if you cannot be the best you cannot do it at all. This is a very self­ limiting world view. I am in the field of social entrepreneurship. In my job, we invest in people who make the world a better place. On the other side, I am investing in an internal practice. What I came to realize was that what I was doing in my professional life was not being integrated with practices that shift one’s perception. For example, when I am compassionate, there is an external benefit that is associated with that­ people end up with more resources, we make more connections. But I believe that is only a very small component of the process.

There are neurological impacts of being compassionate and practicing generosity. When I understood this, I realized I had an opportunity to re­wire my brain. This became important, because as I grew in my professional life, I realized that as long we hold the view that, yes, compassion is great, but how does it help the bottomline, what we are doing is we are taking the bottomline as though it is divinely ordained. The financial bottomline is not divinely ordained. Nature and relationships are. The modern financial system is a figment of our imagination which we recently created as a way to chase our idea of progress. And it comes with its own ramifications. As I started to realize this I began to come in contact with other people who offered alternative ways to measure progress. Call them indicators of well being. Gross national happiness for example.

People are offering ways that their success is no longer measured solely by the financial bottomline. This intersection between doing the innerwork of compassion, of shifting my perception and putting money out in the world in a way that allows people to develop their non­financial wealth, not just their financial wealth, is the place of my deepest interest. It is all driven by small consistent frequent interventions in the workplace around compassion, generosity, mindfulness etc. The goal is not to have situations where the logical brain is the master. The goal is not to practice compassion so that I can become ten times richer. That is the possibility of the logical mind.
Everytime we practice innerwork we have to push our boundaries. That is how the neurological shifts happen. Two months later we get into daylong retreats and reflect on what we have learned and how we can implement it in our business. How can our products or services change. Five months later we are asking how can the processes within the company can change to reflect the forms of efficiency that come from compassion, and pretty soon it is the people within the company who begin to say, ‘ Oh, I don’t need this money. I can be happy by living simply. Why am I chasing this?’ It is a shift that happens because they have changed the wiring of the brain in little steps.
Nine out of ten top hedge fund managers have dedicated meditation practices that help them with their success. But financial success should not be the ultimate destination. The goal is for us to go beyond the financial benchmarks and a transactional mindset.

Financial success is like the training wheel of the bicycle that needs to come off at some point. There is a story that I like to share. There is a gentleman in the East Coast that I worked with who delivers organic produce to houses. He took on a 21­-day kindness challenge through Servicespace. One week into the practice, he told me that he had come to realize that did not feel connected with his customers. Everything seemed very transactional. As a small step forward, he made a decision to spend atleast one extra minute to connect with his customers. A week later, we were having another phone conversation. He told me that a very interesting thing had occurred to him. He
had, as planned, spent the extra minute to talk to a new client, and discovered that the reason she was getting this organic produce was because she had been diagnosed with throat cancer, and she was trying to cure herself. He somehow felt connected with her. He said’ I have to do my act of kindness today anyway. So I want to give you this box of vegetables.’ It was a 75­-dollar box and it was certainly not financially easy for him to give things away. But he did. As he drove away, he realized that in all the years he had been delivering vegetables, he had never been more happier than now. Interestingly, the woman later wrote to him and let him know that she was now his customer for life.
Happiness was the outcome, money just happened. And it came from a decision to include a simple practice of kindness.

Compassion practices
Practice compassion frequently and consistently.
We all have the opportunity to neurologically re­wire ourselves through consistent action, and perhaps change the world as part of the process. The one moment of action is a result of the inevitability of practice over a long period of time. When we step up in compassion the world will respond to us in kind.


About Birju Pandya

Birju Pandya is a co-founder of Mobius, an office seeking to utilize multiple forms of capital to grow well-being and alleviate suffering.  He is also actively involved with other pioneering financial firms such as Armonia, which focuses on regenerative agriculture, and RSF Social Finance, which carries the spiritual vision of Rudolf Steiner into money.  Birju is a leader in this emerging field of money and meaning, and is also an active volunteer with the gift culture movement that is ServiceSpace.

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