Purpose-driven work creates a competitive advantage for businesses as well as people. To work with empathy is a powerful purpose. Adapt it.
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Fifty-six is not a number that sounds like an uphill target. Just 56. Not in millions, not in thousands and not even in hundreds. Her annual target was actually fifty or around twelve in three months. She achieved 56 in three months, she has rescued and united 56 minor children with their parents. All children aged between 11-14 years old. Meet Seema Dhaka, 33, a courageous Delhi police officer, one of the three heroes of our story today.
Dhaka has been awarded Asamanya Karya Puruskar (Extraordinary Work Award) and has earned an out-of-turn promotion at her workplace. For one of her challenging cases, Seema had crossed two flooded rivers in West Bengal to reach the place in search of the child.
While Seema has crossed the rivers once, Relu Vasave, 27, rows 18 km every day to reach a hamlet where she doles out medicines and nutritional food to the tribe settlement. Relu, our second hero, has been doing this every day, day after day, through the pandemic. She only stopped when the rivers were flooded and were overflowing for a few weeks.
The third hero of this story, Pooja, a young lady who runs a milk store, does not cross a river or two, she crosses boundaries. Boundaries of doing business, boundaries of recruitment, boundaries of training, boundaries of cash flow. She crosses many boundaries. In this story, an advertisement for Facebook, the plot might be fictional but is not unreal. It is close to the reality. Like Seema Dhaka. Like Relu Vasave. The story exists.
Pooja Didi, the hero of the story, hires jobless people for her milk products business. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters join her store. The story shows that even though she is strapped for cash, she is concerned about these people’s livelihood and stays hopeful. There is a turnaround when her own people narrate the story on Facebook and she generates business.
“It is not easy to row every day. My hands ache by the time I’m back home in the evening. But that doesn’t worry me. It is important that the babies and expecting mothers eat nutritious food,” says Relu about her work. As an anganwadi worker, she has been serving a tribe. When the pandemic spread members of the tribe stopped coming to the village to collect their doses of medicine and nutrition. That is when Relu decided to row every day to reach them and distribute medicines. Most of the days she rows alone, on some days her sister-in-law, another anganwadi worker, joins her.
Seema recalled one of the challenging operations, far away, in West Bengal, in an interview: “It was my husband’s birthday but the thought that my efforts could lead to a child being found kept me going. Not many trains were running that day. We managed to reach the village with the help of state police after crossing two rivers. The child was finally found. I took him to a hotel, fed him and made him watch TV and after which he narrated his ordeal.”
While Pooja Didi’s story is a work of fiction and hits us beautifully because of the lovely video narrative, it is Seema Dhaka’s work of rescuing children or Relu Vasave’s work that is real, hard hitting and truly extraordinary.
Seema Dhaka in Delhi, Relu Vasave in Maharashtra, Pooja Didi in online communities are people with a single common notion. Their work is worship and is driven by a force which cannot be powered just by monetary incentive. It is their ability to be empathetic. Their style of work is purpose-driven, the purpose of being empathetically dutiful.
At large organisations, leaders work meticulously to define the purpose of the brand and the business. Managers and teams work on building the company’s culture aligned to the same purpose. The purpose becomes the compass for making decisions. Unilever’s purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace. The company follows its well-defined purpose diligently. So do many other organisations. At these workplaces you get to see innovations sprouting to meet the purpose-driven goal, business processes walking the same path and customers experiencing the delight of the purpose. It is easy to be an employee of such a business and work with its framework of purpose. But what do you do when you do not have a business like that to guide your work? Or you do not have a purpose of your own? Or you wonder why you do what you do?
Your purpose is your compass. It prioritizes your choices. Relu Vasave may not be able to define her purpose in words, but her words about her commitment reflect her purpose. Empathy is shifting your perspective and looking at the world from the point of view of others. This is what fuels Relu’s boat. Her urge to make medicines and nutrition available to people without access, is her everyday fuel. When Seema Dhaka says,’my efforts could lead to a child being found kept me going’ you know her work is driven by compassion for the unknown.
Your purpose is your ‘why’ and it connects what you do and how you do it. Purpose evolves over time and with changing careers. Staying true to the purpose of the moment enables decision making. It is absolutely ok to not have a well-defined purpose for your work. But it helps to be mindful of how purpose enables you to perform significantly better at work. You can choose your purpose to be empathy driven work.
SHIFT, Simple Habits & Ideas for Forward Thinking, the course to develop critical thinking skills recommends aligning to the purpose as one of the fifteen habits. At Habits for Thinking, we learn by developing new mental models through people and events around us. We have picked up lessons from extraordinary people like MS Dhoni, Michael Phelps, Ruth Ginsberg, etc. and here, in today’s article, there are lessons from extraordinary work of ordinary life, the lessons from Asadharan Karya.
To define your purpose as empathy-driven work, it is essential to look at the following:Purpose-driven work helps you prioritise basic needs:
A company required a driver for a pregnant officer. The manager interviewed two drivers. The first one had worked with a taxi rental company and the other one had experience of driving school buses. When asked about their traits, the first one said, “I am very punctual, I have never reported late to work.” The school bus driver said, “I am very cautious about children’s safety. Sometimes they take time to get down the bus or they jump around in the bus.” The bus driver was hired. Empathy-driven purpose must fulfill the basic needs of the people involved. Safety is one such basic need. While Relu Vasave supplies food to her clients, Pooja Didi in the ad takes care of the needs of her own employees.
Purpose-driven work helps you shift your perspective: You lean forward to understand your own people, your customers' point of views. You step into their shoes, shift your perspectives and then take work decisions. You listen more, you make people feel heard and you shift your stance.
Purpose-driven work helps you make choices: It was Seema Dhaka’s husband’s birthday but the thought of rescuing the child made her move towards work. You make several choices in a workday, your purpose guides you and shows you a path.
Purpose-driven work creates a competitive advantage for businesses as well as people. To work with empathy is a powerful purpose. Adapt it. You will thank me one day. Actually, thank Seema Dhaka, Rele Vasave and Pooja Didi’s of the real world.(Vishakha Singh, author of a forward-thinking course SHIFT, is a business strategist & a design thinking practitioner. She writes at www.habitsforthinking.in, offering insights into the ever-changing business environment.)