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Elites – the Gen Y Transformers

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ELITES – THE GEN Y TRANSFORMERS

Nature abhors vacuum, and so do homo-sapiens. The latter, in its unrelenting quest, goes a step further and evolves to improvise, adapt and overcome. Given the nature of how non-conformist descended from the same ancestor, we’re all the same; and yet we’re so different.

At the very outset, the elite, since time immemorial, has enjoyed a stellar reputation by virtue of their elevated status, which was, is and continues to be shaped by their social status; political background; cultural hegemony and/or economical might. There is no doubt in mentioning that the elite has toiled hard, slogged painstakingly and worked tirelessly to mount on the pinnacle in every walk of life. However, the existential question still looms large; to what extent the ‘elite’ has contributed and is contributing in the national and global discourse. The answer may well be fraught with complications, and full of labyrinth cross-questions, but this is what this essay seeks to do.

I live in India, a developing economy whose population is over 1.2 billion. Though it is the seventh largest country in terms of area it houses the maximum number of people second to China. If we are optimistic, then in one way we have the second largest manpower in the world and we can use it to do wonders. Infact the steady progress which India has been doing in the past has made the developed nations be wary and cautious of India’s achievements. But, on the contrary, if we look at the real wealth distribution statistics then the top 10% of the total population of India owns close to 80% of the country’s wealth. The income disparity is huge with the richest 10 per cent holding 370 times the share of wealth than the poorest 10%. The Tata’s, Birla’s, Mahindra’s are amongst the top most Elite class in India if we talk in terms of wealth. Then we may refer to Elites in terms of the political power, these would include the Gandhi, Nehru Family and many others. In general the Elite refer to the people who are superior to others in terms of certain abilities or qualities. So if we talk about the development which has taken place in India over the years, then whom should be attribute this to? Should it be the Elite class which has been making rapid progress or it should be the general mass which does the background chores for sustainable development? And then, to whom this income disparity should be ascribed to?

If India, there are over 40% of the population who do not have access to quality education, housing and sanitation facilities. How could they then contribute to the overall development of the nation? What is the reason for this huge disparity in the income levels which exist in the society? Do they lack aspiration or are they not allowed to rise above their level? As part of SPJIMR, Abhudyaya program, every weekend I visit one of the students from the slum area of Mumbai, Irla. A few interactions with her and her family made me realize the huge aspiration which these people carry in them. All of them want to become either a doctor, engineer, CA etc. Their parents want the kids to study; they try and save as much money as they can so that they can provide their kids proper education. But even then they are not able to sustain the development of their child for long? Reason – lack of proper guidance, resources and funds. We can give them guidance but what they actually need is access to a healthy lifestyle, they need employment, they need food, they need shelter. But then who is responsible for providing them this? Should this onus be taken by the government which runs the society or the Elite class which has access to everything, wealth, power etc.? There can be no one answer to this question – it has to be a joint effort of both the government as well as the ELITE class. For, when one takes the initiative, the other can provide resources and assistance in terms of technology, manpower etc.
While we talked about India, the situation is similar all over the world. Talk about the developing countries – rising population and lack of infrastructure and resources is prevalent, while the developed nations face problem of ageing population and talent stagnation.
In the past there have been several examples where we have seen the ELITE classes coming forward to bring about the change they want in the society. Take for example Bill and Melinda (nouveaux riches) Gates foundation which works to enhance the healthcare and reduce poverty level in the society, Warren Buffet swearing to give away 99% of his wealth to the society through the Gates foundation, Michael Jackson who founded the Heal the World Foundation etc. Some other noticeable philanthropists who belong to the elite class would include George Soros, Mark Zukerberg the Walton Family etc. Clearly there has been a rise in the social awareness and responsibility which has been felt towards the society by the elites. Also many more celebrities are coming forward and making their contribution in this field. However, going by the current trends the role of the Elite has become limited to the act of philanthropy and social service. What we now need is for them to come forward and make contribution which not only helps in the upliftment of the society but brings about a wave of change, transformation. We need them to realize the importance of their position in the society. We need them to know how they can be a harbinger of change and rapid development. Elites need to understand that they can't survive on this planet without the masses. They need to focus on co-existing with each other in harmony. They should take keen interest in socio-political stabilisation on a global level. On a micro level, each region has its own social and economic issues. They can look at the bigger picture (macro level) and still help resolve local issues with the help of globalisation.
To begin with should be to revamp the education system. Why only few sections of the population have the best of education? Why can’t we think of ways to make education affordable? Setting up of quality education institutions in their own countries, making way to more scholarship opportunities, funding the talented mass and nurturing their abilities further, opening up of more and diverse opportunities in areas of Arts, Commerce should be one their main motive. While we have institutes like Bits Pilani, XLRI Jamshedpur, and TISS etc which are run by the Tata’s and Birla’s, how many of them are affordable for the lower rung of the society is still a question mark? It’s time that the elites realize that rather than looking at these educational institutions as source of funds, they should treat it as a hub of creating talents which they can use further in their fields. EDUCATE to EMPOWER should be the intention with which they should strive forward.
Another area which is plaguing the society today is sustainable development. While we have seen rapid development in various areas such as manufacturing, power, transport, health etc. what we have simply ignored is the fact how sustainable they are? With the intense drive for success which is being pursued by all there is a need for us to focus on the right methods and strategies. As part of the elite class one of their main functions could be to follow the right methods, strategies and set up an example for others to follow. While we have seen cases such as the Bhopal Gas Strategy, Enron etc it is time to let the notion go that the biggies are there just to create wealth and more disparity. DRIVE TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT should be the ideology they should pursue.
GENDER INEQUALITY AND WOMEN EMPOWERMENT is something which hardly has been focussed on by many. Looking at the world statistics (UNwomen.org), Europe can expect a shortfall of 24 million workers by 2040 if women’s participation rate remains what it is now. Also, an analysis of Fortune 500 companies found that those with the greatest representation of women in management positions delivered a total return to shareholders that was 34 per cent higher than for companies with the lowest representation. In spite of all these the gender gaps in the employment sector have worsened. It’s time for the elites to take up these social issues and create awareness and set up facilities and examples. While most of the fortune 500 companies focus on maintaining a sustainable gender ratio, there is a need to let the practice prevail at all levels. The penetration of women to the higher positions in an organization has been very low. There is a need to cater to this section of society specifically and promote their development and interests. Also equality of pay and opportunity should be promoted across all sections of society.
21st century has seen rapid growth as far as technology is concerned. With the advent of computers and its application in almost all the spheres of the life, the elites should help create an eco-system where general masses can benefit from this. While there has been an increase of people taking a turn from the conventional norm of doing a job and venturing into something unconventional, start-ups, the Elites could actually help by funding them or mentoring few to carve out their niche position in the society. We need more Steve Jobs, Warren Buffets and Mark Zukerberg. Thus FUELING THE INNOVATION and MENTORING THE DESERVING is another role which could be played by the Elite class.
The Elite section should realize that their role is not just being a mere signature of development but to act like a bridge, a path to bring about development of the society as a whole. There is a need for each of them to be a leader, to be an idol, a source of inspiration for someone else. We need them not to rule the world but to create a world ruled by none. Let there be no need of a superheroes, let everyone be the hero of their own domains and be proud of it.

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