Donahue Center Distinguished Speaker Raj Sisodia Points Way for Students

Raj Sisodia speaks to students Image by Ed Brennen
Raj Sisodia, co-founder of the “Conscious Capitalism” movement, talks to students about business as a healing enterprise for society.

By Ed Brennen

“This is the richest country in the history of the world,” Raj Sisodia told the roomful of students, many of whom were about to graduate from the university and head out into that world. “The stock market is at record highs, and unemployment is below 4 percent.”

Then Sisodia, a best-selling author, scholar and co-founder of a movement called “Conscious Capitalism,” rattled off a few sobering statistics about the current financial condition of the United States. 

“Nearly 60 percent of American households have a negative net worth; they are technically insolvent,” Sisodia said. “Fifty percent of Americans have less than $400 in the bank. One hundred million Americans, two-thirds of the workforce, are living paycheck to paycheck.

“Have I depressed you?” Sisodia asked the hushed crowd at Lydon Library before pivoting back toward positivity. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

Students listen to Raj Sisodia's guest lecture Image by Ed Brennen
Students listen to Raj Sisodia's talk as part of the Donahue Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility's Distinguished Speaker Series.

The Donahue Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility invited Sisodia to campus recently to speak to students, faculty, staff and community members as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series.

Sisodia, the F.W. Olin Distinguished Professor of Global Business and Whole Foods Market Research Scholar in Conscious Capitalism at Babson College, shared stories from his latest book, “The Healing Organization,” which examines how business can become the “primary agent” for healing communities – and the world.

“If we do it right, business can actually alleviate suffering and bring joy into people’s lives,” said Sisodia, who shared examples of companies that have done this by putting people instead of profits at the center of their business model.

Sisodia said the first step is for businesses to listen for and acknowledge the “silent suffering” of employees, who often do not want to share their burdens and appear vulnerable.

“People are broken, burned out and stressed out,” Sisodia said. “The human cost of doing business has become unacceptably high.”

Donahue Center co-directors Elise Magnant and Erica Steckler with Raj Sisodia Image by Ed Brennen
Donahue Center Co-Directors Elissa Magnant, left, and Erica Steckler welcomed Raj Sisodia to campus.

Businesses need to be willing to go against the status quo and change industry culture to improve working conditions, Sisodia said, giving the example of a successful consulting agency that focuses only on local clients so employees don’t have to be away from their families.

“People are frustrated with the old story of business. It doesn’t inspire anymore, and it’s leading to a lot of negative side effects in the world,” said Sisodia, who added that this is why there’s an increased “flirtation” with the idea of socialism in American politics. “People are fed up with negative sides of income inequality.”

Sisodia noted that in the last 35 years, worker pay in America has increased 10 percent, while CEO pay has gone up 937 percent.

“That is unconscious capitalism. That is exploiting the system to benefit a few,” said Sisodia, whose “Conscious Capitalism” philosophy is based on the belief that a more complex form of capitalism is emerging that has the potential to enhance corporate performance while also advancing the quality of life for billions of people.

“Raj exemplifies a very special type of wisdom required to see opportunities for scalable business strategy and innovation that benefits the world,” Donahue Center Co-Director Erica Steckler said in her introduction of Sisodia.

Raj Sisodia speaks to students Image by Ed Brennen
Raj Sisodia's latest book, "The Healing Organization," examines how business can become the “primary agent” for healing communities and the world.

Steckler, an assistant professor of management in the Manning School of Business, added that she’s been a “super fan” of Sisodia’s since the beginning of her academic career.

Sisodia has authored or co-authored 10 books and more than 100 articles in a career that’s taken him from India and California to New England. He’s also served as a consultant for a wide range of companies, including AT&T, Walmart, McDonald’s, IBM, Volvo and Kraft Foods.

Sisodia said he was “very happy” to be speaking on a campus that has caught his attention of late.

“I’ve been observing a UMass Lowell that’s really been a dynamic institution the last few years,” said Sisodia, who told students they should be proud to be members of a university “that’s growing and evolving and really making a difference.”

Gabriella Boudreau, a senior business administration major from Arlington with concentrations in management and marketing, appreciated Sisodia’s “heartfelt” message on the eve of her graduation.

“I like the idea of business being able to create change in people’s lives,” said Boudreau, who hopes to work with nonprofits. “It was definitely nice to hear.”