The MUTE Point

Data and AI Transformation: Change in Leadership

When joining Teams, the microphone is automatically muted in meetings with more than a specific number of participants. Do you find it frustrating, or is it the right feature?

I was working on a large transformation programme in 2010-11. We were a tightly knit group of 60-70 architects and transformation specialists in a secure room with restricted access. We were planning and implementing one of the National Health Service’s largest data transformation programmes. A new gentleman, Gavin Mander, entered the room and began sitting in one of the large spaces where we used to sit. After a few weeks, the gentleman could still be seen sitting in that corner daily, but he was now frequently seen talking to our Program Director, Chris Leary. A change in leadership was soon announced, and we were all made aware of the transition period for the two leaders’ handshake.

The leadership team that helped deliver Secondary Uses Service (SUS) for National Health Service. My apologies I was unable to recollect all the names.
Seated on the floor (from left) – Jane Rollings (#2), Jasbir Singh Riyard (last)

Seated on Chair (from left) – Jason Perkins (#1), Mike Thomson (#3), James Ormrod (#4), Gavin Mander (#6), Naren Kamat (#7), Amol Kapote(#8), Adrian Rogers (#10), Mark Carr (#11).

First Standing (from left) – Suhail Kazi(#03), Bhavin Shukla (#05), Roy Taylor (#07), Deepak Thakurdesai (#08), Peter Flynn (#10), Kashif Ahmed (#11), Ketul Savla (#13)

Standing Back (from left): Emma Ross (#09), Chandan Kumar (#10), Henry Walker (#11), Tim Black (#12)

We used to have all-hands meetings, but they were still presided over by our current leader, not the upcoming leader, the gentleman in the corner. We didn’t hear anything about the new leader’s thought process or new ideas; it was business as usual for us.

At the time, my attention was directed toward the more technical aspects of building, and as a result, I failed to recognise the significance of this nuanced but essential lesson. The modifications, the new ideas, and the obvious shift in leadership all took place later, but the transition was smooth, and there was no obvious sign of disruption caused by it.

After a decade, when I joined BT as Principal Enterprise Architect for Data Analytics, I could fully appreciate both leaders’ greatness. After working on and leading numerous transformation programmes, I assumed the role at BT would be no different. I only realised the full scope and complexity of the role after a couple of months. I was fortunate to have Jason Perkins in the organisation as my mentor, who encouraged me not to form or voice early opinions about the current estate and environment and to keep an open mind about the actual cause of the pain points and possible solutions. I was lucky to have such guidance, which helped me lay down the strategy and enterprise architecture that was niche, upcoming and recognised within the industry but was tailor-made for BT. This would not have been possible if I only went forward along with the tools I had in my armour and if I had built early opinion of the challenges and related causes.

This is one of the lessons I have learnt while going through the journey that the MUTE button should be set to default ON for a certain duration while joining a large organisation. For a good result, we should spend more time first listening, building relationships and getting to know people and processes. This will help us develop a strategy and plan that isn’t influenced by our past experiences and looks to the future.

In Data and AI Space, there are several ways to start out as a leader in a new organisation. Even though my thoughts might be true in other areas, my expertise and most of my experience have been in the Data Ecosystem. Here are a few important ones to consider when you join an organisation as a data leader, but this may not be the whole list.

📜Following the Scroll

The incoming leadership believes in the target state specified by the predecessor and comprehends the advantages of achieving it entirely. It is more about enforcing the established concept, which has been difficult and slow to implement. The strategy focuses on adhering to the specified guidelines and enhancing the capability to implement the identified change. This occurs when the organisation is aware of what “good” looks like, and the necessary repairs, but some key individuals or departments within the organisation have not accepted the change. The focus of this change can be limited to those who are resisting it because of their emotional attachment to legacy or because of their own definition of the end state, or to those areas of the organisation that believe the new world will lead to their existential crisis, or to the larger community that does not understand the strategy and direction because the strategy has not been socialised and clearly communicated.

🚦 Turning it Red

Highlight to the leadership that the current state of affairs is unmanageable and the strategy or implementation is either failing or will eventually fail. Changing the current status to RED is one method for managing change. Numerous advantages may accrue from this approach, such as enhanced focus and prioritisation, additional financing for rectification, additional energy to accelerate, cause disruption, and pivot if necessary, etc. This approach has the trade-off of calling into question the abilities and efforts of current and past teams and a baselined strategy. It can lead to uncertainty over the overall strategy, increase the delivery duration, encourage a blaming culture within and across different departments, and leaves a demotivated team.

🎯 Defining the Target State

It is understood that the target state has not been defined, and the incoming leadership has been given the job of defining the strategy, describing the end state, and getting buy-in from stakeholders so that this doesn’t come as a surprise when money is needed. This state is helpful because it lets you start over and understand the organization’s long-term goals. It will need a business case and a clear analysis of the costs and benefits. This kind of reform may take a long time to implement because there isn’t enough funding, and everyone doesn’t agree on what “good” means. It’s a marathon, and the team might lose steam. Also, not all the departments in the organisation would be at the same level of maturity, which could slow everyone down during implementation.

🚧 Removing Roadblocks

This is more of joining when the organisation is in a state of frustration. The change and the work that needs to be done are well understood, the stakeholders have come to an agreement, and the money is there to make the change happen. But the timelines for making this change are unrealistic, causing chaos and frustration in the organisation. The incoming leadership is expected to understand the roadblocks or processes that might slow down the change and educate the senior leadership with realistic timelines or develop alternatives that can speed up the critical processes that are working as the longest pole. This can be fixed by making small changes to the process or adding more resources to speed up the change.

❄️ Resolving Dependencies

This is when one enters an organisation when multiple transformations are taking place at the same time. The transformations of data and analytics are very complicated because they depend on other parts of the architecture, such as Business Architecture, Application Architecture, and Technology Architecture. The data and analytics transformations can’t be seen or done in isolation because other moving parts can cause major rework and might require retrofitting down the road. This can mean that the business case benefits won’t be realised. So, instead of implementing the data and analytics strategy from the Enterprise Architecture blueprint and technology strategy in small pieces, like “Data Analytics modernization,” “Building Data Hub,” and “Enterprise Data Quality as a service,” it is important to first enable the Data Infrastructure and then overlay with end-to-end use cases. The maturity of the architectural building blocks needs to be improved, and the components should be enriched each time. This way, the dependencies and changes across all four pillars of the architecture can be managed and monitored.

Summarising

One single approach from the list above may not work, and it will require a combination of the above and/or introducing the ones not listed here. But one thing is common to any of these, current understanding and history are required to define the approach to reach the end state.

Joining an organisation is a time of change for both the person and the organisation or team, which takes time. Organisations that bring people in key leadership role need to ensure that the right handoff and handshake happens. This means giving the new leader the original problem statement, the direction taken, and the challenges seen. It is also the job of the incoming leadership to not jump to conclusions about the problems and refrain from providing immediate solutions. False memories and bad experiences from the past, which I have discussed in the seven layers of existence, could change the fate of the organisation. Below are a few take-home points:

  • Not all IT problems have to do with technology or are technically based.
  • History and the people who know how things got to be the way they are and how we reached so far are important to understanding the root cause. Layoffs, redundancy, resignations and change can be done relatively easily within the engineering team but not in the strategy and enterprise architecture function, as it is not just a technical aspect but also about trust and relationships established with the stakeholders. Do not let the people who have lived through and understand the current strategy and problem statement walk out the door; they could be a gold mine for you.
  • The organisation should facilitate knowledge transfer and appropriate handover.
  • Having an open mind when one joins can help the person look at the problem as a whole and makes it less likely to form biases. Scars and experiences from the past are important, but they might not be useful or helpful in the new place. Don’t forget that one moved to a new job because the person wasn’t happy with the old organisation or ways of working in some way, i.e. it wasn’t all roses there. Individuals should not rush to prove themselves in the initial stage of joining the organisation.

Enterprise architecture is about looking at the big picture, researching, and connecting the dots. Building relationships with various individuals and teams is required. The single global currency of relationship and ally-building is “trust.” A certain level of aggression is required to push the strategy through, not as an imposition, but through the element of trust and only by explaining the rationale. Trust takes time to build, so settling in and spending time within the organisation is important before making major decisions and making your opinions known. The Mute Point!

If you’ve made it this far, I strongly recommend you to watch a 5-minute video by Simon Sinek in which he explains why leadership is about consistency rather than intensity and why trust is more important than performance, especially in this role.

Data and AI Transformations: Agility, Scalability and Partnerships

Within IT and business, we work on several transformation programs, which are either to deliver strategic initiatives or to meet regulatory requirements. The strategic initiatives may cater for the medium to long-term business demand or upgradation of technology and platforms. In some cases, it can innovate and help businesses meet their strategy to bring new products to market.

This short write-up highlights the factors that can become important in the overall success of such transformation programs. 

Recipe for success in large transformation programmes:

  • Agility – wisdom-based journey: Even with the best of people, processes and technology in hands, it is not apparent to understand all the challenges at the start. Every organisation and transformation journey is different. We learn as we progress; hence, we should be ready to experiment and be open to opportunities for other routes/alternatives. So that we if have to pivot later, then we can.
  • Build to Scale – Scalability by Design: We are in a fast-moving world, and hence we need to be agile, where we want to try something quick and check its chances of success or failure. Sometimes, we need to crystallise an idea into a product to be more measurable and tangible. Converting it into a product ensures understanding the actual value and outcome before discarding it. We are well aware of the challenges and success rate of start-ups, where “horses” (the opportunities that the start-up generates) or “jockeys” the founders) can be one that gets blamed. The more significant challenge is not if the idea fails to deliver but if it is a grand success. A successful idea brings more work; if it cannot scale, it can become a bottleneck later. So, build scalability upfront, as this cannot be an afterthought.
  • Partnerships – Conscious Team: The partnerships have to be big and bold. There can be several factors to help us choose partners, e.g. cost, SME knowledge, reputation, future roadmaps and ambition, etc. When selecting our partners, we must be cautious about how much we trust and rely on, as true partnerships are generally not proven until the first disagreement. We do not need Dream Team; what is required is a Conscious Team.

When we look at the transformation, we must consider our strengths and weaknesses. Focussing on our strengths can help us understand how we are different and unique from others. The recognition of strength can give real purpose. It can become the fabric to join the organisation’s people to achieve the transformation outcome.

It takes us to introspect; what is unique about BT?

BT is unique in many ways, but in the above context and from the area I lead, i.e. Data and AI perspective:

  • The company has a rich heritage of more than 176 years. We know how many start-ups come and go. It would not have been possible for BT to be in business for these many years if it did not continuously reinvent itself. We must not stop reinventing and innovating further.
  • To be a leader in the business, the company has to be a Trusted Provider. From an IT perspective, this comes only if the data and system are secure. We need to ensure that the trust that our customers have put in us so far continues in future as well.
  • Profit can take us only to a certain level, and we need a purpose to achieve more for the transformation. We must ask simple but difficult questions, are we addressing the most critical challenge for society? BT’s vision is clear – “We connect for Good”. BT plays one of the most vital roles in laying down the country’s infrastructure by helping to connect.

After listening to Matt McNeill (Google) last year, I was inspired to write an article on this topic during a BT-Google knowledge-sharing session. The above article is my personal view and wisdom developed while leading large-scale data transformation programs. I currently lead the Enterprise Architecture function for transforming and modernising BT’s data and analytics, which has helped me understand the importance of agility, scalability and partnerships.

Papa Did Not Praise!

Academically, I was a below-average student. I failed my year 9 exams in one of the language papers and just managed to pass my year 11 science exams. I barely scored 58% in my year 10 (GCSE) and 57% in year 12 (A Levels). You are ruined in India if you get below 85% on these exams. I failed to get admission to a reputed university and then failed three times in my UPSC (civil services) examinations. All this was when we, as a family, desperately needed money, and my parents said nothing.

Eventually, I managed to top the university in Physics at the district level, and I cracked one of the toughest entrance examinations to get admission to one of the most prestigious universities for my Master’s in Physics. I was one of the only students from the entire community to enter the prestigious university, and my parents said nothing.

I could not afford two-time meals and breakfast and was starving at university. I could not attend the convocation ceremony of the most prestigious institution because I could not afford mere 600Rs (£6). I could not further apply for my MBA in the US as I did not have money to pay for the GRE/GMAT entrance examination fees, and my parents said nothing.

I knew my parents were struggling to make ends meet, so there was a mutual understanding. I never asked for support, but my parents were always there if required, and so was I, and we both said nothing.

They never praised my successes or over-parented me during my failures, as they probably knew what was ahead of me and getting me ready to face the challenges. However, they always openly praised and improved me in that mattered to them the most, i.e. my ethics, moral life, empathy and attitude towards hard work.

Who would have thought in Year 9 or with a 58% score in GCSE that one day I would be leading Enterprise Architecture for Data and Analytics transformations for British Telecom, one of the UK’s most complex and prestigious digital transformations? But even today, papa does not praise me for these so-called achievements but only for the value parameters defined early in my life.

Team BT – Enterprise Architecture, Data and AI

From left: Paul Oliver, Bhavin Shukla, Ravinder Chauhan, Jason Perkins, Matt Penton, Doug Charlton, and Sgouira Lyra.

The skills learned over time and as a way of life have helped me in various roles. The large-scale transformations are multi-dimensional and not based on a single textbook. It is about finding ways to serve different views, opinions and reasons and taking the right decision based on the strategy and vision. My life journey every day gives me hope that things might not be right at this stage, but they can reach the target state with a purpose. The struggle early in life taught me how to adapt and energise to form an anti-fragile nature in a perfect storm and chaos.

I have been fortunate to get a good education in values. As a tradition, it is my turn to apply the same recipe to fine-tune or praise my girls for their righteousness but not their success. Be there if they need me during their difficult time but let them struggle to help them come out of the cocoon because who knows when will they need it and where they will land with or without these essential life tools?

Or maybe the world’s philosophy will change, and my children will write one day, Papa Did Not Praise Enough!

In the world of SMART Objectives, NPS scores and OKRs flying around everywhere, I wonder how organisations measure the value parameters to praise and motivate their employees to do the right thing. Also, what does a “good” employee look like, and how is this measured across organisations on a long-term scale? Hope this is not left to the LinkedIns and Twitters to derive!

Do we, on the ground, genuinely try and understand the diversity of people and how their diverse backgrounds can bring real value to the organisation and its culture, bringing it one step further to achieve its vision or are we too focussed on delivering projects? This is a key question to ask!

The former president of India, the Late A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, puts it nicely, “Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in character. When there is beauty in character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.”

🙏

The Pursuit of Happiness

To understand happiness, we have to understand how ‘desires’ work. Our desires are formed with the only intention to bring us joy and happiness.

How can we define desire? A simple mathematical formula can help us understand this better.

Desire(s) = Thought(s) + Feeling(s)

We can have thoughts, but not all of them are desires until we develop feelings towards them. The ultimate aim of a desire is to make us happy, it may not deliver it, but at least the desire promises to bring joy. Based on the above formula, we can see that feelings depend on the outcome of desires, e.g. we feel angry and frustrated when a desire is not met. Buddha said desire is the cause of misery when we identify ourselves with the desire.

This is the irony: desires are formed to make us happy, but they are not long-lasting; they constantly change and frustrate us due to the time taken between coming up with the desire and meeting them. The key is to independently watch the desire come and pass through as waves without attaching or identifying with it. For this to happen, our mind needs to remain calm in all situations. How to remain calm?

I was in Bangalore on October 22 and accidentally ended up in a course/workshop called The Happiness Program. I had three free days with no flights available to advance my return to the UK. I had no idea what to do and ended up in this program. I did not want to be out sightseeing and get stuck in Bangalore’s horrible traffic. Yes, when you talk about Bangalore, you have to mention traffic! Not knowing what to expect from the course was one level of uncertainty, but then another level was to live in an ashram (a monastic place or a religious retreat) for three days to attend the program. While it all looks interesting, staying in an ashram sounded outdated. The only hope was that I was well aware of the concept of short-lived vs long-lasting happiness, so I had a bit of a hypothesis and assumed that the course would deal with the latter.

The Ashram

The ashram is owned by The Art of Living foundation, which was started by Sri Sri Ravishankar, also referred to as Gurudev by his followers. The ashram is built on 550-acre land. It is almost as if one is staying in a forest close to nature. The stay is highly convenient and divine. The food is grown locally, less salty, sugar-free, and nutritious. There are dedicated areas for yoga, meditation, herbal treatment, etc.

When I landed in the ashram on the first day, I was told to stay away from intoxication, including tea, coffee or cigarette. This is to ensure the efficacy of the cleansing process.

The three-day happiness course made the participants experience the seven layers of existence. It taught the five behavioural principles and showed us the art of how to live happily.

The Seven Layers of Existence

In one of the blogs, I mentioned the three areas of our system, mind, body and soul, that are key to our well-being. The Happiness course eventually helped me understand further finer layers of existence within us and how they work.

It is important to understand how these layers work. The body (Layer 1) can control the mind (Layer 3) but only via the breath (Layer 2). The logical decisions are not taken by the mind but by the Intelligence (Layer 4). However, even when there are logical reasons why we should perform or not perform a certain action, our past memory (Layer 5), known as Chitta, takes an executive decision based on our previous good or bad experiences. The memory layer sometimes overrides the decision made by the Intelligence. The final override comes from the Ego (Layer 6); Ego is the unnatural self of our true self, i.e. Soul (Layer 7) and prohibits us from living based on our nature.

We need a balance within all these layers to ensure we stay in harmony with nature and our surroundings. The memory layer can be improved by being with good people, also known as Satsang. If the experiences are good, we will have less confusion within this layer. Intelligence is built based on gaining knowledge; hence, we must have access to the true path, which a guru can guide. There are two key parts, mind and ego. Both can be controlled via tools offered during the Happiness program. When our mind is restless, our breath changes. In the same way, if we change the rhythm of our breath, it is possible to calm the mind. These tools are called Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation.

Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation

The main teaching over the three days was how to control the rhythm of the breath. Regular practice of a formatted breathing rhythm, called Sudarshan Kriya (SK), followed by Sahaj Samadhi Meditation (SSM), helps cleanse the entire system and balance the layers of existence. The science is simple, when we are sad, we are looking at the past, and when we are anxious, we are looking at the future. In both of these situations, we are not living in the present.

The key to happiness is to live in the present. The breathing technique, Sudarshan Kriya, and meditation, using Sahaj Samadhi Meditation, remove thoughts related to the past and future and cleanse our mind of negativity.

My Experience At The Ashram

I knew no one in the ashram and went there without any expectations, which helped me absorb anything that came my way. The best part of the cleansing process was experiencing Sudarshan Kriya. There was too much hype created during the course, but when it all started, I did not feel much different. Sitting with folded legs, there were cramps and a tingling feeling near the toes after some time, but that was it.

Almost when the Sudarshan Kriya process was about to end, I tried to adjust my leg to make myself more comfortable. It was only then I realised that the entire body below my chest was numb, and I could not move it. This was followed by lying down on the mat for meditation, which I just managed. This was when the magic happened: my hands below the elbow were off the ground without my control. The fingers were curling outwards with cramps. I panicked as I felt like I was being raised off the ground and about to levitate; I was trying to push myself down on the mat. Then there was a shine, some sort of glow approaching me. I could feel a sudden release of energy and the laying of unnecessary baggage leading me to emptiness. Suddenly, this all became pleasant in a split second, and tears started rolling from my eyes. In that instance, I could see my spiritual guru, Morari Bapu, in front of me, whom I had desperately wanted to meet these three days. I meant to travel to his location within these three days and wondered why I was at this ashram. It was clear then that Sri Sri Ravishankar and my spiritual guru are the same.

This happened on the second day of the course at 7:30 pm. The world seemed different to me after I opened my eyes. I was in the vast emptiness. After reaching the UK, I read the book Gurudev to understand more about the phenomena, the master and the AOL foundation. It all made sense when I came across a quote in the book and compared it to my experience; emptiness is a doorway between the material and spiritual worlds and a place where one can understand the nature of the spirit. From emptiness begins fullness. On the one side of emptiness is misery; on the other side, joy. It is your spiritual guru, the master, who will help you to cross over.

The outcome was absolutely brilliant. For the rest of my stay, I had a velvety feeling inside, as if some lubricant had been added to my body. My mind was calm, I could feel the silence in my words and actions. After returning to the UK, 10 days since I landed, I followed the Sudarshan Kriya routine. I feel calmness deep within. During meditation, I feel as if I am breathing from the back of my spine and all the way to the top of my head. I sleep deeply and for a longer duration. My food intake has increased without impacting my weight, and the best part of it is that I feel happy!

I must say that I had a desire after my experience at the ashram, which was to meet the master, Gurudev. It is to be noted that millions of followers come to the ashram, and it is difficult to see him from a distance and forget about meeting him. However, destiny had decided something different for me. Everything was unplanned and seemed unreal to me, and I will write about the unfolding of events that led me to the ashram someday. I coincidentally met an old friend in the ashram, who tried his best, and somehow turned my desire into a lifelong memory.

In Gurudev’s words, ‘when you follow fun, misery follows you and when you follow knowledge, fun follows you.’

I went to Bangalore for a working visit and thought the visit to the ashram was a perfect offer, with one, get another free. Gurudev has plans to offer bigger deals and says, “when you are all with the one, everybody is free!”.

Jai Gurudev!

Wellbeing: Mind, Body and Soul

Our body is like an advanced version of a self-driving vehicle e.g. Tesla. The natural evolution process has trained us to create autonomic systems in our body that can take care of itself. For every driver-less vehicle running on autopilot, there is also a capability for the driver to manually operate the vehicle. In our case, the mind, also termed as monkey in Buddhism, is sitting on the driver’s seat managing the vehicle, and sometimes it gives wrong inputs to the advanced vehicle. We, the soul, are the passengers on a journey, with the monkey on the wheels handling an extremely advanced vehicle, our body.

The challenge then is – how we, the passenger, can train the mind, the monkey, to manage autonomous responses in our body, the Tesla, in an optimised way. Age old yogic practices comes to rescue and shows different breathing techniques to tackle this problem.

Mind, Body and Soul

When we encounter any situation that puts us in danger, let’s say a tiger is after you, our advanced vehicle then initiates the autonomic system of flight or fight, pushing all the energy in our legs so that we can run as fast we can. This is fine, if the situation is going to last for a short duration but it is not sustainable for a longer duration. This action deprives other areas of the body, as the larger share of energy is provided to a selective part of the body based on the circumstances. After a while, the body needs to trigger a complementary autonomic action when it comes to rest or digest, to perform functions that it does only when the body is at rest. In medical science, the autonomic system that controls this is called Autonomic Nervous Systems (ANS) that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions, such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, etc.  The Sympathetic Nervous System comes into action when the body is in flight or fight mode and the complementary nervous system is called Parasympathetic Nervous System, and activates when the body is in rest or digest mode.

Online Well-being Sessions: Explaining the Science of Breathing

When we are at work, every other task, email, meeting or conversation that leads us to stress or panic situation, triggers the flight or fight response and we are facing the tiger or different versions of tigers, 24 by 7 and 365 days of the year, living in dominance of sympathetic nervous system because of the pressure at work or at home. This means that the body is constantly under control of fight or flight response, with minimal chance for the rest and digest to trigger.

It is important to note that both the systems are equally important, without flight and fight we would not be able to survive as our body will not see the incoming danger situation. However, living only in dominance of one brings lot of wear and tear to the overall system.

Online Well-being Sessions: Anulom Vilom / Alternate Nostril Breathing

This is where the breathing exercises come to our rescue to help train the monkey that frequently hits the panic button triggering flight or fight systems. The breathing exercise activates the parasympathetic nervous system and applies brakes to bring us back into the rest and digest state. Research in recent times have shown that the heart rate in itself may not be a good health indicator, whereas Heart Rate Variability is a better measure to track well-being i.e. consistent and regular change of state from flight/fight mode to rest/digest and vice versa.

There is a controlled breathing (Prānāyama) technique in Yoga known as Anulom Vilom. It involves holding one nostril closed while inhaling, then holding the other nostril closed while exhaling. The process is then reversed and repeated. Alternate nostril breathing is said to have many physical and psychological benefits, including stress reduction and improved breathing and circulation. There’s scientific evidence that supports some of these claims.

Practicing Anulom Vilom breathing first thing in the morning may help start your day from a better place and serves as a great relaxation technique to provide a sound sleep. The yogis mention that regular practice of this breathing exercise for 60 days cleanses body’s nervous system bringing freshness to life.

Along with the breathing exercises that helps tuning autonomic systems, what really works for me is my belief system. I just know that there is someone looking after me and whatever happens, happens for a reason. These two things help in accepting things as they are, never lets the stress accumulate and most importantly bringing gratitude in daily life.


I have recently emerged from a very rough experience of Covid. At one point, at 2am in very cold December, when the oxygen levels were going down, with heavy breathing and heart rate completely out of control, I thought I am not going to make it. Sitting next to a radiator and seriously concerned about the welfare of my family, I did Prānāyam and Prayers to calm my nerves, and left it to my belief system and faith in Him to sort it out. At that moment the only thing I wanted was to see through the night and look for the first rays of the morning.

Fortunately, I made it and have completely recovered. This blog has been written to help friends and colleagues working in different areas of the organisations across geographical locations and are currently going through stress either due to lock down or other health challenges.

I am currently working as Principal Enterprise Architect within Architecture and Strategy, leading on Enterprise Architecture for British Telecom’s Data Analytics Transformation. If you would like to know more then please reach out to bhavin.shukla@bt.com. The concept of Me, Monkey and Tesla has been taken from The Keshav Way by Vinay Sutaria.


Anti Burglary Campaign – A Report

After a recent spate of violent burglaries, the Asian community started a signature campaign in Leeds and the neighbouring areas by writing a letter addressed to Fabian Hamilton, the MP Leeds North East. The campaign intended to capture the stories of the community along with the impact to their daily day-to-day life.

Letter to Fabian

Online Signature Campaign – Letter to the MP, Leeds North East.

The signature campaign aimed to highlight the irony that hard working men and women are currently living in fear of violent burglaries in their own homes while the thieves and robbers thrive and attack people in their own homes. The campaign also captured people’s views around the impact to their day to day lives because of the violent crimes. The topmost element of the impact was the Emotional factor, i.e. fear, worry, etc; second most concern was safety of their family and then was related to the valuables e.g. car, jewellery, etc. This indicated that the people are living in fear of violent burglaries and are concerned about the well-being of their family members. As a follow up to the letter, a meeting was set up with an esteemed panel including political and high-ranking police officials to discuss the community problem in an open forum.

The meeting was held on 18th May 2018 in St. Chad Parish hall and was attended by more than 150 people of the community. The comprehensive panel included, Fabian Hamilton – MP Leeds North East (Labour Party), Mark Burns-Williamson – the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, Simon Jessup – Detective Chief Inspector Head of Reactive CID, Leeds District Senior Leadership Team, Richard Horn – Inspector Neighbourhood Police Team, North East and Cllr Peter Harrand – Councillor Alwoodley Ward (Conservative Party).

The Panelists

From Left – Peter Harrand, Fabian Hamilton, Mark Burns-Williamson, Bhavin Shukla, Simon Jessup and Richard Horn

Bhavin Shukla (Community leader) introduced the panel members to the attendees. Bhavin Shukla then provided the statistics on crime which had worried the community by quoting the BBC Panorama programme that was aired on 16th May 2018 on BBC1.

Figure 2 - The Crime Map of Britain, 2017

The Crime Map of Britain published by The Sun in 2017

The statistics highlighted in Panorama, Police Under Pressure, matched the report titled “The Crime Map of Britain” published on 22nd June 2017 by the Sun newspaper. In September 2017 BBC reported a rising trend in burglaries in South Asian homes for gold. They reported figures as high as 2 burglaries in Indian homes per week in Milton Keynes. London Metropolitan Police estimated 50 million pound worth of jewellery stolen form South Asia homes in London in the last financial year. Some of the statistics discussed alluded in Panorama were shocking e.g. recorded crime at national level has increased by 21% from 2014 to 2017, whereas 11% fewer criminals have been charged for conviction in the same period. The number of violent crimes have also increased in past 3 years e.g. 41% increase in number of rape cases and 15% increase in homicide cases at national level. It was also discussed that West Yorkshire has one of the largest police forces and also has one of the highest crime rates.

During the meeting one of the victims, a 70 year old lady based in Woodlea area of Leeds, narrated her shocking story of how her house was burgled and she was held captive with a screwdriver pointed at her neck. This first hand account of a violent burglary caused visible signs of distress within the attendees and the speakers. At this point after the attendees has absorbed the seriousness of the topic and empathized with the victim, the forum was then made open for discussion with the representatives from police force given the first opportunity to talk, followed by the elected representatives.

Whilst Mark Burns-Williamson, Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire acknowledged the increase in the overall crime rate at a national and local level, and the very real perceptions of the victims affected and the wider community, he added that he did not feel that there was a disproportionate increase in break-ins into British – Asian households according to the recorded figures. He continued that there were recent priorities and budget set aside to fund more police constables, which should help to bring the situation under control. Mark said, that the Chief Constable – Ms Dee Collins, directly reports to him and he assured that the matter will be discussed with her after the meeting. Mark also mentioned that there is funding available for the community to bid into and his office are there to assist if the community chooses to apply for a grant.

Chief Inspector Simon Jessup mentioned that he personally went through the statistics and as per his view there was no pattern to support that the British Asian families were systematically targeted. He also mentioned that in fact the crime rate has decreased from 10,000 previous year to 7,800. The figures quoted by Simon were in complete contrast with the numbers reported by BBC in the Panorama, which indicated 25% increase in domestic burglary in the last 3 years in West Yorkshire region. Simon’s view was that more incidents were being reported and this falsely puts up the statistics (for example break-ins into sheds are also being counted which are supposedly increasing the numbers). He highlighted preventative measures like role of community reporting suspicious people, neighbourhood watch, securing houses, etc. He reassured the community that with the new introduction of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), robbers could be apprehended before or after crimes are committed.

Richard Horn, Inspector Neighbourhood Police Team North East, recognized the problem and encouraged the community to get to know the Neighbourhood police team (NPT). He concentrated on preventative measures including avoiding usage of social media for posting photographs that displayed jewellery and attracting the attention of thieves. He also highlighted how the community needed to engage with the PCSO in reporting crimes as soon as possible, so that criminals could be traced quickly.

Before Fabian Hamilton started his response, he was made aware of the statistics by the chair e.g. at any point there were estimated 250-320 criminals on the run in West Yorkshire, more than 50 gangs are operative in the region, failure of police to respond to more than 20% of the actual emergency within the stipulated time due to resource limitations, etc and the question was asked, whether the public fear about increase in violent burglary is a perception or a reality.

Fabian Hamilton in his address balanced his views by stating that violent crime targeted at Asian homes is both a perception and a reality. He said that he sympathized with the community and asserted that it is not right for anyone to live in fear. He reassured the community and offered his help ensuring that he will respond to everyone that has written to him and belongs to his electoral ward. He reiterated the need of increase in funding to support police force and highlighted the point earlier raised by Mark in relation to the increase in Council Tax. He suggested the community on how more support can be provided by the authority e.g. taking up the cases with the police directly and setting up an Advisory Surgery, involving district burglary team, applying for the grant, etc. He also agreed and emphasized on key performance indicators to be given to understand improvement of the situation and linking it to increase in funds e.g. increase in council tax.

Councillor Peter Harrand, in his response, mentioned that in the last 20 years he had not heard about robberies in Asian houses being an issue and encouraged the community to bring this forward and “make a noise” to ensure that the concerns are appropriately addressed. He also enlightened the community about police clinics set up on the first Monday of the month in TreeTops Community Centre on Shadwell Lane and urged people of the community to meet up and get to know the local PCSO’s.

The Attendees

More than 150 people from the community attended the event.

Finally, the forum was set open for the community to ask questions to the panel, where pertinent questions were raised e.g. Who should be living in fear, the victims or the criminals and why the laws seem to be protecting the perpetrators? There was a consensus among the attendees that more force should be used to protect the people. There were questions in relation to the austerity measures, mostly seeking answers around the long term political strategy and why were these accepted in first place. Questions were asked for the lack of responsibility and accountability in relation to the increase in crime and victims, and why a model like NHS cannot be used where patient safety is at the heart of the operational procedure. The absence of performance measures and information available in the public domain around how the tax payer’s money is used to protect them for better living, was also raised in the forum.

There was an acceptance of the fact from the panelists that one burglary is one too many and that the police officers will take measures to ensure community safety e.g. increased patrolling, provision of community support officers, automatic number plate recognition, monitoring of known gangs. Cynics would argue that thefts, robberies and burglaries would not attract attention in comparison to other violent crimes like rape or murder. However, the risk to vulnerable children and elderly in their family homes, invasion of privacy and psychological impact cannot be underestimated. Law abiding citizens deserve protection in a society which asks for a significant contribution of their hard-earned income towards national insurance, council tax, personal and home insurance, safety deposit lockers, CCTV’s and police approved locks etc in the house. These measures promote locking ourselves in our homes to protect ourselves rather than expect a reasonable level of security, which is a deterrent to the burglary menace. Low success rates of 16% is unacceptable in any other field, and whilst we can sympathize with the financial pressures the police force is working, it is important to recognize and address the magnitude of the problem. Administrative measures are required from authorities that are goal directed, transparent and delivered within set time frames.

BBC look north covered the event. Police and Crime Commissioner did not think there was any evidence to indicate that there is an increase over the expected in burglaries in Asian households and the community were left void in relation to the safety issue. Poorly thought out, money saving and cost-effective policing can never be the best answer for austerity and has the potential to shatter public confidence. Dr Shashi Yelluri mentioned,” Burglars are prepared to intimidate and use violence & aggression to get what they want.  They obviously have no fear of being caught or apprehended.” In general, there was a feeling that the community would like to work to increase awareness and tackle this important issue before it further gets out of control. Dr Gayatri Rao said,” Our first meeting provided the much-needed interface with authorities and we look forward to better dialogue with the police in monitoring and reporting of crime so that we can understand the magnitude of the problem”; One of the attendees, Paresh Bhurke observed, “the session was very helpful and gave us insights on how policing works in terms of these cases. It is too early to say that the things would be sorted very soon but it is important to keep meeting often”. Mr Kishore Dabhi said as an observation, “Mr. Fabian Hamilton MP was reassuring with the promises of support for the community of Leeds with further support in helping to deal with any future incidents of robbery, by taking up incidents with the police directly”, however he had a mixed response and noted that more needs to be done, “I am not left with a feeling of safety after the meeting. Let us give officers and government an opportunity to prove their willingness to help our community to regain the feeling of safety once again.”

Whether it is real or perceived, the community hopes that better communications and active contacts will be made so that the feeling of safety is once again regained. The community is upbeat to raise the issue until it is resolved by rearranging meetings at regular intervals.


About the Authors:

Bhavin Shukla is working as an IT Consultant in the data space for last 20 Years. He has worked extensively for years on complex IT Transformation Programmes on NHS IT projects and financial organisations. You can reach the author on shuklabhavin@yahoo.com

Dr Olivia Pereira co-authored this write-up and is a consultant Physician and Endocrinologist at Mid Yorkshire NHS trust.

Many thanks to Dinesh Kaulgud for proofreading the article.

My special thanks to All Friends Group, an Indian / Asian community group based in Leeds, UK, which helped to organize the program and supported it throughout the campaign. Most of the people who volunteered for this event were part of this group.


A Journey to the Centre of Development

In the developed world, the word ‘Baloo’ might remind us of a loving and caring Jungle Book character but for the people in remote tribal areas and in the real jungle/forest of Karnataka where the basic necessity of life is questioned at every step, it is synonymous with growth and development.

Dr R Balasubramaniam aka Balu or Bala, the founder and executive director of the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM), was in Leeds recently to deliver a talk on the interesting work that the SVYM has been doing for last 30 years. The Indian community in Leeds crammed into the Shadwell village hall where the talk was being held filling every nook and cranny to listen to Dr Balasubramaniam.

The programme was organised by Dr Mamta Gupta and Dr Sanjeeva Gupta, the city’s top consultant in Pain Management and the event was supported by the All Friends Group (an upcoming Event management organisation very popular within the Indian Community in North Leeds area).

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Bharatanatyam Performers: Back row – from left, Esha Gupta, Vyshnavi Rao, Prisha Shukla and Risha Gupta. Front row – Keli Shukla

Leeds may seem very far from India, but the hearts of the non-resident Indians in Leeds is very close to the country where most of them were born and brought up.This was very much reflected in the agenda of the event. The event commenced with the performance of three wonderful Bharatanatyam dances (an Indian classical dance form) by the students of Devika Rao Dance Theatre (DRDT).

This was then followed by a brief speech from Sanjeeva introducing Dr Balasubramaniam. On listening to what Dr Balasubramaniam has achieved in life by volunteering his time for the underprivileged and tribal population, an introduction of any length would have seemed brief. To note a few points, Dr Balasubramaniam has been a doctor, an author, a development scholar, a mentor, a trainer, an activist and most importantly a social entrepreneur – a term that was new for many in the audience. At the age of 19, he started a movement called Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM) and lived for 26 years in the rural areas of Karnataka working on development programmes. He pursued his academic degrees on leadership, organisational development and public policy after his stay in the rural areas and then was a Frank Rhodes Professor in Cornell University between 2012 and 2016. He is currently working as a visiting faculty in several esteemed universities across different countries.

Dr Sanjeeva Gupta addressing the attendees

He has also authored several books of which “Vivekananda as I see him” and   “i, the citizen” are a couple to note. Dr Balasubramaniam has been deeply influenced during his early life by Swami Vivekananda’s teachings. He strongly believes that today’s youth should put more efforts to understand Swamiji’s teachings instead of iconifying him. Dr Balasubramaniam’s first interaction to Swamiji’s teachings came when he started as a student in an Engineering college but could not last more than a day in the institution due to intense ragging. Dr Balasubramaniam laughs this out as a fortunate event else he would have been just another Engineering student.  Dr Balasubramaniam is also a founder of another movement called, Grassroots Research and Advocacy Movement (GRAAM), which is more focussed towards helping corporate to establish social projects and is also oriented towards public policy research.

Dr Balasubramaniam spoke fluently and passionately about his views on development. He spoke about the position that our country used to be in the past and how much development has been done in recent centuries. Our country along with China, 200 years ago, used to contribute to more than 30% of global GDP but now has more than 25% of world’s poor. He described how our country that used to have 20% of global trade share is now reduced to less than 2% of the global trade share. Around 70% of Indians do not have proper established sanitation, 60% of our country does not have access to clean drinking water and 54% of the children are malnourished. Even with this staggering astronomical numbers in a 1.25 billion population, somehow this does not prick the common man’s conscience and life just goes on. According to Dr Balasubramaniam the reasons behind this is to be seen as a failure of leadership.

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Dr Balasubramaniam delivering the talk on SVYM

The country today is in need of a slogan of ’Making India’ instead of ‘Make in India’. He spoke about the India that the non-resident Indians were not aware of and his speech was an eye-opener in that context. He mentioned that the country’s economic growth and increase in GDP is very much welcome but it alone cannot be the measure of the development index. Development to Dr Balasubramaniam is not about building airports and highways; it is not even about the roads, hospitals and schools. These should be seen as a consequence of human development rather than the very purpose of it. Development as defined by Dr Balasubramaniam is ‘a constant expansion of human capabilities’ and it can be most meaningful and lasting only when ‘Human’ and ‘Social Capital’ is created and expanded. He believes that expanding human and social capital is the best way forward and by doing this will result in Economic consequences.

Dr Balasubramaniam provided further clarification; the human capital can be in 4 domains and involves expansion of the physical, cognitive (intellectual), Emotional and Spiritual domains and we should not limit ourselves focussing only on the economic factors as this can paint an incorrect picture. Dr Balasubramaniam said that the people who would further like to know about “development” should try and read the first chapter of his book ‘i, the citizen’.

The talk by Dr Balasubramaniam was hugely appreciated by the audience. The curiosity to understand SVYM’s model of working could be seen by the large number of questions from the audience.

In relation to the queries on funding, Dr Balasubramaniam explained that the world calls SVYM as a Non-Government Organisation (NGO); however the SVYM members prefer it to be called as a Development Organisation. As can be seen from the SVYM’s financial report 2014-15, not more than 15% of fund income is from the Government and hence the focus needs to be on self-sustenance and making NGO’s as Development Organisations qualifying it as Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.

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Lunch time – Serving Table

Soon it was time to conclude the discussion as the aroma of the delicious Indian meal wafted through the room. A three course meal was served to the attendees and the Indian delicacy was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone.

Dr Balasubramaniam had brought two hard bound books of “i, the citizen” which was then auctioned as there was quite an interest in acquiring a signed copy from Dr Balasubramaniam.

Left: Mr Manoj Bhura and Mr. Natwar Tibrewal at its best – Auction time; Top Right: Mr and Mrs Chittal – Book 1 auctioned successfully; Bottom Right: Dr Balasubramaniam with Dr Bhavani Rengabashyam. Hats off!

Lunch was then followed by a flurry of superb Bollywood dance performances.

Bollywood dance performances – Left: From left, Anaya Tibrewal, Aishni Choudhary, Jasmine Gupta, Keli Shukla, Naavya Pillai; Right: Riya Maslekar

Dr Harun Gupta then showed his skills in a very different genre of dance – Break Dance, which was equally supported / funded by Dr Ganesan Baranidharan.

Left: Team Work – Ms. Chiragi Solanki and Dr Harun Gupta; Right: Dr Harun Gupta and     Mr. Raxit Shah organising raffle tickets

Various performances and activities followed one after another ensuring that the funding for the good cause kept flowing. A raffle tickets was organised as part of the fund raising programme and people generously contributed to it.

A few paintings created by the resident artists of SVYM were also displayed and were sold to the invitees as part of the fund raising programme.

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Back stage ‘artists’ – no pun intended! Myself and Mr Dhaval Thakker

The community volunteers then pulled their sleeves up and began tidying up the hall and making sure that the hall was left in its original state. As Dr Balasubramaniam said, if ever Swami Vivekananda was needed then it is now and in the words of Vivekananda, “They alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive”. Vivekananda’s books have made a difference to the life of hundreds of tribal of Karnataka by influencing Dr Balasubramaniam. The world will be a much better place to live if we have more of Dr Balasubramaniam(s). My personal takeaway from the session was a pledge to know more about Swami Vivekananda by reading at least two of his books recommended by Balu, ‘Vivekananda – His Call to the Nation’ and “To the Youth of India”.

If we try to measure the success of the event by counting the fund collected it will become analogous to measuring development just based on the GDP. Hence, even if it is important to measure how much we collected, it is immaterial to discuss it in this newsletter.

The right measure for this type of event should be how many of us got inspired. The very next day after the event, my 8 year old asked me many questions about how Dr Balasubramaniam gets the money to help the poor. She wanted to understand the problem faced by the tribal people and also wanted to check if she can be of any help to the underprivileged. Her question was, how could she contribute and after discussing a few options, she decided to trade-in her birthday party that she has been planning for at least a couple of months and donate the money for the right purpose (she is also planning to write a letter personally to Dr Balasubramaniam).  In Dr Balasubramaniam’s words – “that is the ‘Social Capital’ that this world badly needs, if it needs to stop hurtling towards self-destruction”.

Jai Hind.

If you would like to donate to SVYM (UK) which is a registered charity in the UK (charity no: 1118678, all donations are exempt from tax under the provisions of section 505 of the ICTA 1988) you can do this either by Cheque, BACS transfer or Setting up a direct debit. (Account name: SVYM, UK; Sort Code: 089299; Account number 65232923). http://www.svym.org/uk/

 If you wish to donate via GAYE (Give As You Earn) through your employer please contact your pay roll department who will help set this up.  Then contact Charities Trust on 0151 2865129 or phillipw@charitiestrust.org (http://www.charitiestrust.org.uk) and inform them your payroll number, the name of the charity (SVYM UK), charity number and account details and they will automatically receive money from your employer and send this to your chosen charity. Your contribution is fully tax exempt.  If you need further information about ways of donating please contact on sgupta6502@aol.com  or 07880 500766 or drrbalu@gmail.com or visit http://drrbalu.com/

You can reach the author at shuklabhavin@yahoo.com

My special thanks to Dinesh Kaulgud for proof reading the article.