Spirit of Vivekananda Invoked At Conference On Spirituality And Leadership

A three-day conference to bring spiritual traditions of the East and the West under one platform and to discuss the role of spirituality in global economic and sustainable development was held in Chicago last week, coinciding with the 122nd anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s famous speech at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. The Sept. 11-13 conference was organized by Integrating Spirituality and Organizational Leadership Board at the Art Institute of Chicago in honor of Vivekananda.

The conference kicked off with the inauguration awards ceremony, announcing release of ten volumes of a compendium of research on ‘Spirituality and Organizational Leadership. ISOL chairman J L Raina presented the annual Trinity Awards honoring individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to spirituality and organizational leadership.

The two primary award recipients were Vivek Kendra Kanyakumari organization and Connie L. Lindsey, executive vice president and head of corporate social responsibility and global diversity and inclusion at Northern Trust, Chicago. The Kanyakumari organization received the award for helping with more than 1,000 educational and medical programs for rural communities across India. The ISOL annual Trinity Ma Sharda Award on Women Leadership presented to women leaders with the highest standards of excellence who integrate the values of compassion, love and wisdom based on moral and spiritual principles went to Lindsey.

The initiative was planned in 2002 at the 1st International Conference on ‘Business and Social Partnership: Beyond Philanthropy’ organized at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.

Topics of discussion at last week’s conference included spirituality and business governance, remembering the legacy of Swami Vivekananda, his thoughts on management and economic development, women in leadership and economic development, spirituality and sustainability and fast transcendence.

Inspired by Vivekananda, one of the first Indian leaders to promote spiritual values in the West, the event highlighted prominent Chicago and United States-based Indian-American business leaders and community members, including Swami Ishatmananda from the Chicago Vedanta Center, Dr. Sudhir Parikh, a Padma Shri award winner, Ausaf Sayeed, consul general of India in Chicago, representatives from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office and business leaders Niranjan Shah and Santosh Kumar Kulshrestha.

Parikh, who was the chief guest at the event, spoke on the topic of spirituality and leadership, saying he wears many hats daily – being a doctor, a publisher, a businessman, a philanthropist, a husband, a friend, and a father. “I hope to embody the values I am trying to inculcate in my colleagues, my community, my family, and my children. For a leader, spirituality is extremely important as people look to you for answers and look to you as a role model,” Parikh told the audience.

The 150-member audience comprised scientists, economists, business leaders, philanthropists and community groups from India, Nigeria, U.K., Germany, Italy, Zimbabwe, Dubai, and Jordan. “As a Hindu, I believe that there is no one path to spirituality or God and that all paths are correct. In modern times, spirituality can mean religion, but also connection to nature, to community, to family, and even connecting to your own self through yoga and meditation. All of these are correct and true,” he said.

Other speakers included Swami Ishatamanda who talked about the experiences of Vivekananda 122 years ago when he came to visit Chicago. “Swami Vivekananda was fearless in his speech and today has impacted thousands on this very day. Let’s embody his spirit,” he said.

Tony Nader from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Worldwide Transcendental Meditation Movement, talked about the link between the human body and the Vedic texts. Emily Rosenbaum, CEO, Akshaya Patra Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in Bengaluru, also spoke at the inauguration.

Among other local honorees was Niranjan Shah, CEO, Globetrotters Group of Companies, USA, who received the Swami Vivekananda Leadership Award. In addition to leading one of Chicago’s earliest large-scale, minority-owned corporations, Shah has also served on the Economic Development Committee for Chicago. Kulshrestha, executive director of Metropolitan Asian Family Services who founded Metropolitan Asian Family Services in 1993 to provide comprehensive and integrated services to immigrant populations from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and East European communities, received the ISOL Social Entrepreneur Award for her contribution to the Chicago land community.

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