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A new spirit at work

Leaders around the world are moving to transform the business world with an infusion of spiritual values.

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"We need to use the language of people in business," adds Richard Barrett, a former World Bank official who helped spur an international conference on spiritual values and development. "And values is where it is right now." In the past three years, his consulting firm has worked with more than 300 companies in 24 countries to help them create values-driven organizations.

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Patricia Aburdene, coauthor of the Megatrends books, sees the rise of spirituality in the workplace as "a trend that is about to become a megatrend." She says it's reaching the "tipping point" for several reasons:

• The enormous stress people are under due to the economic and security crises of the past two years.

• Demographic data revealing a mushrooming segment of "cultural creatives" for whom values trump money and other trappings of success.

• Business leaders with their own notion of personal transformation or a spiritual path now bringing it into their institutions. (Spirituality in the field of medicine is a bellwether, she says.)

• A convergence of the movements of social responsibility and spirituality.

"All this is coming together to create a transformation of capitalism," Ms. Aburdene predicts. "The tenet of the Milton Friedman school that the sole purpose is to create economic value for shareholders is seen as having led us down the path to troubles, and this is compelling a rethinking of our philosophy of business."

Admittedly, the corporate world isn't rushing to sign up. "Even though you can show that those organizations with a spiritual orientation outperform others, even on the profit side, only a tiny percentage of business leaders 'get it,' " says USC's Dr. Mitroff. "It's a different mind-set between reactive, bottom-line-driven organizations and those that are more humane, driven by higher values."

Many business schools are even abandoning ethics classes, he says.

But numerous organizations are fostering the idea. The WBA is the oldest, founded 17 years ago. It has a center in São Paulo, Brazil; a graduate management facility in India; and a new academy in Croatia, where it will train executives from Eastern Europe.

ASAW, a professional association and a resource center for people involved with spirituality in the workplace (www.spiritatwork.org), formed in 1993, now has 50 chapters worldwide.

Beyond social responsibility

A newer international group, Spirit in Business (SiB), aims at changing the core priorities of the business world to focus on the good of all, says board member Terry Mollner. A pioneer in socially responsible investing, Dr. Mollner helped found the Calvert Social Investment Mutual Fund in 1982, the first such fund. But for him, social responsibility represents only half the loaf, since it doesn't address core priorities.

"The publicly traded corporation is really not a group of human beings but a set of contracts, like a machine," he says. "They give priority to the few at the expense of the many, and that's the contract they have with society. But we need to evolve a more mature system that gives priority to the good of all."

This is what SiB is about. It has held two conferences in the US, with another planned for Thailand this year, and has incorporated entities in the Netherlands, Australia, and the US that will fund projects. Some of its leaders are Buddhists, and the Dalai Lama spoke to the first conference on "Compassion or Competition."

Some, evangelical Christians in particular, concerned that the spirituality movement represents inroads of New Age thinking or Eastern religions, are also beginning to focus on the workplace. Last April, the Billy Graham Training Center hosted a conference for pastors and members of the International Christian Coalition of Workplace Ministries. They committed to focusing on "the new mission field of the 9-to-5 window in the workplace, where more unsaved people live than any mission field in the world."

Academic institutions, too, are getting involved. Yale University, for example, recently set up the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, with a focus on ethics and spirituality in the workplace to help people integrate the claims of their faith with the demands of their work.

The spirituality movement is in its infancy, Mollner says. But his experience with socially responsible investing convinces him that much is possible. The social screens that he and a few friends sat down and wrote in 1976 are now used by almost all investment funds.

"If this approach is more mature, it will slowly gather adherents," he says.

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