Concluding the series of articles on Sikh views on ethical finance
Responsible Planning and Management – Stewardship
The concept of stewardship for Sikhs is defined by the dharamsal, with its emphasis on both social and environmental responsibility. These in turn guide how Sikhs create, use and distribute their wealth now and for the future sustainability of society and the world.
In the Sikh faith, the world is perceived as the abode of God and a sacred place in which to practice dharam for the welfare of humanity. According to the faith’s teachings, a Sikh is not a passive spectator but an active participant in bringing about social reform, being ready to protect and stand up for the rights of the weak, to fight for justice, human dignity, human rights and fairness for all.
In this context, stewardship entails using one’s time, talents, material possessions and wealth for societal sustainability and the transmission of Sikh values and beliefs to the next generation. The communal Sikh prayer or Ardas ends with the following words:
With God’s blessings, may there be peace and prosperity for the whole of humanity
The Ardas therefore acts as a continuous reminder of social stewardship.
There is also a strong expectation of environmental stewardship in the Sikh holy scriptures, articulated especially well by Guru Nanak Dev. He is probably one of the earliest recorded environmentalists to lay the foundation for a sacred vision for the environment. For instance, the following statements of Guru Nanak are taken as a clear indication of the supremacy of Nature:
- “All Waters all winds, all the fires and underworlds. All spheres, all divisions of Earth, and all worlds, men and forms…. How great is the Lord’s command over them”
- “Air is the Guru, Water the Father, and the Earth is the Great Mother”.
Sikhs are thus encouraged to have an intrinsic sensitivity to the natural world, and a belief that the fate of the planet and humanity are intertwined; destruction of one will lead to the destruction of the other.
Given the above notions of social and environmental stewardship, the Sikh faith supports the kind of financial management that would helps individuals to contribute to social equality, justice and empowerment and responsible planning and management of natural resources and preservation of biodiversity for future generations.
Philanthropy and Impact Investing
Philanthropy is a familiar way of contributing to social or economic development and it carries no expectation of any monetary return. Most Sikhs would expect to use part of their profits to create some additional social, economic or environmental benefit. This invariably means investing into their own business, creating more employment, better products or services, better production processes, creating more channels to markets for more people to access their products and so on.
Sikhs would be receptive to investment in activities outside of their core business for a financial return if it meant compliance with the code of conduct defined by the Rehat and the dharamsal doctrine. In this respect, investment in a social enterprise or social business would not be alien under Sikh teachings, as it would allow the owners to invest the bulk of the profits back into the enterprise and take out just enough money for their own needs.
The predominant Sikh business model tends to be small or medium-sized, often family-run enterprises. If there is a call for investment for social impact, then these existing enterprises would be likely to be the first beneficiaries rather than a brand new sector.