As a diamond merchant and savvy businessman in Surat, India, Parag Shah used to look for R.O.E. -- return on equity. While running one of the most successful companies in the industry at its peak, Parag felt that his cup of gratitude overflowed, and so he started doing lots of philanthropy. Among his many projects was an International Baccalaureate school, which is now one of the premiere schools in India with 1500 students. In his words, however, while his philanthropy shifted his attention away from monetary return, it continued his focus on building up another form of "R.O.E." -- return on ego.
After a few years of unlearning, particularly after being deeply touched by the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, Parag began to feel that every accumulation was hollow unless it was accompanied by a deep inner transformation. That attention to the inner journey has led him to another kind of R.O.E. -- return on equanimity. It's a metric that is shifting not just what he does, but how he does it.
Thus began his experiments with a new form of living. At his International Baccalaureate school, Parag experimented with a gift-economy book store
; when his community hosted Karma Kitchen
, he volunteered to do the dishes. With friends, he does 21-day kindness challenges
and local retreats
. Every week, he attends a local Awakin Circle
, where he is often silent but deeply tuned in. These are the many small ripples that are adding up to a immeasurable field around him. Savji Dholakia, a billionaire diamond merchant, has been among those touched by Parag. Known for gifting cars
to all his employees, Dholakia not only started giving out thousands of Smile Decks
(in Gujarati) but most recently, he and his son swept neighborhood streets and served people tea on the roads -- just to spread love
Most of Parag's recent acts of service go unnoticed, and that cloak of invisibility is what he prefers. Any value that comes his way quietly gets multiplied before going out farther into the community. He inspires
with his own example, with many small acts
. To support others, he has been a visionary behind Laddership Circles
, which help change-makers think from a lens of inner transformation.
With his vintage one-liners and humor
, Parag is gently supporting many ripples
in ways that perhaps can never be fully counted. Yet just ask his wife, or two sons, and they'll tell you why. Siddhant, his oldest son now in his mid twenties, says it plainly, "I speak to my Dad every day, even when I studied abroad. He always has time for me. I just love who he is, and I want to be like him when I grow up."
Join us in conversation with this humble and beautiful ladder!
Five Questions with Parag Shah
What Makes You Come Alive?
I think teaching college student makes me come alive. The moment you have established a connection with them, I can feel their energy, which is looking for direction and it is a great feeling to be in such field of immense possibilities.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
Two events.1) This is a sort of realization over a period of 1 year. As I look back into my life, I was able to achieve everything I aspire to in the material realm. Surely the fatigue of ownership crept in, and I realize the fallacy of ownership in the material world and its emptiness within. I almost lost the motivation to achieve or aspire for new heights in the world of business, and in some sense, deep realization happened about the race to accumulate, and its fallacy and this realization was very transformative for me. 2) In March 2013 I attended moved by love retreat in Sughad and experienced the power of generosity and kindness. It was in some sense my first connection with Inner Transformation and spirituality. Life is not same anymore after the first retreat.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
3) For the most part of my life, I was blind to Kindness and grace and never realize to notice that. My younger son Sumeet who turned 19 recently is on a disability spectrum. My wife in the early part of our marriage dedicated her time and gave up all her aspirations for the rehabilitation of my son and spending at least ten days away from home for his physiotherapy and so many other rehabilitation therapies while giving me space to pursue my Business Aspirations and Ambitions. This went on for at least 4 to 5 years, and all the effort by Mita paid rich dividends and helped him immensely, and today he is almost 60 to 70 percent to an average kid and living a reasonably good life, particularly comparing with where he started from. I think this is one total act of kindness I will never forget nor will able to comprehend in totality.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
I dearly want to sit for a ten-day silence retreat(Vipassana).
One-line Message for the World?
A life not observed, is not lived.