By Patricia Huston
KAMPALA - When more than 80 people died in a high-rise, working class London residential blaze on June 14 of this year, Ram Gidoomal “felt the fire.”
A United Kingdom millionaire who wasn’t geographically close to the tragedy at the time, he felt it from three perspectives: 1) his once struggling family had years ago lived less than two miles away; 2) he is now a successful businessman and business was to blame; and 3) he is a Christian.
“Profit is not necessarily the evil,” Gidoomal said. “This is…more about helping the most vulnerable.”
Speaking at the Uganda Christian University 2017 lecture on October 25 at the Imperial Royale Hotel, he described the anguish of that day at the Grenfell Tower residence. The incident could have been avoided if business had cared more about checking the safety of a freezer inside and hadn’t cut corners with cheap insulation. In short, business cared more about money than people.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gidoomal quoted from Genesis 4:9. In a one-word answer, the lecturer replied “yes.” The same affirmative answer should be given, he said, to his presentation topic, “Can Business Build a Better World?”
Gidoomal, on his first trip to Uganda, is best known for his leadership with the Traidcraft organization that is guided by Christian principles and entrepreneurial strategies to help the poor. Most of his global missions assistance has been in India, Kenya, the United States and the United Kingdom.
He admits, however, that he was once a “if it moves, we sell it” businessman driving an expensive Mercedes. A former Hindu, Gidoomal’s business practices started to change when he turned his life over to Christ in the early 1970s. That change strengthened when he left his luxury, five-star hotel to visit the slums of Bombay, India, 30 years ago.
“My heart was broken,” he recalled from that 1987 visit. “I saw women and young girls in cages, people barely surviving. I was sick to the core. I was a member of a Bible study group and doing all the right things, I thought.”
Life Principles for Success
Immediately, after departing from the airplane back in England, he turned his focus to public and charity work and didn’t look back as he poured his passion and expertise into the business of helping people. Whether it was business or politics, he had six principles: Social justice (not justice by power and wealth), respect for life (protection of the most vulnerable), reconciliation (relationships instead of fighting), active compassion (actions and talking), resource stewardship (need over greed) and empowerment (education of the disadvantaged).
“All these are biblical,” he said. “Even people who aren’t Christian want Christian values like these. If we see people who don’t have these principles, we should pray for them.”
Even the non-practicing Christians working for Traidcraft have these principles. Regardless of religious denomination, all employees are treated fairly, encouraged to speak out and asked to be part of the “prophet” vs. profit for global change.
How business can build a better world?
Beyond the principles are practices. Based on Traidcraft operations, Gidoomal discussed important aspects of how business can be key to building a better world.
These include the following values consistent with Christian teaching:
- Concern for marginalized, bias to poor – justice not charity;
- Opportunities/equal treatment for women, disabled;
- Commitment to ethical standards in business;
- Human well-being (relationships) above materialism;
- Concern for environment.
Businesses do not need the Christian label to serve the world, he said. They can serve through approaches that value stakeholders, support regulations that value human life, create frameworks that positively impact global/social dimensions, promote social reporting and evaluation, and share and support other businesses working toward accountability.
“Consumers are going to be increasingly demanding of ethical behavior and responding will be key to trust,” he said. “The bottom line is that business must help build a better world, and it is possible.”
UCU’s fifth annual lecture on October 25, 2017, included recognition of the university’s 20th anniversary and the official launch of a think tank called Africa Policy Centre. Among the more than 200 men, women and schoolchildren at the lecture were the Rev. Canon Dr. John Senyonyi, UCU Vice Chancellor; The Most Reverend Stanley Ntagali, Archbishop of Uganda and Chancellor UCU; and Guest of Honour, Dr. Maggie Kigozi. Others were; Dr. Dickson Kanakulya, UCU-APC Senior Research Fellow; Mark Bartels, executive director, UCU Partners NGO, USA; Dr. James Magara, founder of Jubilee Dental Clinics and Christian author/speaker; Julius Mucunguzi, Communications Advisor, Office of the Prime Minister; Dr. Lawrence Adams, UCU-APC advisor, USA;