Renowned Indian social reformer and anti-corruption activist Kiran Bedi enthralled audiences during a recent visit to the Melbourne campus where she met staff and students and spoke passionately about the responsibilities of leadership.
She told students: ‘you are all leaders in the making. True leadership is not a position but a performance; it’s about giving and being selfless.’
Life is not about ‘me and mine’, Dr Bedi told her audience, but ‘thee and thine’, and these precepts encapsulate leadership.
The subject of a recent award-winning documentary film, ‘Yes Madam, Sir’, narrated by British actress Helen Mirren, Dr Bedi said, ‘education without contributing to society is just consumption’.
Dr Bedi is a former all Asian tennis champion who holds a law, masters and doctorate degrees. In the 1970s she became India’s first, and eventually highest ranking, female police officer.
Embarking on that role she asked herself: ‘what is the higher purpose of being a police officer? The answer is to make the country better’.
Dr Bedi said the best way to prevent crime is to send children to school. ‘The rich have private security. It’s in the backyards of poor people where crime breeds. ‘And some of the kids we were able to send to school are now teachers in our schools.’
Business school for the poor
She went on to establish two NGO’s – the Navjyoti India Foundation and India Vision Foundation – which are involved in issues such as illiteracy, women empowerment and rehabilitation of drug addicts. Dr Bedi and her supporters are now expanding into setting up business schools for the poor.
‘Why should there just be business schools for the rich?’ Her aim, she said, was to help the poor escape the cycle of poverty, to get them out of the clutches of loan sharks and assist them set to up their own small businesses.
Dr Bedi said all business had a higher purpose – ‘profit plus’ – now known as corporate social responsibility. Good leadership calls for intelligence (IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ) as well as “MQ” – the moral quotient. ‘But maybe we have woken up to that a bit a late?’
Prison reform: Guard or guardian?
Commenting on what drove her work on prison reform, she said the key question she asked herself was: ‘am I a guard or a guardian? We turned prisons into transformational institutions, through education, yoga, meditation; so we introduced the moral quotient into prisons.
‘We showed how a totally sick institution can be turned around without a penny being spent by government – the bullies eventually became the teachers.’
Dr Bedi has also worked to reduce corruption in the Indian police service. She is a prominent member of anti-corruption campaigns which she says are making their activities felt in the lead up to the 2013 election. Internationally she has been a United Nations police advisor for peacekeeping operations.
Highly revered in India, Dr Bedi has won a long list of high profile awards including Woman of the Year, the Ramon Magsaysay Award (regarded as Asia’s Nobel Prize) and the Mother Teresa Memorial National Award for Social Justice.
La Trobe Associate Dean (International and Development) in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr Tony Jarvis, who helped organise the event, said exposure to the views of such inspirational and capable leaders provides valuable extra-curricular learning experiences for La Trobe students.
Read more about Dr Bedi