How Can Gandhi Save The Millennials

Every month, a million young people enter the workforce. That is 15 people per second. By the time you reach the end of this article, we will need another 60 new jobs. And this is going to continue for many years now.

We are feverishly skilling them up – but if you look closer, many of these skill development programmes are failing to attract the youth that they are targeting. Why is this the case?

If we look at the intent of the government, it seeks to create maximum jobs in the ‘real estate construction,’ ‘retail’ and ‘logistics’ sectors. This means more construction workers, counter salespeople and delivery boys.

That would have worked, perhaps. But how many of us (the millennials) want to do this work? The same advertising that sells to the rich also hits the poor and shapes their aspirations.

So now, we have a situation.. We have lots of people entering the job market (4-7 new people since you started reading this article, depending on your reading speed). They have super aspirations. And the jobs that are getting created mostly suck.

Apart from those with little choice, we are going to see entire generations wondering what to do, and eventually experiencing the horror of their aspirations crashing.

While these jobs are getting created, do you know which is the only category of jobs that is going to shrink? It is farming. We are hoping to ‘rescue’ 20 million people out of agriculture – so that we  can have a constant supply of our delivery boys, construction workers, data operators  and our plumbers.

So is there an answer? What do we do?

I find some pointers in Gandhi’s ideas – I will share some here.

For one, to know that ‘There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed’.

How do we uphold simplicity as a virtue? How do we re-shape aspirations towards enough rather than more? How do we delink the worth of an individual from what they own or where they live to their intrinsic value as human beings?

This will allow an acceptance of many jobs that may not be as sexy or money making but very meaningful. It will allow the society (all of us) to view those jobs as legitimate alternatives.Think of choices like being a shopkeeper or a craftsperson or even a farmer.

If we simplify our own lives, make do with less and treat everyone equally (irrespective of economic status) we already have our own satyagraha against the culture of ‘more’ and the unrestrained respect of money. The message it sends out is that a human being doesn’t need to own more to be valued. It reminds us of the value of struggle and of valuing what we have.

Second, we deepen the idea of ‘Swadeshi’. On the use of machines, Gandhi said that the work that can be done with hands must be done with hands. That which can be done with small tools must be done with them. That which can be done in small scale industries be done there. And then, the remaining work that can only be done in large factories be done there.

This is a terrible recipe for inefficiency in today’s neo-liberal age. It is an unpopular and almost foolish line. And it is a very inefficient way to do things.The creed of ‘efficiency alone’ has failed to see a much larger and intricate web of human experience. It hasn’t seen the psychological benefit of being productive that humans experience. It doesn’t see how democratizing the means of production allows for a much richer and balanced social structure.

Moreover, it has other benefits. When you don’t buy jam from a giant corporation but from the local aunt (even if it costs a little more) you create employment there. The profit goes to a family rather than an overpaid honcho or shareholders sitting far away. If there is a problem with the jam you do not have to deal with an impersonal consumer court but just walk into the neighbourhood and have a conversation. And if aunty likes you, she can incorporate your suggestion for a litchi flavour faster than an MNC would respond!

You bring in dignity of labour, you allow small scale industry to flourish. You allow more people to be connected to their work rather than become cogs in a giant, impersonal machinery.

You allow relationships to be built and human connection to be restored. And for our youngsters, you create options for work and add value to their own communities rather than somewhere else.

And lastly, the idea of Nai Taleem – Gandhi’s idea that education and work are not separate. Nai Taleem is about valuing indigenous wisdom, manual work and moral development. Why does a youngster today believe that an MBA professor can teach him more about business than his own dad who has been doing it life long? Why is granny wisdom devalued compared to an internet forward?

If we start looking at the learning that is happening all the time and present in our communities, we will rethink what ‘illiterate’ means and revisit what it is to be educated. We will go beyond ‘skills’ that serve the capitalist machinery to look for real work that expresses our individuality. Think of arts and craft, organic food, hand made clothing, volunteer work, helping distressed individuals and making things with our hands.

It isn’t as sexy as becoming a hot shot living the good life. But in it is the wisdom to re-create a new equilibrium for the world. And, it is probably the only way forward for our generation.


Abhishek Thakore is a full-time lover of life. He is a published author, leadership educator and a movement builder. He is the founder of The Blue Ribbon Movement. He is also a Gold Medalist and an alumnus of IIM Bangalore – Class of 2005 and. He contributed one of InsideIIM’s first stories in 2011. You can read other stories by Abhishek here.

Abhishek Thakore

The writer is an alumnus of IIM Bangalore – Class of 2005 and Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics,Mumbai - Class of 2003. He is currently doing his PhD from IIT Bombay exploring the phenomenon of Work Engagement. He has worked with Deutsche Bank, Boston Consulting Group and Hay Consulting in the past. He is the founder and the chief mentor at the Blue Ribbon Movement