Is Ricken Patel the Mahatma Ghandi of the 21st Century?

Is Ricken Patel the Mahatma Ghandi of the 21st Century?

Ricken Patel is a man with a mission.

Ricken Patel’s mission is to organise ‘citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want’, an idea that he had been cultivating since the age of 18. This world incorporates peace, social justice and cohesion, human rights for all, an end to poverty, the rule of law and environmental sustainability. It is a democratic world achieved through love, hope and a sensibility that generates profound transformation.

Based on that thinking, in 2007 at the age of 30, Ricken set up Avaaz ( meaning ‘voice’ in Persian. Avaaz is a not-for-profit global online network which encourages its 35 million members (at the time of writing in May 2014) to take action on issues globally that they most care about.

In my book Spiritual Intelligence in Leadership: From Manager to Leader in your Own Life, I cite Canadian born Ricken as one of the leaders of our time who is demonstrating Spiritual Intelligence through his ability to generate positive change in our culture and world at large. Like Ghandi, who used the principles of non-violence to overcome great social and political challenges, Ricken uses similar principles to create change worldwide. Ghandi defeated and overturned unjust laws that oppressed Indians in South Africa; he liberated India from British Rule and he peacefully ended violent uprisings during the partition of India. Ghandi claimed, ‘I have been practicing with scientific precision non-violence and its possibilities for an unbroken period of over fifty years. I have applied it in every walk of life — domestic, institutional, economic and political. I know of no single case in which it has failed.” For Ghandi, the quest to realise the ‘truth’ of his own soul became his north star and led to the creation of the Satyagraha movement he founded. Satyagraha is truth (Satya) and firmness (graha) which generates a powerful force born of truth, love and non-violence

Beneath his quiet, cool exterior, Oxford and Harvard educated Ricken holds the same Higher aspirations of Ghandi. He recognises that there is a link between the quality of his leadership, his judgement and his effectiveness at bringing about change and his own inner journey to know himself. He knows that when he comes to a place of total self love and acceptance, so too, he is able to show compassion, patience and acceptance for others, regardless of their race, upbringing or religious orientation. And, he is able to act from a place of love and belief in himself. Ricken also speaks out in support of Jeremy Rifkin’s “Empathic civilisation” concept which recognises that within us all is a deep desire to have empathy and connection with others. If we can recognise this, we can use is as a powerful force for good.

Like Ghandi, he brings to mass public attention the issues that need to be exposed for their injustice, inequality and plain wrong doing. Ricken uses the global internet technology of the 21st century. He mobilises us, as members of Avaaz, to take action through online petitions to force government to act with fairness and justice and by asking for donations to provide for the active work that Avaaz carries out. Email campaigns that I have joined recently have included petitioning the Jersey Government to stop Jersey being used as a tax haven for millionaires wanting to hide their wealth, tax free. Another was a petition to prevent the US government from passing a bill that would allow an oil pipeline, that will transport up to 830,000 barrels a day of the world’s dirtiest oil, from Canada across the US. If it wasn’t for Avaaz I would not know about these issues, let alone be able to join with others to speak out again them.


We recently received an email from Ricken about some of the many successes Avaaz has had as a result of online donations. It said: Over 90,000 of us donated enough to give $1 million to conservation organisations like the Rainforest Trust who are buying land and connecting two vital preserves in Borneo that can keep the orangutans alive on this planet with us. I love this job :)” He also told us about another success story from our donations: “Yamama and her cousin Hayat are Syrian refugees, but they’re in school in part because our community raised $1 million …to save Syria from a lost generation of children without education. We just got word that governments have matched us over 100:1!!” The Avaaz community’s biggest success to date though has been on climate change with the Avaaz team working full time to pressurise governments worldwide to act now to halt climate change.

Ricken sites three reasons why Avaaz is so effective through its use of modern technology:

  • “Our community calls the shots. We don’t accept any money (ever!) from governments, corporations, foundations, or large donors — making our community our only boss. Most of the non-profit sector is funded by very rich people, whose preferences deeply shape the work done.
  • We’re super fast. Even for urgent problems, it can take months or even years to raise money from foundations and large donors — but we can raise over $1 million in hours!
  • We’re political. Because our donations are not tax deductible, we have no government restrictions on calling out politicians, and politics is where many battles to save the world are won and lost.”

I wrote in Spiritual Intelligence in Leadership: “What Ricken knows is that each and every one of us does have the power to shape the world and act powerfully on issues we feel strongly about if we join together and act as one voice: members are encouraged to put forward ideas for the campaigns they would like Avaaz to undertake; Avaaz polls around 10,000 of its members to ensure their choice of campaigns is supported by a large number; those that are not supported in the polls are not taken up….and what holds the group continually accountable is the recognition that they are only as effective as the number of members who participate in their campaigns. What all their campaigns have in common is a belief that we all have a responsibility to each other, to our future generations and to the planet at large.”

Like Ghandi, Ricken sees the intrinsic value and worth in all human beings; like Ghandi, he uses his power to expose wrong doings and bring about a return to justice; like Ghandi, Ricken has the ability to empathise with the poor and those wronged by society and governments; and like Ghandi, Ricken rules not through wealth, prestige and fame but thought effective influence, influence which is both transparent and completely ethical. And lastly, like Ghandi, Ricken leads by example, running Avaaz with focus, clarity, a love based energy and too, fully audited accounts that always are available for anyone to see.

What both men have is that wonderful blend of total humility and yet, great power.

To see Ricken’s calm, inspirational and hope-filled approach to his work watch him speaking at the Commonwealth Foundation in March 2013 (he starts speaking at 11 minutes into the video).

For me, Ricken Patel is the Mahatma Ghandi of our time.


References: and

Who is Sarah Alexander

Sarah is passionate about supporting business professionals and entrepreneurs in undergoing amazing personal transformation whilst achieving results within their career with low stress.

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