Building the entrepreneurial attitude: Learning from MK Gandhi


He belonged to one of the most business oriented communities in India-the Gujarati ‘Baniya’ community’. One recalls names like Karsonbhai Patel (Nirma), Dhirubhai Ambani (Poor boy with big ambitions), Gautam Adani (Adani Group), Dilip Shanghvi (Sun Pharmaceuticals), and the list goes on… 

One does not often come across his name in such a list of entrepreneurs. While entrepreneurs, as we know them, create businesses and grow rich, he created business opportunities, social improvement and chose to stay poor… Yes, the one unique feature of this entrepreneur is that he gave away everything he earned, and could have earned, given his huge body of work – be it wealth or position for himself or his family. One would call him a saint and yes, short of beatification, he did everything saints would and many things saints wouldn’t. He is known as the Mahatma – he is Mahatma Gandhi.

How does a Mahatma, a freedom fighter, an activist, a social reformer, qualify to be called an ‘entrepreneur’? Which business did he build up? Where is his ’empire’? I put this question to some senior business professionals. The reverse question faced was, where would you not find relevance of his work? ‘One would find his work in all fields – be it his field i.e. law or disparate areas like education, medicine, journalism, writing, handicrafts, trade union movement, art, livelihood, national level programmes for social upliftment, foreign relations… Of course he is one of the greatest entrepreneurs who ever ‘walked this earth,’ as Einstein said.


The mention of his name possibly causes a pang of guilt felt by many. So strongly associated is he with the brands ‘Truth& Non-Violence.’ He demonstrated powerfully, how basic human values can be a powerful means of changing the world. 

Entrepreneurship is about attitude, about passion. India has been a land of entrepreneurs, given the various challenges life throws up to the various classes, rich and poor. Creativity too, is not bound by lack of facilities or opportunity. An entrepreneur sees opportunity where people see problems. The entrepreneur sets out to address the problem in a small way. 

This tiny mite of a man addressed big problems in a big way. His life as child in Porbandar, as a law student in England, as a lawyer and social activist in Africa and back home, posed numerous problems and challenges. A barber in South Africa refused to serve him as he was Indian. Gandhiji decided to cut his own hair. He had the courage to face smirks in the courtroom the next day. But self-respect was more valuable than the jokes people made about him.

 Entrepreneurship is about bringing a difference, about thinking out of the box. The world thought that wars were won by revenge and violence. Gandhi took Christ’s message of forgiveness and fought his wars through peace. Before he joined them, the Indian national Congress was a team of ‘educated, well-to-do Indians’ with concern for their motherland. They addressed other educated class Indians. He went to the poor with his message. The strength, size and value of the movement multiplied manifold. 

 A book on entrepreneurship describes a ‘credo for entrepreneurs’ – this is presented in the form of a list of qualities the world is looking for. The credo describes the mindset, attitude and behavioural aspects of a true entrepreneur, more than anything else. The list includes qualities like commitment, ambition, strategic thinking, optimism, enterprising, foresighted, trustworthy, integrity, tolerant, inspiring, transparent, compassionate and so on… Theories on Entrepreneurship also discuss the ‘ability to take risk.’ 

A look at Gandhiji’s body of work reveals all these and more. Let us look at one small chapter from ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth.’ The decision to launch a newspaper ‘Indian Opinion’ for sharing information and updates about the movement against various unjust laws and rules against Indians in South Africa. The first edition of this paper had to be brought out from the Phoenix Settlement. The decision was wrought with challenges of finances, logistics, infrastructure, manpower. An oil engine had been installed for printing. 

As a precaution, Gandhiji had also asked for ‘a wheel which could be worked by hand.’ Another precaution was that the size of the newspaper was reduced to foolscap size to ensure publication with the help of a treadle in emergencies. The very first night, the engine failed. The carpenters who were tired after long hours had gone to sleep on the press floor itself, as the building work was not yet complete. The engineer after working late into the night, attempting to get it started, gave up. 

Gandhiji took up the task of convincing the carpenters. Along with them, he too took turns to work with the hand wheel, folding the papers etc. In the morning, the engineer was woken up at 7 a.m. and asked to look at the engine again. This time, it started. However, their efforts paid off, and the first edition of the Indian Opinion was dispatched in time. This one incident of his sheer will power displays all the qualities described in the book. His monumental work, of course, reveals how, throughout his life, he kept learning, reading, writing and improving, up to his last day.

Entrepreneurship is about making the world a better place. Little wonder then, that ‘the man of the twentieth century’, Mahatma Gandhi is an exemplary entrepreneur for luminaries like Narayan Murthy, Dr Abdul Kalam, Rahul Bajaj, Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej, Sreeji Arvind Singh Mewar and so many more globally. May the tribe increase!!!


Courtesy of Mahatma Gandhi University Africa

Graduate School of Management and Entrepreneurship, The Gambia