To celebrate International Women’s Day, we look at Anita Gulati’s research on mindfulness and its role in enabling creative, sustainable leadership and re-enforcing resilience. Gulati works at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and is Associate Director of its Bristol Business Engagement Centre (BBEC). She says her grandfather’s story has served as inspiration in her work.
Harbans Lall Gulati came to the UK as an Indian immigrant in the 1920s and hearing about his life has helped Anita Gulati understand why she is so interested in mindfulness and meditation. “Despite working as a doctor in a busy practice in London, every day my grandfather used to close his consultation room door for 20 minutes to meditate. I discovered this recently and it gave me a very strong sense of connection to my ancestors,” says Ms Gulati.
Her aunt, Dr Meira Chand, who recently took up yoga aged 75 - three years after completing a PhD – is now writing a novel about Harbans. Ms Gulati believes that if there were ever an example of resilience in the face of adversity, it is to be found in the story of his life.
After completing his medical training in the land of his birth, Harbans emigrated to England with the intention of working as a doctor. On arrival, he walked all the way from Liverpool Docks to London and slept in Hyde Park, only to discover that his medical qualifications were not recognised in the UK. He repeated his training at Charing Cross Hospital, and eventually requalified. The colour of his skin, however, resulted in him being shunned when looking for premises in which to practise medicine. This challenge was overcome thanks to a Jewish jeweller in Battersea Rise who let him use part of his shop as a consultation room.
Throughout the Second World War Harbans served the local community, treating the injured and assisting the poor, eventually helping to set up Meals on Wheels (the service that today still delivers meals to those who cannot cook for themselves). He also became involved in local politics, becoming a councillor for Battersea South – a rare occurrence for someone from South Asia in those days.
Inspiration from her grandfather and her experience as a sociologist and psychologist has ignited in Ms Gulati an interest to know more about mindfulness, a form of meditation involving focusing on the present moment. “It is perhaps my grandfather’s tale that inspired my passion for the human mind,” says the researcher. Gulati and her colleagues are now exploring why mindfulness seems to help people deal with life’s stresses, how it can sometimes make us more resilient, especially as leaders, and why alongside the notion of leadership, it has become an increasingly important concept.
Three years ago, Ms Gulati attended a conference on the neuroscience of mindfulness and scientific impact, where she met Dr Peter Malinowski after he gave a talk on the mind and meditation. “I have since been collaborating with him and Dr Carol Jarvis (UWE Bristol) to explore the role of mindfulness in compassionate and resilient leadership,” says Ms Gulati.
The three researchers have found that, in today’s uncertain world, the fastest does not always win the race (as shown in Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, believed to date back some 2.5 millennia). This idea seems to have lost currency in contemporary organisations and their research explores the challenge of learning from, and injecting some ancient wisdom into, contemporary organisational settings. “As my grandfather perhaps discovered, stopping to ‘smell the roses’ rather than rushing to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ can impact organisational sustainability and resilient leadership,” says Gulati. “We are exploring how this works and assessing the creative tension that may emerge from this juxtaposition,” she adds.
In 2013 Bob Griffin was ushered through the gates of Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. The entrepreneur who set up Tomcat, a company in the south west, was there to collect his Queen’s award for Enterprise in Innovation. The company manufactures trikes for children and adults with mild to severe disabilities, whether learning, visual or physical.
Based near Gloucester, Tomcat is known for its bespoke trikes, the unique design of which means carers accompanying the rider can control the vehicle from behind using a steering and braking lever.
Just a year after shaking hands with the monarch, Bob was looking to design a new wheelchair product called ‘Sunfly’ and was successful in receiving a grant through the University of the West of England’s (UWE Bristol) Innovation 4 Growth (I4G) scheme, which supports SMEs in the South West to develop innovative products.
Inspired by families whose children sometimes became severely disabled because of illnesses like meningitis, Sunfly has multiple purposes. Due to launch in 2017, users can modulate it to allow a child to nap, eat, and sit in different positions. Its clever design means the structure can house various types of specialised seats and can be broken down into separate, easily transportable parts. Sunfly also doubles as a trailer to carry a child behind a bicycle.
The R&D took over a year, as there was an intense focus on safety. “Turning Sunfly into reality was a real challenge, but without UWE Bristol’s I4G funding, it would have been even more difficult and perhaps unachievable,” says Bob.
The story of Tomcat goes back 20 years. Bob’s stepson, Tom, had severe learning difficulties and was keeping the adults awake at night because of surplus energy he was unable to expend during the day. Although Tom had a trike, it was hard to control and so it gathered dust in the shed.
Bob, at the time a Merchant Navy engineer, realised tricycles were very basic. “In terms of blindness, learning difficulties or spatial awareness, there was nothing out there,” says Bob. While on a posting, he used the ship’s workshop to build a system to add onto Tom’s existing trike. Tom and his mother, Anne, were delighted.
Usually Tom would walk for 100 yards and get bored but, thanks to the trike, Anne could control it from behind and he was able to ride up to three miles. “To see him achieve that was quite emotional,” recalls Bob. After a subsequent visit to the school Tom attended, other parents asked Bob to build trikes for their own children.
Two decades later Tomcat products (the firm’s name is derived from his stepson’s name) are as popular as ever. Bob is now developing new products thanks in part to a second round of funding from UWE Bristol’s I4G. The grant is helping with the development of both an adult trike and a semi-recumbent tricycle. The products will target those with mild sight, balance and age-related difficulties, as well as people with profound and multiple disabilities. A major feature of the new machines will be the way they enable users to get on and off more easily.
The semi-recumbent trike, due for release in February 2017, will be more upright, with higher seating and a straighter back than competitors’ products. Another objective will be to incorporate a swivel, or height-adjustable saddle, on the pedal vehicles.
Of course developing these products has once again presented Bob with a number of challenges, like how to achieve greater transportability with such a large machine. Again, support through UWE Bristol’s I4G programme will help him overcome those issues.
The collaboration between West Technology and UWE Bristol is a fantastic example of the University’s involvement in the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme. Since West Technology recruited a graduate through the programme, sales of its fingerprint-detection machines have gone through the roof. Managing Director Ian Harris also says the KTP further boosted the company’s credibility in the forensics world.
A machine that has helped solve numerous cases by revealing fingerprints on evidence could help catch even more criminals thanks to a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and the world-leading manufacturer of this forensic fingerprint development equipment.
In May 2007 serial killer and rapist Peter Tobin was sentenced to life imprisonment after he murdered Polish student Angelika Kluk and buried her body under the floorboards of a church. Subsequent fingerprint evidence found on the tarpaulin covering her remains helped put Tobin in jail for life. The machine enabling police to identify these prints was built by West Technology Systems, the leading manufacturer of these devices.
West Technology, based in Yate, realised it lacked crucial forensic science expertise to develop the system. The VMD (vacuum metal deposition) machine works by evaporating metal particles onto an evidence exhibit to reveal fingerprints. This method has proven successful in developing palm prints on fabric and this can aid in targeted DNA recovery.
But while the VMD method was successful, the company wanted to learn about the science behind it and optimise the machine. “The process was a black art and not even the Home Office knew entirely how it worked,” says Managing Director Ian Harris. He needed someone with specialist forensic knowledge to research and extend the equipment’s capabilities on black bin liners and polymer banknotes, both notoriously difficult surfaces for revealing finger or palm prints.
Finding the right expertise
The firm therefore looked for these skills externally and approached UWE Bristol. Together, the company and University began collaborating on a KTP, a government-backed programme that connects skilled graduates with businesses and universities. Funded by Innovate UK, this is a great opportunity for a company to develop its business by benefiting from additional know-how and academic support. For West Technology’s purposes, UWE Bristol forensic science graduate Eleigh Brewer proved to be the perfect match.
“Since Eleigh started, our orders on the forensics side have gone through the roof and she has been critical to the success of the company,” says Ian. The KTP meant Eleigh spent two years between the University, where West Technology supplied a VMD machine to use for testing, and the company itself. “This was a fantastic opportunity for me and we were able to get results from our research that the company could use,” says Eleigh
Metal and money
The forensic scientist tested the system’s functionality with different metals. The most common method uses gold to cover the piece of evidence, then zinc to highlight any fingerprints. But gold and zinc are not necessarily the best metals to use according to some experts – especially on certain polymer materials like banknotes.
Knowing the UK was due to release a new polymer five-pound note as legal tender, Ian asked Eleigh to test and adapt the machine for use with these notes. With samples provided by the Bank of England, Eleigh set to work, forming a working relationship with the Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) along the way.
Dr Carolyn Morton, Eleigh’s academic supervisor throughout the KTP, says her research was beneficial to UWE Bristol and has cemented its reputation as an important centre for forensic research. “By linking us with CAST and connecting us to a national network of fingerprinting research teams, this KTP has put UWE on the map,” says Carolyn, who is a senior lecturer in forensic science at UWE Bristol.
With Eleigh’s help, Ian now wants to make it easier for the VMD to highlight prints on fabric, another notoriously hard material to work with in criminal cases. “If we could determine the strength of an assault by looking at grab impressions, we could make a big difference,” says Ian.
And perhaps help catch and convict more high-profile murderers like Peter Tobin.
If you are interested in finding out about KTPs with UWE Bristol, please get in touch or leave a comment.