Monday, 30 August 2021

Unlocking Potential: Developing Future Leaders in Asia

The definition of a leader might change overtime, but there are several fundamentals that endure: a strong sense of purpose and mission, the ability to influence and mobilise others, and stewardship over resources and people in order to deliver impact.

As the CEO of the National Youth Council, an autonomous agency under Singapore’s Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, David Chua is an authority when it comes to youth leadership.

In the latest episode of “Unlocking Potential – Conversations with Tanoto Foundation”, Global CEO of Tanoto Foundation J. Satrijo Tanudjojo discusses leadership in the context of Asia as an emerging region.


Leadership characteristics

For young leaders in a rapidly-changing world, David prescribes three characteristics. “I call it the ABC: agile, blended, and collaborative,” said David.

Agile is not only limited to the physical aspects, but also in terms of process and context switching. This means that young leaders must be adaptive and be quick to respond to situations.

Blended refers to today’s reality that many problems require multidisciplinary approaches. Overspecialization, which has become a recent trend in education, might have to give room for a more generalist perspective as leaders have to know a little bit of everything to have a holistic view.

Collaborative is related to blended. As we require more people with diverse backgrounds and specializations, we also need to collaborate with other organizations in other sectors.


Real world exposure

Asia is home to more than half the world’s population, so it’s important to nurture future leaders from the region.

According to David, that requires what he describes as “differentiation and deployment”. Differentiation involves a deep perspective of the region, understanding both the similarities and the ways in which countries and areas differ. Deployment includes helping young people to build regional professional networks and providing support frameworks through funding, coaching or mentorship.

This is where the private sector comes in.

“What the private sector, corporate and educational institutes offer is not just training and skills, but the opportunity to grow and to be exposed. Real world exposure is critical for growth,” said David. “And the more exposure points we can give to the young people in what the real world looks like, feels like, functions like, will put them in a better position.”

If the old adage says that it takes a village to raise a child, the task of developing future leaders depends on the whole nation: from family to the government.

Research by National Youth Council of Singapore finds that family matters much more than young people keen to prove their independence might care to admit. According to David, family is “probably one of the most underrated, but very critical stakeholders” as it influences our value systems.

In terms of grooming young leaders, the government is the one who can provide space and opportunity to learn policy-making. “There’s a bit of risk of involving young people, but let’s open up some things for them. Let’s work with them and let’s shape the future of Singapore in this way. Not all policies, but perhaps some,” said David.

Aside from the private and public sectors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also play a key role. According to David, NGOs can sometimes act with more freedom than governments or companies.

But after all is said and done, what’s truly important is giving the young leaders a chance. “In the Asian culture we still should give more space and voices for young people and be a bit more open to their needs and different ways of thinking. So advocacy continues to be something I think philanthropies should be able to do without fear of backlash or comments from other sectors,” said David.

This goes both ways. Young leaders also need to step up and rise to the occasions despite their personal limitations and challenges.

“My message for young leaders would be: Stay grounded, stay guided by your values and step up,” said David.


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