Developing innovative leaders for tomorrow

23 Sep 2014 / 16:16 H.

The Sunway Education Group and the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation (JCF) recently hosted the Harvard Asia Leadership Conference and Camp in collaboration with the Centre for Asia Leadership Initiatives (CALI).
Themed Leadership and Innovation in the 21st Century, the event is aimed at transforming young Malaysians into strategic global leaders who could help change the country and the world through the teaching and learning from facilitators with extensive experience from Harvard.
The five-day camp with 150 participants included diverse practical workshops, specially designed lectures and talks, panel discussions and study groups.
The programme was developed by the CALI fellows based on courses, teaching and research from Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It covers the areas of personal leadership, network building, communication and confidence building.
“A lot of people don’t understand what innovation is. Research and development is what academics always use as research that will lead to new knowledge, but innovation is taking something that exists and making it better,” said Sunway University and Sunway Education Group senior executive director, Dr Elizabeth Lee.
“Innovation and leadership go together. As a leader, people look up to you and expect you to find solutions to the world’s problems. If you are able to innovate, it will make you a leader much faster.
“I see Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah as a great innovator and leader. When there was a recession and the nation couldn’t send its students overseas, he innovated the idea of twinning and invited universities to come here. For me, I have to be innovative to keep up with my students who are always changing.
“I have always placed tremendous value on international exposure. Gone are the days you need to travel overseas as now you can bring the world here.
“We collaborate with top class universities to endorse the degrees that we have and they issue an additional degree certificate to vouch for the quality. That enhances Malaysian education and at the same time, exposes students to world-class university standards.
“One thing I have noticed from the Harvard fellows is their tremendous emphasis on networking. Asians may not do much of that maybe because we are shy, lacking in confidence and we are a lot more private. But the Harvard fellows see everyone as a potential to learn from and a potential friend to leverage for years to come,” Lee said.
“A lot of great ideas come from sharing your thoughts with others because people come from different backgrounds; they were raised differently and think differently,” said president of CALI, Samuel Kim.
“Instead of thinking what I can do better, surfacing and sharing it with other people would give you very good insights. That is how I am motivated to meet people, and I find that important in any venture you are pursuing,” he added.
On 21st century skills, Kim said he identified the skills Asians do not have through meeting with different leaders in Asia.
“First is ‘cooperativity’, meaning group dynamics which is a new word we use in Harvard that is based on the words ‘cooperation’ and ‘creativity’,” Kim said.
“Second is practical reasoning; more than critical thinking. Asians are good at being a critic but it is not a tangible, constructive solution. With practical reasoning, you can put into practice what you have analysed into action.
“Next is implement plus ability. Implementing your ideas into action is really important.
“One more thing is formulation skills. The textbook doesn’t provide all the answers and knowledge can now be found through Google, but it is how you bring all the little bits of information to formulate and come up with something different and unique,” he said.
“What we see in Asia is education that is focused on role learning, memorising, and regurgitating information you learn. They are trained to identify one single right answer than the possibility of having multiple different ways of understanding the world.
“It is not creativity, implementation and formulation skills that are being nurtured. It is the outcome that they really care about, rather than the process.
“The way I turn this is through the head, hands, and heart—or knowing, doing and being. Head is knowing, doing is with your hands, and heart is being,” Kim said.
“We had a great discussion at the workshop on what kind of person you want to become. The participants admitted that they were never trained to think this way.

“One thing that I have learned, the young people in Malaysia are very authentic. They have a strong energy for change; that something has to be done differently in the country and what they can learn from these fellows that they can use to serve or to start a change,” Kim said.
“By engaging with them for five days and seeing them everyday helps us know what the challenges for this country are. This is helping me to somehow come up with a programme that is going to be more apt for Malaysian setting and Sunway has been very supportive of this initiative,” Kim said.
“I believe if we continue, it can only get better and better. We may need to tweak it, maybe narrow the age gap, look at what the demands are, what the region needs, and what Malaysia really needs,” Lee said.
“It can be bi-annual or annual but I think it is really important that by the end of the day, the participants have something very tangible. I hope to see what I do translate into one fine line policy or one good enterprise being established that can be run, for example,” Kim said.
“I would like to do stimulation programmes like Parliament and Lawmaking. Model UN is a very good programme but in terms of dynamics, learning and skills, I say Parliament and Lawmaking is much effective and impactful. It not only helps them pick up the skills but it helps them think, ‘If I were to be a national leader, what leader should I become?’
“When I go back, I will do assessment of all these programmes in Asia and come up with a report about what I have learned from these countries. We need to consider many different elements and we will make a continuous effort so that there is a positive impact on the community,” Kim said.

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