Programme seeks to inspire leaders

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 May, 2009, 12:00am

Successful leaders are those who think about tomorrow and envision new kinds of investment opportunities while doing good for those around them. Visionary founder and chief executive of the Global Institute For Tomorrow (Gift), Chandran Nair, is offering a Global Young Leaders Programme (YLP) to produce leaders who can face a business environment 'characterised by mounting complexities, growing interconnectedness, an increasing need for cultural sensitivity and a demand for sharp political and ethnic understanding'.

'The aim of the programme is to fill a gap in executive education that is not being filled,' Mr Nair said. The programme hones leadership and business skills that enable social entrepreneurship. Students are taught to find commercial and viable solutions for community projects through experiential programmes.

'There is a recognition that conventional leadership education programmes tend to focus too much on functional learning - strategy, marketing, execution, and all of that. While that is important, in the corporate business landscape of the future, you will need a lot more than that to be successful. So we are trying to fill that gap.'

Mr Nair said the programme was not about raising awareness of corporate social responsibility, but stimulating and inspiring new ways of looking at contemporary problems and coming up with investment opportunities for the future.

'Traditional approaches to investments and rate of returns have reached a ceiling and some of that will persist,' he said. 'But there is a recognition that we can't keep externalising cost to maximise profits, and that new ways and new models need to be created and a new community of enlightened investors brought into the framework.'

Participants in the two-week programme spend a week developing a business plan and listening to guest speakers to absorb the idea that leadership exists everywhere. In the second week they implement their business plans in a developing country in the region.

This year, participants will go to Phnom Penh to help a non-governmental organisation in Cambodia set up a for-profit enterprise to protect forest resources. Participants are expected to develop a sustainable business model incorporating appropriate fuel technologies, a marketing plan for rural village products, selling carbon credits and a long-term plan for sustainable wood growth. Gift has organised eight YLP projects in China, India, Laos and Cambodia attended by executives from Hewlett-Packard, Gammon Construction, MTR Corporation, Cathay Pacific, JP Morgan and the Cheung Kong Group.

'This is an extensive education programme with a difference and not about participants going back to their companies and saying 'oh I found religion' and I want to go and meditate in Tibet or work with yak farmers in Mongolia,' Mr Nair said. 'The idea is to inspire so that participants take new understanding and great ideas back and challenge their companies to do better.'

Mr Nair believes that the more privileged a society is, the more disconnected they can become from the world and there can be a pigeonholing of ideas because of current executive learning. 'If you want to know your future markets and customers, you need to improve your global knowledge base and get out of your comfort zone,' he said.

One of this year's participants John Anderson, director of Meinhardt in Thailand, a global leading engineering firm agreed. 'It's a novel approach to executive and leadership training. All day I am surrounded by engineers, so this is a chance to share ideas and brainstorm and basically be exposed to new knowledge.' This ninth programme has participants from 14 countries including Venezuela, Iran, India, the US and the mainland with a myriad of backgrounds.

But the most important thing Mr Anderson feels he is gaining are the knowledge and skills to have greater consideration when moving ahead with company projects. 'We're not talking about NGO stuff, non-profit, we're talking about profitable enterprises who are doing good rather than just focusing on typical commercial enterprises such as building high-rises. Why not do some of these projects which can make money, do some good and make a difference?'