ICLIF Leadership Energy Summit Asia

Ladies and Gentlemen,


  1. Good morning, and welcome to what promises to be an illuminating and stimulating event, the Leadership Energy Summit Asia, or LESA, held annually by the ICLIF Centre for Leadership and Governance.


  1. The ICLIF Centre is indeed a ground-breaking institution, which we are very proud to have here in Malaysia. Events like this, along with the other work done by the Centre, demonstrate its world-class stature, and make an important contribution to promoting the kind of dynamic leadership that is so necessary to respond to the pressing global challenges of today.



  1. Every new day, new challenges are thrown at us; and every new day, a leader emerges. The progress the world has seen, especially the rapid changes experienced in the last 100 years, are a result of innovative leaders who have not allowed themselves to be cowed by challenges. While there will always be those who innovate, and there will always be those who lead, there will also always be those rare individuals who will shine a bit brighter; who will make a greater mark on humanity; and who will be remembered for that bit longer by their communities and by mankind.


  1. If we look back through the ages, we will find that there is a common thread that binds the great leaders that the world has seen – a clear vision, conviction of belief, a sense of service, a moral compass, and a desire to leave the world a better place.


  1. If we look at the leaders who have made the greatest mark on our lives in the last 100 years, we can see this thread. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela, all had a clear vision of freedom, and conviction in their beliefs, which led to the Mahatma and Dr King being assassinated, and Mandela being incarcerated. They all had a strong moral compass, and worked tirelessly to make the world a better place, at great personal cost. They have all left behind a powerful legacy as a result of their leadership.
  2. In my remarks today, I would like to focus on four other leaders whose powerful personalities and remarkable achievements mean that they are also likely to be remembered long after they are gone. There are certainly many more great leaders, past and present, who may have an equally important impact. But these four, coming from very different fields, all display the key characteristics and qualities of leadership and leadership energy. They stand out for their determination and courage, as well as for the magnitude of their achievements.


  1. If someone was to ask who among the seven billion people in the world today, is likely to be remembered as a great leader 100 years from now, I believe that one of the names put forward would surely be Bill Gates, one of the most renowned innovators of our time.


  1. As we all know, Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft with Paul Allen back in the 1970s, and four decades later, it remains one of the most influential IT companies of the Internet age.


  1. Having made his mark and fortune with Microsoft, Bill Gates and his wife Melinda then set up the Gates Foundation, in 2000. This remains the largest privately funded charitable organisation in the world, with an endowment of just over 50 billion dollars.
  2. The Gates Foundation has poured billions of dollars into healthcare and education provision for some of the most marginalised and poverty-stricken people in the world, in Africa, India, Latin America and China. With its partners, the Gates Foundation has distributed hundreds of thousands of malaria nets, administered millions of vaccinations, and sponsored research into diseases that afflict the poorest in society.


  1. Earlier this month, Bill Gates announced that the Foundation had produced a range of prototype toilets that can work without water and in the absence of any sewage systems. Untreated sewage is a major carrier of numerous diseases, some fatal, but all debilitating, especially affecting the most vulnerable groups, children and the elderly.


  1. Recognising this, Bill Gates put his money into addressing this challenge. His vision and considerable investment has already produced significant progress, although his alternative toilets remain a work in progress, especially in terms of affordability. Gates is confident that he will soon be able to bring the price within reach of those who need the technology the most, and these toilets will undoubtedly transform the lives of untold millions.



Ladies and Gentlemen,


  1. There are hundreds of billionaires in our world today, in the United States, China, Russia and even in our part of the world – Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Many of the wealthy, even those not in the billionaire league, establish charitable foundations to help the less privileged. But Bill Gates has epitomized giving back to society in a way no other entrepreneur has ever done. He will leave behind a dual legacy, as an outstanding IT innovator and an outstanding philanthropist.


  1. There is another exceptional leader who may well be remembered in the future, even though his name may not currently ring a bell with most of us.


  1. Bindeshwar Pathak, unlike Bill Gates, is neither rich, nor is widely known outside his own country of India. But Dr Pathak, through his dedication to his society and his determination against the odds, has similarly transformed the lives of tens of millions of his people.


  1. He personifies this same indomitable spirit, and displays a similar desire to make a real difference to the lives of those at the very bottom of society.
  2. Pathak has directed his leadership skills and energy into this same area of improving the sanitation facilities of the poorest of the poor, through the work of his NGO, Sulabh International. As well as contributing to better health, this initiative has also helped to transform the fortunes of the so-called ‘human scavengers’. As members of the untouchable caste, they were previously condemned to spend their entire lives performing this task manually.


  1. When Dr Pathak first talked about building toilets in India’s poorest state of Bihar, back in 1968, people discouraged him. They said it was not their way of life, and that he was wasting his time. It was unrealistic and even insane to imagine that proper sanitation would ever become available for the masses, or that the human scavengers, mainly women, would ever be liberated from what Dr. Pathak called ‘their suffocating misery.’


  1. But, like Bill Gates, Dr. Pathak had pinpointed the fundamental importance of this key issue, both to health and to human dignity, and he set about addressing it. As with Bill Gates, the incredible drive and immense achievements of this admirable man reflect his boundless leadership energy, as well as the strong humanitarian instinct that lies at its core. In their choice of where to focus their efforts, and in their tenacity in pursuing their ambitious goals, both men display the courage and radicalism that characterises truly outstanding leaders.


  1. Fifty years on, Sulabh has constructed over 1.3 million household toilets in India, as well as thousands of pay-to-use public toilet complexes, some of which are attached to biogas plants that turn waste into energy.


  1. His simple two-pit toilet design has been used for 60 million government toilets, and is now spreading beyond India. These achievements have taken decades of work, sustained throughout by the dedication of Dr. Pathak. In order to overcome people’s reluctance to change the existing system of human waste collection, he himself used to go from house to house, motivating people and educating them. In this slow and painstaking way, Dr. Pathak’s efforts have helped to change Indian cultural and psychological attitudes to sanitation. The work of his organisation has saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and has made the lives of even more people far more healthy and productive, including over a million former scavengers.


  1. It is not very often that we find examples of such great leadership in the realm of high politics. But there is one political leader, I believe, who had a tremendously positive impact on his people, and who helped to make his country into one of the greatest global powers of this century. That man, ladies and gentlemen, is Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader of China for just over a decade from the late 1970s, but whose influence has reverberated far beyond that relatively brief period in control.


  1. Deng is certainly a very different type of leader from those I have discussed so far. But the extraordinarily radical actions taken by him, and their far-reaching impacts, do serve as another powerful example of these same leadership qualities. For it was Deng’s introduction of deep and far-reaching economic reforms, and his opening up of the country to the world economy, that set China on the path towards its current prosperity.


  1. The standard of living of the Chinese population has continued to rise ever since, beating Deng’s own targets, and countless millions of people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. China now has the second largest economy in the world, with a bigger middle class than the US, and it is becoming a global leader in various cutting-edge technologies, from renewable energy to AI. This incredible progress rests on the foundations that were put into place by Deng, and on the radical choices he made in the aftermath of Mao’s nearly 30-year rule.


  1. While Mao succeeded in unifying China, this came at a very high cost. On his death, he left a population reeling from the Cultural Revolution, and an economy still in chaos following the upheavals of the Great Leap Forward. Into this fragile setting, Deng consolidated his political position before introducing his program of reform. He started by letting peasants grow some crops for themselves, and allowing some trading to take place. This was already significant, and a bold departure from the state-led model pursued under Mao. But by cleverly separating the ideology of capitalism from the operation of market forces, Deng was able to push his reforms forward without posing too much of a challenge to the country’s socialist identity, or to Mao’s legacy.


  1. The second aspect of his reform program, openness to the global economy, was equally revolutionary. Its impact was felt immediately in the rapprochement with Japan in 1978, and the business deals made in 1979 with Coca Cola and Boeing. Both of these would have been unimaginable a few short years earlier. Deng also pursed closer ties across the region, seeking to learn and benefit from the experience of the East and South-East Asian ‘tiger’ economies.



  1. It was Deng’s sustained and successful implementation of what was at the time a very radical approach that marks him out as having been a truly visionary leader. Despite the numerous challenges that he faced throughout his life and political career, and notwithstanding the compromises that he made along the way, Deng Xiaoping’s ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ utterly altered the course and destiny of this enormous and unwieldy nation, and very much for the better.


  1. Just as with Bill Gates and Dr. Pathak, the very scale and the far-reaching nature of this transformation means that Deng’s legacy is likely to endure well into the future. He will also be remembered as someone who made an important contribution to the world.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


  1. Malaysia too has its own heroes. One of these, who does not need much introduction, is Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, for whom I personally have a great deal of admiration.


  1. Jemilah’s leadership energy, her tenacity and vision, have propelled MERCY Malaysia, the NGO that she founded in 1999, to become a leading player in domestic and international disaster response and humanitarian relief.
  2. Jemilah had a successful career here in Kuala Lumpur as a gynaecologist. Yet she was motivated, driven in fact, to leave behind her comfortable middle-class life, and take ‘the path less-travelled’ as she puts it. Inspired by a powerful duty to help those less fortunate, she has devoted her humanitarian mission to providing assistance, again to some of the neediest people in the world – in her case those affected by natural and man-made disasters.


  1. Jemilah has been driven by gratitude at her own good fortune in life, and inspired by early role models including her own parents, as well as the strong sense of service inculcated by the convent school she attended here in KL. She was also motivated by a desire to show the world that a woman and someone from a non-Western background, could contribute in this area of humanitarian assistance. She has certainly met and exceeded this goal, as attested to by one of her peers, who described her a ‘rare species, as someone who so fully represents and lives her humanitarian values’.


  1. MERCY Malaysia today operates in countries around the world, delivering medical assistance in war-zones and disaster areas. While providing this absolutely vital frontline assistance in these situations, the organisation also provides an outlet for Malaysians seeking to use their skills to help others.


  1. As with the other leaders mentioned earlier it has been the same qualities of vision, courage, drive and tenacity that have enabled Dr Jemilah to establish her ground-breaking organisation that continues to do such important humanitarian work. Her legacy may well also endure long into the future, just as she sets a shining example of leadership here in the present.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


  1. To have such a transformative impact on the lives of so many people as the examples I have given, is perhaps not something to which we can all aspire. But we can all hope to make some small contribution, in our own individual ways and according to our own abilities.


  1. Such outstanding and unforgettable leaders may emerge from all walks of life and backgrounds, and can operate in any field, from high politics to humanitarian relief, as these examples demonstrate. The sheer force of personality that is required, along with the other qualities that characterise dynamic leadership, can indeed be found in anyone. It can also perhaps be fostered and nurtured with sufficient motivation and training.


  1. Courageous and visionary leadership is something we need now even more than before, to meet the ever-growing challenges we face, and to take full advantage of the ever-growing opportunities in our fast-changing world. Institutions such as ICLIF, and events like the LESA, can inspire us to develop our own visions of change, however small these may be in scale. They can also teach us some of the practical skills and strategies that are necessary to translate these visions into actions. On that note, it is now with great pleasure that I declare this event open.
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