Australia's ability to capitalise on the Asian Century will depend on strong cross-cultural leadership that is built on the foundations of trust and relationships, according to the one of the Task Force members of the Australian Government's Asian Century White Paper.
John WH Denton, Partner and CEO, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, told the In the Zone conference at The University of Western Australia yesterday that Australia needed to re-think its understanding of power and leadership.
"Building cross-cultural leadership and literacy comes out of trust and relationships, it is not necessarily about bricks and offices in Asia," Mr Denton said. "If we are to live in an Asian Century we have to acknowledge the difference ways Asian countries think about trust and relationships, and their ideas of power - for example, understanding the role of the spiritual world in somewhere like India."
The In the Zone conference is examining the conditions and attributes required for optimal engagement in the Asian region, where Australia's ability to develop trade opportunities, promote national interests and influence business and diplomatic relationships will increasingly depend on new leadership and workforce competencies.
Mr Denton said the White Paper was important in promoting a national conversation about Asia and its importance throughout society and beyond the business sector. "Australians deserve a discussion about Asia, and an understanding of the processes and challenges," he said.
"We need to build and reinvent many of our institutions. Even if we can define what cross- cultural literacy is right now, it won't be the same in 10 years time."
Australia had a strong base from which to grow its involvement in Asia, with decades of trade and investment experience, a growing population of Australians with Asian origins, increasing numbers of Asian students at Australian universities, and connectivity across areas such as sport and culture.
Mr Denton warned against treating Asia as a single region. "It is one area but with many countries. So we need programs not just for one single area, we need frameworks for interaction and collaboration across many different cultures."
Mr Denton said it was important for Australia to play to its strengths as well as continue its push for economic reform if it was to take advantage of the growth in middle-class people in Asian countries in the Asian century.
In capital markets, greater investment flows in both directions were needed. "At present we trade heavily but invest scarcely in the region. We need to ensure that possible investors in Australia are kept feeling as welcome as possible and also that more Australians invest in Asia," Mr Denton said.
Dr Matt Barney, Vice-President and Director, Infosys Leadership Institute, India, said there were many opportunities for Perth to take leadership in the Asian zone.
Dr Barney discussed the potential business benefits of bio-inspiration, or gaining inspiration from examining nature and applying lessons to business or society problems.
He gave as an example the parallels between parasites in nature and "human parasites" and questioned whether it was possible to inoculate against challenges such as corporate fraud, as well as address operational issues such as bottlenecks, through leadership.
"We should be thinking about Perth as a unique perch - that place where the physical, intellectual and human capital of the city can be a beacon of light in the Asian zone." Dr Barney said. He said that one way of doing this was to encourage greater collaboration with academia and innovative research projects.
In the Zone is an intensive meeting of national and international leaders from the business, government and academic sectors.
With the theme ‘The Geography of Global Prosperity', the conference provides an opportunity for discussion and debate about the increasingly complex global neighbourhood and key policy questions facing Australia and the region.
The conference follows the success of the 2009 In the Zone Conference and the 2011 Business Forum.
For more information about the In the Zone conference: www.zone.uwa.edu.au