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Article Article June 11th, 2018

12 Top Tips: Addressing Asia's challenges and opportunities

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The key to success is to have a great team, one that shares your vision and shares your passion, says @tonyfernandes #12TopTips

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A leader has to take strength from the public, private, and people sectors, and and bring them all together, says @arunmaira #12TopTips

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It is vital to engage and involve young people in a country’s development, says @roytrivedy of @UNDPasiapac #12TopTips

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As the world's fastest-growing region, Asia continues to maintain its status of being a crucial driver of global economic growth in 2018. While the baton of economic power in Asia has traditionally been held by China and India, the emergence of thriving markets in Southeast Asia regions and a digital boom in South and East Asian countries heralds a significant positive transformation for the wider regional economy.

With great opportunities come significant challenges, and many Asian nations grapple with governance-related, regulatory and infrastructural issues as they prepare to capitalise on future economic opportunities and sustain their growth momentum. Small steps are essential, but there is much work to be done to realise Asia's potential as a trailblazer for global prosperity.

To help its governments translate this potential into success stories, here are 12 Top Tips from leaders CPI has previously spoken to from around the region.

1. Governance and recruitment come first 

Khadijah Abdullah, chief executive of Malaysia's Education and Performance Delivery Unit

"The first thing was to get the governance right and then we had to get the right people in who share the right values and are passionate about our purpose. This took quite a while because most of the people we wanted to recruit were already serving in other organisations. It was a few more months before we managed to get a good team into PADU but now we have a solid team in place. So, this was our internal priority at the start. It's not rocket science - anyone would do the same thing."

2. The quality of leadership matters

Beh Swan Gin, chairman of Singapore's Economic Development Board 

"Good leadership is something the public sector invests in for all of the thousands of civil servants who work here. And it has to continue to evolve because the style of leadership has changed - the needs and aspirations of citizens and what citizens expect are very different compared to 20 years ago, and 20 years from now they will again be different. But while leadership style changes, the quality of leadership must remain high."

3. Team up to build up

Edwin Utama, partner, The Boston Consulting Group, Jakarta 

"Indonesia is not alone in struggling to implement greater coordination between its government institutions. However, processes could be better streamlined in order to clarify roles and responsibilities - thereby avoiding duplication of effort and additional bureaucracy. A dedicated monitoring unit - like the US Government Accountability Office - could be created to mitigate overlap and minimise inefficiency."

4. Trust in trust

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Singapore's minister in charge of GovTech

“We currently enjoy a very high level of trust, which has been hard-earned. It is precious and vital. This trust allows us to deliver many public services. As we think of each incremental step, we need to maintain and safeguard this trust and ensure that each new product, platform and service integrates with the ecosystem already in place.”

5. Surround yourself with good people

Tony Fernandes, chief executive of Air Asia

"Luck plays a big part. So, too, does an idea, drive and passion. But the key thing is surrounding yourself with good people. Whatever idea you have or whatever energy you have, you're just one person. The key is to have a great team, one that shares your vision and shares your passion."

6. Use PPPs to help develop infrastructure

Chris Malone, partner, The Boston Consulting Group, Ho Chi Minh City

"In Vietnam, there is a clear opportunity to expand the role of public-private partnerships in infrastructure projects and policymakers should also create special economic zones to get the most out of infrastructure investments by focusing them in key regions. This makes more sense than trying to upgrade infrastructure throughout the country in a relatively short period."

7. Engage and involve young people

Roy Trivedy, United Nations Resident Coordinator & UNDP Resident Representative, Timor-Leste

"Timor-Leste is one of the youngest in the world with 74 per cent of the population aged under 35, making it the second youngest in the Asia-Pacific region, after Afghanistan, and 15th youngest globally. Consequently, it is vital to engage and involve young people in the country's development."

8. Harness the talents and skills of everyone

Arun Maira, former member (with ministerial rank) of India's Planning Commission 

"A leader has to take strength from all three - the public, private, and the people sectors - and bring them all together to get the system as a whole to move forward and achieve the desired impact."

9. Balance creativity with discipline

Mark Lim, former director of product design and development, Singapore's GovTech

"The team adopts a very strict process in terms of the deliverables within each stream. So we allow them to be very creative but within a strict and disciplined framework which enables us to put our products and goals into production. This is very important because it helps the team be creative without worrying about whether what they are innovating will ever be used by the government."

10. Connect the unconnected in developing Asia

Dr David Dean, senior advisor, The Boston Consulting Group

"There are four goals to be addressed as a matter of urgency: expanding the coverage of internet infrastructure, making services more affordable for those with the lowest incomes, increasing the relevance of local digital content, and developing citizens' digital literacy skills. Successful countries have taken a comprehensive, multi-stakeholder approach to addressing these challenges."

11. Focus on design and innovation in implementation 

Seema Bansal, social impact director, The Boston Consulting Group, New Delhi

"Governments don't need external funds and armies of people as much as they need support in design and innovation in implementation. When government takes control and does things on its own, it can make progress far more rapidly and with much greater ownership and rigour than external parties can."

12. Seek to incorporate citizen feedback

Shyam Sundar Sridhar, programme manager at Young Leaders for Active Citizenship, India

"Even though governments today are able to benefit from real-time citizen feedback on services and policies, they have not developed capabilities to address this feedback systematically. This often leads to a mismatch between expectations and actual experience of citizens, leading to erosion of trust and legitimacy."

Written by:

Simrit Chhabra Public Policy Analyst at Young Leaders for Active Citizenship in India
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