Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Science, Technology
& Innovation

Developing Responsible Leaders and Entrepreneurs in Asia: Policy Implications

hesb-05-01-developing responsible leaders and entrepreneurs in asia-featured image

We all know that higher education is key to building the human capital needed to lead socioeconomic development, and more so in a world that is experiencing globalisation, digitalisation, financialisation, environment deterioration, immigration issues and the acceleration of income disparity. In such a so-called VUCA world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are so much in play, higher education is supposed to develop individuals who will take on leadership roles in the society, create added value by the enterprises they will start or join, and demonstrate responsible leadership skills in whatever position of power they will attain.


A key question for policy-makers then is how we are to develop the higher educational institutions and learning processes that are conducive, efficiently and effectively for the production of leaders and entrepreneurs that society needs. The enterprise – as a key value-creating institution in society by virtue of the products and services it puts on the market, the taxes it pays to the state, the jobs it creates, and the philanthropic contributions it makes – needs to be in the hands of responsible leaders who will care for their stakeholders and for future generations.


How can policy makers enhance the capacity of their national higher education systems to produce this type of leaders, who will possess the portfolio of talents and range of skills needed to take action and contribute towards sustainable development?


To answer these questions, policy-makers need to have a sense of – and a scenario for – the world of tomorrow. Only then can policy-makers design, build and monitor a higher education system that produces the type – and the quantity – of educated citizens required to meet societal needs and creates, hopefully, a just society that leverages its human
capital effectively.


First, I will start by identifying some trends likely to shape the world of tomorrow and the society in the near future. Then I will suggest ways upon which higher education can be designed to produce the leaders needed in such society. In conclusion, I will summarise the implications for policy makers through my proposal for developing responsible leaders and entrepreneurs.



At a time when the benefits of globalisation are questioned; when the ubiquitous phenomenon of digitalisation transforms our interpersonal relations and our ways of life; when financialisation directs that the value of everything be measured in monetary terms –we realise that such changes do not bring a “revolution”, but a change of civilisation. Innovation, “impact innovation”, even if disruptive, becomes a categorical imperative.


In such context, we need to define the kind of society we would like to live in, and then design our education systems to prepare our children and future generations to live a happy life in such a society. Policy-makers, aware of the transformation of society, and having built a vision of tomorrow’s societal context that goes beyond merely visible economic growth, need to imagine how innovation can help higher education institutions to develop responsible leaders, through their production and sharing of knowledge.


We are already in a digitalised world where education will need to further leverage technology, but not be its slave. Even if online course offerings do enlarge and enrich access to knowledge and learning, policy-makers will still come to the realisation that technology cannot and will not replace the essential learning processes as acquired in the interpersonal teacher-student and student-student relationships.


The world in the near future will require us also to define education as a life-long learning process, involving flexibility and adaptability to an environment in constant and fast change. This will have implications for policy-makers, their bureaucracy and their administrative staff, whose frequent allergy to change will need to be addressed.


If the objective of higher education is to prepare professionals, senior administrators, leaders and entrepreneurs for a fast-changing and increasingly digitalised society, policy-makers will have much to gain from learning from experiments and experiences in other countries and regions of the world.



With enlightened policy-makers having created the institutional context in which relevant and effective learning can take pace, the curriculum will have to be defined so as to induce the motivation towards lifelong learning, and cultivate curiosity and a sense of responsibility for one’s own learning journey.


If the development of relevant skills adapted to the dynamics of each economy will obviously remain a core objective of the higher education process, the grooming of leaders will also require the cultivation of creativity and the capacity for independent judgment. This requires teachers to be familiar with a diversity of teaching methods and technologies, besides their knowledge of the subject matter to be taught – hence the importance of assessing upstream the training of teachers, PhD programmes, and performance appraisals (and remuneration) of academic staff.


In other words, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of Southeast Asia’s higher education system requires a systemic approach that integrates the many interdependencies of a complex supply chain, from student selection, teachers’ education, curriculum design, pedagogy, facilities upgrade, to human resource considerations for faculty (that relate to performance incentives, career pathways and lifelong learning).


A study of the higher education system in one Southeast Asian country shows how the vicious circle can manifest itself: low remuneration for academic staff, thus making the higher education teaching profession less attractive, in turn prompting those who do enter the profession to moonlight, leaving little time or energies for research. All this also results in limited or no incentive for the production of original – and culturally relevant – teaching material, which explains why the levels of their students’ motivation are often modest. So far, developed countries have demonstrated only a limited capacity to produce societies where social justice and the quality of life have been achieved.


This naturally brings into question the merits of cloning their achievements. Bill Emmott, the former editor-in-chief of The Economist, wrote in his recent book The Fate of the West that the West is often seen as being “demoralised, decadent, deflating, demographically challenged, divided, disintegrating, dysfunctional, declining.” The dominant Western model is indeed challenged; the Eastern European communist alternative does not elicit enthusiasm, and yet other alternatives types of society (China’s, for instance) are seen as a “laboratory” rather than a model to be emulated.


Around the world, we can see that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are gamechanging technologies that have the potential to bring enormous benefit to society and enable citizens to tackle many of the world’s greatest challenges. With the right incentives, protections and leadership, AI and machine learning have the potential to alleviate suffering, by accelerating innovation across sectors such as climate change, poverty, criminal justice, governance, public health and, of course, education. But those technologies and the innovation they produce will still not be the answer to the complex issues facing education policy makers.



Developing responsible leaders in Asia will indeed remain a challenge for policy-makers. Because national higher education budgets often do not match the needs, choices have to be made between priorities and long-term vision to optimise the use of limited resources.


To develop the critical asset of responsible leaders and entrepreneurs that countries need for their optimal socio-economic performance, governments and policy makers will need:


  1. An enhanced awareness of what is coming in their society;
  2. To articulate their vision for their societies of the type of men and women as output of the higher education system;
  3. To cultivate imagination to find appropriate, contingent, culturally adapted education curricula and technologies, in order to clearly define priorities to allocate resources
  4. To demonstrate responsibility in policies implementation. This road to action is fraught with difficulties.


To grow responsible leaders, I suggest developing an ecosystem which will also rely in particular on effective university-industry cooperation, to foster a mutually rewarding interdependence. This would give industry and services well-trained graduates, and potentially give universities the contribution of practitioners towards teaching, and perhaps also funding for relevant research projects that would be useful to the society beyond enterprises. If incentives and mentorship can be developed to encourage faculty members to pursue research with greater social impact and encourage publications – including publications in journals for practitioners – we could see the progressive development of an education process that is more rooted in the respective country’s socio-economic realities.


Yet I do not want to underestimate the great value of the disciplines of the liberal arts, which have the propensity to cultivate one’s ability to explore imagination and the capacity for emotional intelligence. Encouraging pluri-disciplinary work and teaching, indigenous research (which is not cloning the West), and the creation of culturally relevant teaching materials are paths that will produce significant results, over time.


The development of exchanges among countries – as Europe has done through the Erasmus project – would probably produce also in Asia excellent results.


  1. Augier, M., and March, J. G. (2011). The Roots, Rituals and Rhetorics of Change. Stanford: Stanford University Books.
  2. de Bettignies, H. C. (2017). Developing Responsible Leaders in China within a Global Context. The Journal of the Macau Ricci Institute, 1: pp. 68-78.
  3. Emmott, B. (2016). The Fate of the West: the Battle to Save the World’s most Successful Political Idea.London: Economist Books: p. 272.
  4. King, S. (2016). Grave New World: The End of Globalization, the Return of History. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  5. Livesey, F. (2016). From Global to Local: the Making of Things and the End of Globalization. London: Profile.
  6. McDonald, D. (2017). The Golden Passport. New York: Harper Business.


Henri-Claude de Bettignies is the AVIVA Chair Emeritus Professor of Leadership and Responsibility and Professor of Asian Business, at INSEAD. He is also Visiting Professor of International Business at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University.


Developing Responsible Leaders and Entrepreneurs in Asia


Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

Stay updated on our latest announcements on events and publications


Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

Stay updated on our latest announcements on events and publications

Join our mailing list

Stay updated on all the latest news and events

Join our mailing list

Stay updated on all the latest news and events