Notes from the Field

June 2010 / Notes from the Field

Asia Business Forum
Integral Perspective–The State of Awareness in Southeast Asia

by Oliver Ngodo

Oliver Ngodo

It was a momentous event. From March 22-25, the Asia Business Forum (ABF) meticulously packaged an International Conference on “Branding and Marketing Asia Higher Education” for countries in the South East Asia sub-region. The brainstorming sessions took place at the cozy JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. The sub-region is made up of Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and Philippines. The highlights of the event included a two-day interactive conference, with 20 international speakers carefully chosen and invited from Australia, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore–in addition to those of us based in Malaysia.

I was invited to present a paper on “Driving recruitment and enrollment effectively through building strong college and university brands,” which I chose to base on a survey designed to describe the state of affairs in conscious application of Brand Management principles and practices in colleges and universities in parts of Malaysia. Among invited speakers were CEOs of universities, international experts on this and related topics, top government officials from participating countries, top officials of multi-lateral organizations, consultants and people from academia. Other highlights of the event included two panel discussions. I was appointed to the first panel that handled discussion and a question and answer session on “Developing strategic brand identities for universities–what works and what doesn’t.” There were also 16 hours of networking opportunities and a post-conference workshop.

The background to the conference is that in recent years there has been a powerful force increasingly driving the world toward a converging commonality. This force is none other than technology. Through the force of technology, things like communication, transportation and travel have come within easy reach of hitherto isolated places and impoverished people. Almost everyone everywhere now wants all the things they have heard about, seen or experienced through the new technologies. The result is a new commercial reality: the emergence of global markets for goods and services on a scale of magnitude that was never previously imagined. This new trend has, in turn, tremendously impacted the landscape and business perception of higher education globally.

The demand for higher education in an international setting is ever on the increase. Consequently, higher education is now a multi-billion dollar venture, and as a result, governments across the globe are increasingly adopting more liberal education business regulatory policies. This has made it possible for people and organizations to invest in higher educational institutions in many countries outside their home base. In Malaysia specifically, this trend has resulted in programs with many fully-fledged foreign higher institutions available all over the country in addition to those owned by the state and federal governments. This increases stiffer competition for new enrollments with some of the institutions at the risk of closing shop. This rather exciting trend, however, need not frighten any institution’s leadership, for there is a great potential in it for proactive leadership to excel through effective brand management–the art of creating and maintaining a brand.

As I prepared for the conference, I felt sure I was going to meet speakers addressing the audience on the platform of second-tier experience. I was really anxious to meet and interact with them! However, as the conference was under way and eventually running its full course, it dawned on me that there were no such speakers. There wasn’t a reference or even the slightest allusion to Integral Perspective from any speaker, commentator or questioner! For curiosity sake, I decided to use the interactive sessions to do a sort of survey to try and get a picture of the state of awareness of Integral Perspective among speakers and participants in the outing. For this purpose I interacted with 3 university CEOs based in Malaysia, 8 government officials from 5 countries, 10 Professors from the academic community, 4 Consultants and 7 sundry participants, giving a total of 32 who responded. I asked questions to each, targeted at eliciting responses on how much they know about Integral Perspective–Integral Theory, Integral Leadership, AQAL framework, adult development in this perspective and individual scholars who are making (or have made) contributions along this line.

The results showed that out of the 32, only 4 (3 Professors and 1 university CEO) admitted being aware of Ken Wilber and his work, but had not actually read any of his books or papers. 2 other Professors admitted being aware of Integral Leadership Review (ILR), but could not recall how, where or when they became aware of it. None admitted ever visiting Integral Leadership Review website and of course I invited all of them to visit and subscribe for free, and they pledged to do so.

This finding may be difficult to digest, or perhaps not surprising at all. In fact, is the issue one of absence of awareness or a reflection of a more complex matter of fundamental differences in their worldviews and the totality of their socio-cultural milieu? One of the basic assumptions in Integral Approach is this idea of transcending the old value systems, beliefs, levels and stages of development, theories and models and including them in the new way of being. This would seem to necessarily introduce elements of complexity in the applicability across the diverse socio-cultural contexts in the world. The South East Asia sub-region, and the entire Eastern world generally, is known to be highly “traditional” in the totality of their worldview and socio-cultural orientation. This is not mere opinion. In 1977, a well-known scholar, Geert Hofstede, developed an instrument to measure this, which he called Power Distance Index (PDI). PDI measures the extent to which the less-powerful members of a group expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. PDI has scores that range from 11 to 104. The higher the number a country scores on the scale, the more autocratic and/or paternalistic the leadership is and the more conformity is embedded in the consciousness of the generality of the people. On the scale, lower numbers mean a more consultative style of leadership is used, which also means a prevailing norm of freedom to express divergence of views and perspectives on virtually everything.

Hofstede carried out a survey of 53 countries in the world with PDI. His result indicated, among other things, that Malaysia had the highest score in the world, with a score of 104! For clearer picture, compare this with the United States that scored mere 40 in the same survey. What would be the implications of this in relation to the conceptualization of the AQAL Framework, for example? And with this kind of scenario, what would be the expected prospect of Integral approach in this area?

In 2006, Elza Maalouf raised similar concern (Integral Leadership Review Volume VI, Number 2, pages 5-6) with respect to the Middle East. He raised questions about the Integral Methodologies, asking specifically “what versions of systems are we transcending? Is it the United States version or the multitude of versions that exist in our global world?” Concluding, he chipped in that “we are more interconnected than ever before yet so fragmented.”

For me, it would be interesting to read about the experience of Consultants who work with clients in the East using Integral approach. What kind of result do they obtain and through what manner of application of the AQAL Framework do they achieve result?

About the Author

Oliver Ngodo is from Nigeria and is completing his PhD in Malaysia. He is an Associate Editor of Integral Leadership Review.

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