Living and Breathing Culture with Common Purpose

With a multicultural and multilingual upbringing, I have always found immense satisfaction in interacting with people, listening to their stories and sharing my own. In 2018, Common Purpose Asia Pacific, the Singapore Institute of Technology and the Singapore National Youth Council joint hands to organize an experiential leadership development program from 31st October to 2nd of November. The friendships that I built over the three days have last till now, and have opened many new doors for my academic and professional life.

Common Purpose is a not-for-profit organization that aims to develop cross-boundary, cross-generational leaders who are ready to navigate the uncertainties of a post-globalized and ever-changing world. Adding on to the meaningfulness of the program, it was launched alongside Singapore’s Chairmanship of the ASEAN in 2018 to empower young leaders in the region in creating a culture of change.

The ASEAN Young Leaders Program brought together over 150 youths from the ASEAN region to tackle “How can young leaders make ASEAN more resilient and innovative?” Over the three days, we were given opportunities to learn from experienced guest speakers, to be inspired by anecdotes on transformational leadership, to be trained in Design Thinking, to get up close with industry leaders, and to brainstorm solutions that dissected ASEAN sustainability from sociopolitical, technological and economic angles.

What I remember most from the program is a session on the second afternoon. It was a short activity on developing Cultural Intelligence (CQ). While I was abreast of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and too familiar with Intelligence Quotient (IQ), I did not recall coming across the term CQ. Cultural Intelligence refers to how well people can orient themselves in a new, unfamiliar context. It involves three components: the cognitive, the emotional or motivational and the physical.

Out of the three intelligences, Cultural Intelligence is perhaps the most desired since it allows us to learn and adapt to new situations, countries and societies. Learning a language is no longer enough to navigate the complexities of today’s interconnected world. Moreover, much of our communication depends on non-verbal cues instead of what we say.

I was intrigued by how effortlessly the program’s speakers approached the issue of leadership, and I still carry these lessons with me today. A true leader does not segregate him or herself from the rest of the team, but treats every member as an equal. There is no dictatorial assignment of tasks but sees eye-to-eye with her or his coworkers to empower them to take on responsibilities. Plus, it’s okay for each person to do things differently — diversity adds value to a team that is working towards a common goal.

Also, being a leader is not always akin to ‘reaching for the moon’. It can be a rather simple endeavor — find your passion and therefore your purpose, be creative and appreciate even the smallest achievements. In the end, developing leadership skills boils down to answering whom do we wish to lead and how? In this sense, anyone can be a leader, and frankly, we all are leaders in our own ways!

To be a leader today also means having the capacity to humanize situations. As our generation takes on more decision-making roles, we should seek to develop our CQ and seek to better understand those around us. Youths have a special role to play in restructuring today’s societies and systems for a better tomorrow. When we live and breathe a culture of compassion, empathy and growth, we are becoming part of that change and empowering others to do the same.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Suthida C.

Suthida C. Honorary Reporter. Full time foodie and earth-explorer. Would travel the galaxy if I could.