About Nick: i am an economist based in malaysia. I write about development economics, while sneaking in a pop culture reference or two.

To shape a Shaper: Reflections on the World Economic Forum on East Asia

Published on the World Economic Forum, 28 June 2012.

I was very fortunate to participate in the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok last month as part of the Global Shapers Community. However, I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive about coming as I wasn’t exactly sure how the 20 Shapers that were invited to the meeting would interact with each other. Would they be cold, but polite? Would they remain professional without trying to get to know each other? Would they be intimidating given how accomplished they are?

I’ve been involved in a lot of group efforts and teams before – sports and professional projects – and I think it’s easy to tell when you’re part of a team versus being part of a group of individuals. In a real team, all members subscribe to a collective goal, even if that collective goal diminishes the personal achievement of each member. In a lot of cases, a good team can consist of members who treat each other professionally, without actually liking each other. But when liking each other personally is added to the brew, you have the best team chemistry possible. That is what I experienced in Bangkok with this group of exceptional Global Shapers.

The 20 individuals I met are such inspiring people. Meeting them has made me consider and reconsider my personal philosophies as well as potential future plans. For example, one of the Shapers I spoke with said: “I’m a capitalist in mind but a socialist at heart.” I remember thinking, “I’m a capitalist in mind AND a capitalist at heart.” But then I asked myself, why do I strongly believe in the virtues of capitalism?

In a recent blog I wrote, Capitalism – A Means, Not an End, I basically describe why I’m a strong advocate of capitalism. But what the Shaper’s statement really made me consider was, “Why do I care about freedom and prosperity?” In other words, what’s the higher ideal? What is driving me to push for that? If I, at the least, care about freedom and prosperity, what am I doing about it? To be clear, when I say “freedom”, I mean the freedom to make whatever choice you want to make in your life, even if it’s a poor choice and as long as it doesn’t harm other people.

After spending four days with this group of Global Shapers, I really do believe that each person can do something significant. And if I believe that, then I must believe that I can do something significant. It’s now a matter of finding out what that something is and actually doing it. As the comic figure Rorshach from Watchmen says, “Once a man has seen, he can never turn his back on it. Never pretend it doesn’t exist no matter who orders him to look the other way. We do not do this thing (vigilantism) because it is permitted. We do it because we have to. We do it because we are compelled.”

One of the highlights of the World Economic Forum on East Asia was the address of Aung San Suu Kyi. Among the things she said which really stuck with me was when she described how she managed to stay optimistic through all her years of house arrest in Burma. She said that her mother had told her that the greatest of all values was duty. This struck me personally. I think I have long felt that beyond passion, beyond conviction, beyond doing what we want, we should be doing what we must do.

I have to say, my way of thinking has been changed quite significantly. In particular, my experience from the Forum event has taught three main things:

1. The power of a team that likes each other is limitless
2. My duty ought to be to my conviction, the ideal that I find most dear to me
3. And once I find that ideal, I need to do something about it.

I believe there is something that can be done and this is inspired by the Global Shapers I met who have proven that lives and worlds can be changed.

Nicholas Khaw is a Global Shaper from the Kuala Lumpur Hub. He is an economist at an investment fund in Malaysia, focusing on development economist and macroeconomics. 

The Changing Commons

Capitalism: A means, not an end