In an exclusive dinner session that took place at Olio Dome Art Museum, Mr Frederick Chavalit Tsao, chairman of IMC Pan Asia Alliance, spoke on the significance and impact of the rising Asian affluent class. He drew on history, human psychology and social consciousness, and rallied business leaders to use their abilities and resources to create a positive impact on the region
In his opening, Mr Tsao noted the difficulty of defining ‘richness’. Being rich could pertain to richness of the heart, or the meaning life, or the possession of at least one million (indeed, one billion) dollars – richness is a most elusive term. What is definite from Mr Tsao’s perspective is that affluence has had a transformative impact on history, and likewise, on Asia. He briefly delved into a broad historical survey relating affluence and human development; beginning with the agrarian culture, then morphing into the Industrial Revolution, then into the financial era; and with it, the American consumerism that spread to the masses.
The trend toward affluence was driven by humans’ desire for better things in life. But Mr Tsao pointed to a problem inherent in the system. While people were working to become millionaires, they encountered stress and eventually alienation. They escaped into spa centres and into cyberspace bearing fictitious personas to chat with other transfigured characters who were probably their colleagues in real life. They tuned into the media so much it became a part of themselves – “as men plugged into the machine, the machine plugged into them,” said Mr Tsao, describing the leeching process through which people became commercialized.
At this point, it is important to wonder where the “soul” was located in modernization. “The whole process of modernity is liberalization, from nature, from hard work, from boredom… but men were enslaved,” he observed. Many, including some in the audience, had at times found themselves lonely and disconnected from the world. Affluence brought a great deal to humanity, but it had not brought richness to its soul.
With that, Mr Tsao turned to the potential that Asia possessed, a potential that could be harnessed by the new rich. Asia today charts the biggest economic growth worldwide, and its nascent affluence is changing the region. Chinese businessmen are forging ahead in markets and “eating up the world”, whereas the United States “has only one lung left” and was showing signs of strain due to over-consumerism, said Mr Tsao. This signals the possibilities for Asia, argued Mr Tsao, for one cannot properly study the market without being a player.
As Asians engage in the global economy, their potential to effect change increases. Compared to the impoverished who must struggle daily to survive, the materially secure can pay attention to history and evaluate the lessons they can extract from them. As such, Asia’s new rich must examine the current issues and developments in the context of its own history so as to chart the region’s future. Asian businesses can function as an alternative to government, strengthening development and impacting change where governments may encounter difficulties. The affluent businessman should think about issues such as developing communities, an equitable market system, and entertainment that goes beyond sensationalism.
Crucially, Mr Tsao explained, “We are rich in our hearts and have power in our hands, so we must stand up and do something” Asia’s new rich, primed for action and possessing resources to back their ideals, can provide an engine for progressive social change.
Some comments from the Q and A segment:
Q: It seems, contrary to your speech, that the more people become rich, the more problems we have. How different do you think Asian businesses can be from Western businesses?
FT: I will answer with a personal example. My company is planning to launch several non-governmental initiatives, including one project on healthcare for the elderly and another in research and public education. Asian businesses often are, or started off as, family businesses, and family businesses are about sustainability. They have great potential for social responsibility, for they have feelings, they have a focus, and can connect people. Business leaders should talk and hold tripartite discussions with governments and organizations. Asian businesses, including family businesses can contribute greatly because they are flexible, and can make connections
Q: Do you think that there is a critical mass already, or are you calling for Asians to rise up and take the lead?
FT: Asian culture is very different from Western culture. Western culture is about desire, vision, and the power to drive things through. Asians in contrast do not like to stand out. They would rather stay in the background. If one were to use the ‘yin and yang’ concept by way of analogy, Asians have ying energy: female, nurturing, and loving. Yang is Western, it has a creative but destructive energy. Asians are perceived as shy in a world where everything is about showbiz. But the new Asians are not shy – they are probably the most global people, uniquely situated to understand both the East and West. They are restless, and they only need courage to speak out, as well as the courage to fail. Every movement starts from a ripple, you who sit here are part of that ripple, you should be able to feel that power, for if you can see, you can act.
Q: One of the key things in inspiring future Asian business people is the need for good role models, for example Mohammed Eunos and Bill Gates. We do however encounter a paradox between the benevolent businesses and greed that drives the economy. The recent spate [in the news] of people running off with charity money illustrates this very well. How do we temper the intrinsic need and drive of greed, and yet moderate its excesses?
FT: Humans are like animals in that we desire happiness, but from the moment of births we also continually search for ourselves, and what it is to be human. Businesses are similar in that they seem to be driven by selfish needs. But businesses are also social organisations – they have a social role. They meet our needs, as well as create wealth. Human beings go in two directions in their search for happiness; they run toward desire, and they run away from it after having suffered its excesses. A survey found that people are most happy when they spend time with people they love. We can only manage the balance between motivation and greed through awareness and wisdom. Like animals, we can be driven by how we feel, but to see truth is a completely different thing.
Chesterton International Property Consultants Private Limited