One would assume that the art of self-enrichment is conditional, however, if anything, the past year has illustrated the essence of uncertainty.  Trying times hold no bearing on the pursuit of nurturing potential, an effort propelled by the Centre for Asia Leadership Initiatives ( CALI) Co-founder and President, Samuel Kim. Years back, FLY Malaysia interviewed Samuel Kim. Early August, FLY Malaysia Journalists Melanie Fernandez and Puteri Nelissa Milani were fortunate to speak with him once more, under very different circumstances this time around. In this interview, Samuel illustrates the impact of the pandemic, the potential uncertainty wields as well as CALI’s initiatives in moving with the times. 

His Narrative

Law, economics, and political science compose Samuel’s educational background, yet his involvement in varying ventures hardly reflects this. He recalls his time at the United Nations as a diplomat, being a military officer, a political aide, working on Wall Street, and even starting up a sandwich business that multiplied into branches. It would be fair to assume that being the son of humanitarian workers, his path has been heavily influenced by the experiences that molded his purpose, which ultimately led to his efforts in founding CALI during his time as a student at Harvard. 

“Observing the world, there is more leadership work to be done. That is where my heart goes, instead of wanting to pursue personal aspirations and self-gratification.” 

Acknowledging the sense of prestige associated with the Ivy League school, Samuel believed it was necessary to direct the privilege he inherited from attending Harvard to a socially enriching purpose, thus inaugurating CALI. 

CALI’s Edge

Identifying as a social profit organisation, volatility in seeking funding contributes to the entity’s choice of charging for their services. Despite the need to self-sustain, fees are never involved with regards to underserved communities. Program and content drive CALI’s competitive edge. 

I spend a lot of time teaching, writing, and developing content, so my full-time job is to learn as well to make our content Asian-oriented. 

Asked regarding the fallacies he has observed in the research and training industry, he immediately addresses the ‘instantaneous effect’ assumption. CALI does set high expectations, yet the impact boils down to the personal thinking framework. 

“People learning are going to take the framework back to their organisation where the real battle is going on.” 

Recalling the state of Korea as one of the poorest countries in the world during his time as a diplomat and contrasting it to the economy it has established today, he acknowledges the deep work required in the art of accepting and reflecting on aid received. 

“Leadership is tough work as it is a conscious choice that must be made. Title, status, and degrees are the means, but that itself will not change the world. It is important that I set the right expectation on how you (participants) need to own the work.”

Embracing Uncertainty

When the Malaysian government imposed the Movement Control Order (MCO) mid-March this year, everyone took some time to get their business in order; to transition into the ‘work-from-home’ environment. However, Samuel did not skip a beat and saw the lockdown as an opportunity in advancing the public interest. Alongside with other authors from Havard, MIT, and World-Leading Institutions background, he started working on The Future of Work: How Do You Prepare for it?. The book offers perspective on the crucial mindset and fundamental skill sets, as well as how to better forecast the future. The forecasts are not merely to hypothesize what’s going to happen in the future, but rather the different scenarios serve to help the readers envision and become future-fit. The total of thirteen chapters does not only target individuals but also organizations in overcoming the uncertainty that lies ahead. 

In stark contrast to gloomy remarks and differing woes that stemmed from the outbreak, Samuel showed a different attitude towards the pandemic. He highlighted the silver lining of how this serves as an opportunity to improve ourselves. “Tough times like this show us what our weak points are. Some companies survive, while others don’t- we must learn to adapt,” he claimed.  

Samuel spares no hesitation in emphasizing how externals can give you ideas and guidance, but it is solely up to your actions in making the necessary changes that will determine the outcome. He strongly believes that continuously improving ourselves and our learning experience is crucial to power through the perfect storm of coronavirus-related shutdowns and obstacles. This goal is in line with CALI, which offers a variety of timely programs to tap the creative potential within the participants.

“The first few pivotal steps are to set your expectations, know your purpose, and seize the opportunities. Only then you can improve yourself and contribute to the greater good.”

Personal Developments

When asked about what CALI believes to be vital (in terms of personal developments) in response to the pandemic, Samuel was adamant that self-improvement and evaluating oneself is critical. He stressed yet again on continuously working on improving yourself. “Do you continue to see yourself as a value-add and relevant person?” he said. He elaborated on these with the example of four general types of people. The first kind is those who just don’t care and do not do anything to make a change. The other three, are those who identify the problems; but do not do anything, respond wrongly, or stalling their response. Samuel’s optimism shines through as he believes that it is never too late to start working on yourselves. The question of ‘How well-prepared am I for the future challenges?’ must be pondered on and critically self-evaluated. CALI initiatives are made to help people to face reality. Samuel reminded us that shying away from opportunities or finger-pointing (and being trapped in the blame game) will lead us to nowhere. CALI serves as guidance for the participants to rise up to challenges and take the necessary actions to move forward. 

Ensuring Sustainability amidst the Uncertainty

Individuals, companies, and society need to adapt to the new requirements that are dictated by the pandemic. Samuel believed that CALI’s strategy is not to remain stagnant- be adaptable. This requires consistent monitoring in the market, and given the extensive networks they have globally, market research is not an issue. For instance, most of CALI’s earlier works were aimed towards students but now have gradually shifted towards aiding the adults as they are deemed to carry a heavier burden and face more challenges. Plus, in the context of shifting towards virtual events, CALI is working towards making learning just as rewarding due to the restrictions in conducting physical events. 

Samuel assured that CALI is consistently exploring the different opportunities that may arise, and venture into different paths that result in the same goal. Given the current situation, CALI believes in the shifting market needs and utilizes their resources to address these changes. One of CALI’s strategies to navigate through the prodigious change is to continuously learn new things. By equipping themselves with new knowledge and skillset, they are able to stay relevant and continuously provide to their clients and participants. 

Maintaining the balance between attaining profit and being a non-profit organisation is key for CALI to foster a sustainable path, or in other words, to ensure consistent funding and support. CALI attains its source of income through book sales and conferences. However, Samuel believes that the price charged must not dilute CALI’s branding that is to benefit society through its pedagogical approach. Free 20-weeks webinar comprising 20 different topics with free materials provided during the pandemic serves as a testament to CALI’s commitment to advancing the social good. 

Moving Forward: the CALI’s way

Reevaluating what one can offer and stay mindful in the present is crucial in facing the fluctuating nature of the training industry. For this social profit organization, they aim to diversify its initiatives by focusing on collaboration with decision-makers, conducting long term-programs, and producing more books. Samuel shared his aspirations to work closely with politicians, lawmakers, law enforcement, and corporations; in order to continue making meaningful changes. Samuel also noted that CALI is currently working towards conducting long-term programs that are relevant and distinctive that are inimitable by others in the same industry. Furthermore, they are looking to strengthen their ties with Harvard. Samuel mentioned the possibility of him returning to Harvard to teach. This serves as an opportunity to channel the ideas and practices being developed at Harvard and integrated into CALI programs. 

Closing with Samuel Kim

The Zoom call with Samuel evokes the inspiration to ameliorate ourselves not only through self-reflection but also through building better connections with others. His articulate leadership presence exudes an aura of optimism, which raises no questions on how well he has led CALI and attributed to various admiral achievements that improve the society’s welfare.  One piece of advice he offered was to keep in mind that it’s not about who you want to be, but why you want to do it. CALI provides a framework on the ‘how’ to achieve your goals. It ultimately depends on your actions that will truly make an impactful difference. 


Journalists: Melanie Fernandez and Puteri Nelissa Milani

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