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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Leadership for Social Responsibility

Overseas MBA Elective in Malaysia

October 29, 2017. Ipoh, Malaysia - Servant leadership is an age old concept, one that suggests that to lead, one must first be dedicated to serving others. However this leadership style is not that prevalent and its effectiveness is still debated across the business world. Do servant leaders have a place in corporate institutions, or are they best fit for social enterprises?  

In an effort to explore this question first hand, 23 CEIBS MBA2019 students joined the ‘Leadership for Social Responsibility’ overseas elective. The course gives MBA students a chance to practice servant leadership by taking a different approach than regular campus-based modules; it redefines leadership by taking MBA students to a reflective place and giving them the rare opportunity to impact the lives of Malaysian children in Ipoh, Malaysia.


Taught by CEIBS Associate Dean and Professor of Economics Bala Ramasamy, the six-day overseas elective combines classroom learning with volunteer work at the Foundations for Leadership and Moral Empowerment (FLAME) Camp. Prof. Ramasamy and his siblings established FLAME in 2012 as a nonprofit initiative dedicated to the development of responsible young leaders, rooted in strong moral values and committed to the betterment of local communities. They set it up in memory of their mother Mrs. Kanthamani Ramasamy, who inspired her children to give back to the community through her own commitment to their personal growth and development.

The first part of the course consisted of three and half days of lectures and participatory learning. Mr. Guna Ramasamy kicked off the sessions by exploring different leadership styles and the pros and cons of each approach. He then introduced servant leadership, and explained that he sees it as the most effective leadership style because it achieves the three goals of maintaining unity, task completion and developing potential. The next three days were filled with rich and intense discussions on several subjects, including how our attitudes towards others affect how we treat people. Mr. Kantha Ramasamy pointed out that all men are born noble and have the capacity to know and to love, which underscores the role that servant leaders play in developing potential.

Outside the classroom, the MBA students had the opportunity to put into practice what they had learned by volunteering at a local Indian school, sharing stories, games and playful exercises with the children there. The brief for the volunteers was simple: take care of the children and show them all the love in the world. The children had to leave the camp transformed, and the MBA students had the challenge of making this happen in less than three days.

“Our focus was on giving without expecting anything in return,” said MBA 2019’s Elizabeth Chweya. “It made us think extremely deeply about the power of words and how they can change a child’s life.  It also taught us a lot about patience, especially when we are being tested by a twelve-year-old with other intentions than compliance.”

Aside from the lectures and volunteer work, the MBA students also rediscovered their competitive nature by playing dodge ball and football, and got a chance to enjoy some of the local food in Ipoh town. They also joined a hiking excursion to the Ipoh Caves.

MBA2019’s Rodrigo Laniado Illingworth recalls that Prof. Bala Ramasamy opened the elective by noting the expression, “Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday”. “This short phrase contains an important lesson; how to be successful by pushing yourself to learn new things every day,” Rodrigo said. “It is a simple concept but very rich in meaning. One of the most impressive moments for me was the children’s own concept of success and happiness. Basically, they associate success with education, and happiness with money. For me to see the impact that society has on young children’s perception of such deep concepts was eye-opening. As volunteers, we emphasized to the children that their future success depends on their effort to be better each day, rather than in other external factors such as wealth and family.” 

MBA 2019's Elizabeth Chweya & Rodrigo Laniado Illingworth
Janine M Coughlin