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Mai Chen – Connecting Asians and Pakeha to contribute to the Asian Century

The Antipodean Village Blogger wishes to nominate Mai Chen, a prominent Auckland lawyer and public figure with an Asian background, for a Ladder Award. The nomination is for setting up the kind of organization Aotearoa/New Zealand needs to connect well, contribute and thrive in the Asian Century.

Mai Chen has long taken an active interest in public issues and making contributions to the public good.

She is setting up what she calls the “AsianzCEO” organization (which she described on Jim Mora’s Radio New Zealand Afternoons programme on 30 May, 2013 ).

New Zealand’s need to learn to build Asian connections

Since New Zealand exporters lost their free access to the British market in 1973, they have needed to turn to the Asia-Pacific region. However, lacking in the knowledge of Asian culture or languages New Zealanders have often found it difficult to access Asian markets. They have found it all the more difficult because typically in Asian cultures it is in the context of trusted relationships that business-doors are opened. Most in Aotearoa/New Zealand have just not had much experience in building up relationships with Asians.

Mai Chen’s project aims to help remedy this deficiency. She is establishing a framework in which local Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) wanting to do business in Asia can leverage off successful, locally-established Asian business people with strong connections in Asia.

Making it practical to connect effectively with Asia

As Village Connections blogs have noted and Professor James Liu from Victoria University has highlighted, there are many very talented, well-connected Asian immigrants in New Zealand with whom locally-established people could usefully connect in this country’s increasingly Asia-dependent economy (e.g.see my blog Local-global connection-building to get through a global economic crisis )

The challenge is to create structures or frameworks within which such connections can be made comfortably and regularly. Mai Chen’s project aims to create this kind of framework.

Breaking through “New Zealand’s bamboo curtain”

Mai Chen’s starting point is the many Asians who currently find it difficult to break through what she calls the “New Zealand bamboo curtain” to get good positions even when they are highly qualified for them.

The three goals of her organization are first to mentor and train such people, then to bring together Asians who are already doing well, and then to invite other New Zealanders wanting to do business with Asia “to leverage off them”.

She points out how already successful Asians have the backgrounds needed “to help guide Pakeha” into the Asian business scene. Namely, these Asians have strong family and business connections in Asia, where they are often already doing millions of dollars worth of business. (I imagine she would in terms of her inclusive philosophy also want to welcome non-Pakeha people in Aotearoa/New Zealand seeking such help. However, in focusing on help for monocultural “Pakeha” she does, frankly, seem to identify a group for whom some of the more difficult issues can arise in building connections with Asia)

A new intercultural paradigm and a legacy for the rest of history?

In the first phase of her project, Asians who apply to join are asked to present CV’s that demonstrate their leadership qualities, work done for the public good, and name two referees.

I feel that this project particularly merits nomination for a Ladder Award because it recognizes contributions to the public good.

As Aotearoa/New Zealand moves into the Asian Century, it is in the process of creating new patterns of social and cultural relationship of one kind or another that will be establishing a legacy it will have to live with, for better or for worse, for the rest of its history. This makes it most important to get certain things right.

Contributions to the public good as an intercultural development-point

So I see Mai Chen as starting from the right place when she emphasises the public good in her project. When already-established Pakeha and other, immigrant communities can see each see how the other values and contributes to the public good, they will more readily recognize how they can collaborate on the basis of deeper authentic, shared human, social and environmental values. This recognition of commonly shared values will in turn provide the right base for business and other forms of development that can result in truly bright futures for all in the country, and for all beyond it with whom its people deal.

New Zealanders could in this way help create a new, harmonious model of intercultural development for a world where intercultural disharmony all too often prevails.

Your comments and nominations for an Award (Ladder or Shovel) most welcome

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