2017 is the fiftieth year since the establishment of the Association of South East Asian Nations. Today, the ASEAN acronym and its politico-geographic grouping is familiar, and respected, world over. It is no secret that economic indicators are very good for the ASEAN. The emerging markets in the region make it an attractive business destination, and the role played by the ASEAN with its focus on security, and shared development, cannot be over estimated. The Connectivity Master Plan ASEAN 2025, to promote physical connections between institutions and people, is very exciting. As is the role played by the ASEAN Foundation to bring people together, to see how they can participate building the ASEAN Community.

However, people from outside the region, who choose to work here, would need to keep an open mind and have the ability to learn to adapt to diverse cultures. The ASEAN market is not a monolith - it encourages innovation, experimenting with new ideas, ingenuity, disruption, and disruptive technologies that are beneficial, to deliver to different market segments. But one would have to step beyond the familiar, and work with languages and cultures that are very different from other parts of the world. Learning the local language is not strictly necessary, but proficiency in it would be a great asset, as you would be more comfortable moving around and working within the diverse market. It is not an easy task, as there isn't a pan-ASEAN language. Bahasa would work in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei. But not in the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Cultural Intelligence, however will work – everywhere. And it holds the key to opening doors, establishing relationships, and enabling collaboration.

A different kind of leadership is required to build bridges between cultures. I feel that Common Purpose, with their pedagogy of Cultural Intelligence and Crossing Boundaries, gives one the right knowledge and leadership skills to work with different people, across sectors, at all levels of organization, and with different sensitivities. Relationship building in the ASEAN relies on trust; mutual respect; on informal agreements across diverse stakeholders. Cultural Intelligence is a useful tool to operate successfully in ASEAN's cities.

ASEAN cities are the epicentre of growth. They are transforming rapidly, and modernizing across the region. However, I also see a resurgence of appreciation of heritage. There is more emphasis on not losing the cultural, and historical place; a desire to move forward without destroying the past. And this is where I believe shared knowledge, another key learning from Common Purpose plays a vital role. We realize we are quite similar to one another and should combine efforts to work better. Shared knowledge, where we could know what others are doing; shared learning from each other; and shared information; could prevent us from having to reinvent the wheel to take the region further.

The importance of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the ASEAN cannot be overstated. But going forward, it is key to sustain the momentum of the 50th year, with high levels of visibility. Countries that chair the ASEAN over the next few years, should move beyond ad hoc measures, to boost people-oriented and people-centred initiatives. More can be done for the free movement of workers and professionals. There are costs involved, and that partly accounts for slow progress on the ground. An integrated approach with the private sector and necessary funding, would make a huge difference in driving people beyond thinking ASEAN, to doing ASEAN.

Build leadership skills to succeed in the ASEAN at the ASEAN Leaders Programme 2017. A Common Purpose leadership programme for ASEAN leaders. www.commonpurpose.org/asean