Case Studies

Abi’s story

How Abi developed the Cultural Intelligence to lead in a globalized world

Abi Rajkumar, Student, The Australian National University

In 2017, Common Purpose partnered with Westpac Bicentennial Foundation to deliver a bespoke seven month leadership programme as part of the Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarship.

One of these scholars, Abi Rajkumar, a student at the Australian National University, was interested in understanding the significant role culture plays in cross-state negotiations, and how to ensure positive change for individuals across the globe.

“As an Australian with Sri Lankan heritage, I’ve never quite been Australian enough, or Sri Lankan enough, to identify completely with either nationality—I finally realized I was not alone. Sharing stories of embarrassments, uncertainty and moments of clarity made me realize how important it is to make a conscious effort to understand the idiosyncrasies of other cultures, and varying understandings that have stemmed from differing contexts. Not understanding one another, and not actually trying to, continues to tear our societies apart. In a world plagued by genocide, racism and ongoing abuses of power, culturally intelligent leadership is not just useful—it is vital.

“Our personal understandings of truth and reality that we hold so close to our hearts can be deeply destructive to our ability to see the world in different lights, our ability to lead, and to ensure better outcomes for a collective. Perhaps my biggest take away was understanding that leading is about caring. Sometimes, that simply means standing back and listening to what is happening around you.

“In just four days, we made the conscious effort to ‘try on different leadership shoes’. We learnt from each other, we helped each other face some of our biggest fears and amongst all the craziness, we grew closer together—and I couldn’t have been more wrong about how powerful a leadership programme can be.”

“Westpac is delighted to be partnering with Common Purpose to deliver the Westpac Asian Exchange Leadership Programme. Working with an organization who truly values the importance of cross-cultural intelligence has enabled us to design a development programme that nurtures Asia-capable leaders of the future. Seeing the impact the 2018 programme has had on the Westpac Scholars demonstrates how valuable immersive learning can be. In Singapore they had a rare opportunity to develop their Cultural Intelligence in a very practical setting. Also having the chance to reflect on themselves and their leadership capabilities was highly valuable. After just four days there was a marked difference across the entire group.”

Susan Bannigan, CEO, Westpac Bicentennial Foundation