Corrs Chambers Westgarth Partner and CEO John W.H. Denton has called for greater understanding of the complexities in Asian cultures through increased education, linkages and interaction.

Addressing the Educational Leaders Roundtable on Intercultural Understanding and Asia Literacy, in Sydney yesterday on the impacts of the Asian Century, Mr Denton said it is essential that Australians have the sort of knowledge of Asia that previous generations of Australians have had of Europe.

“We need to bring Asian history, economics, politics, beliefs, art and culture into our realm of thought. Individuals can open their minds to the subject and organisations can consider it in their strategies,” said Mr Denton.

Mr Denton, who is one of three non-government representatives on the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper Advisory Panel, said that Australia can no longer consider the issue of Asia, and our place within it, from a purely economic standpoint and that the development of ‘Asian capabilities’ is essential to Australia’s success in the Asian century.

“Success in the Asian century will be determined by our knowledge of and our ability to understand, relate to, and work with Asia. It not just speaking the language, but it’s understanding systems in Asia, how people behave, what they believe and value, how they do things and why. And giving all those things the respect and consideration they deserve.”

“Education is a big part of the Asian growth story. Education is Australia’s third largest export industry after coal and iron ore, and the largest service export – ahead of tourism and financial services. Thus education is a trade commodity in itself, but perhaps more importantly, education is a change tool. It’s our biggest opportunity to create a cultural integration as big and important as our economic and financial integration.”

Mr Denton acknowledged the benefits of developing a greater understanding of the complexities of Asian culture within the businesses community. “To expect senior business leaders to learn Asian languages is perhaps unrealistic. But to learn some of the complexities of Asian culture is not. They will reap the rewards personally, in their businesses and in helping increase cultural integration in general.”

In discussing the importance of education and learning in developing understanding Mr Denton cited the example of the Corrs Scholarship Program in which each year around 25 overseas study scholarships are awarded to the firm’s high performers: “In the last few years we have encouraged these to happen in Asia. Why? Because Asia is now more relevant to us – as a country and a business.”

Corrs is also currently in the process of expanding its international internship program, with the major focus being other law firms in Asia, with whom the firm does business: “Through the program the firm gains the Asian capabilities, as well as enhanced relationships that invariably lead to stronger business ties. And the benefits work both ways. In each country, the entry of an intern into the business brings increased knowledge, understanding and motivation to learn more, all round,” he said.

The Educational Leaders' roundtable was organised jointly by The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and AFS Intercultural Programs.

About John W.H. Denton

Mr Denton is a former diplomat and holds a significant number of leadership positions in global policy forums. He is a Prime Ministerial appointee to the APEC Business Advisory Council as well as the B20, the business arm of the G20. He is a board member of the Business Council of Australia; Chair of the BCA Global Engagement Taskforce and Chairman of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees Australia.

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