Designing for Inclusiveness and Innovation in ASEAN Cities

Jul 11, 2018 | English, News & Updates

This was the keynote delivered at Shape the World Conference 2018 yesterday where I shared about our own shift to do more to shape an inclusive economic system since 2017. Why it matters in the work that we do in Smart Cities in ASEAN to make it more purposeful and sustainable. And how the relational innovation approach with our clients has helped us make any development project more inclusive.

Here is the visual summary of my speech, beautifully captured by Sketch Post. By the way, they are an incredibly talented group and you should really consider engaging them for any conference to capture essential points and help audiences connect the dots visually.

Morning Partners and Friends, welcome to Shape the World 2018. I like to thank Mark and his team at DesignSingapore for working with CPG and ourselves to make this happen. Thank you DesignSingapore for sharing our vision.

Once, at a Berkshire annual meeting of shareholders, a 14-year old asked Warren Buffett what advice he would give to a young person on how to be successful. And the Oracle of Omaha replied:

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behaviour is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”

This quote by Warren Buffett sums up the crowd we try to gather at each Shape the World Conference since 2005. We seek to attract exceptional people, people of competence and integrity. So that we can concretely discuss, debate and develop solutions that can shape a better world. This year, our focus is on the space of Smart Cities.

Mark started this morning with a wonderful presentation about the necessity to shape lovable cities and then Shao Yen helped us realized what it means to deliver solutions that work, how can we make sure that it is always city-smart, that smart has to be at the service of people. I would like us to consider the purpose of the Smart Cities movement a bit more, to question its motives and our collective intent so as to achieve impact.

Some of you know that Consulus has been involved with a global network to shape a more inclusive economic system called the Economy of Communion for some time. Last year as part of its 25th-anniversary celebrations, there was a conference in Rome.

So I invited a few professional friends and partners from ASEAN to join me at the meeting to learn more about this initiative. This meeting was held in Rome and as part of the anniversary celebration, Pope Francis met 1200 of us: professionals, business leaders, academia gathered from around the world.

It was a joyous occasion and I was expecting that Pope Francis would give us the usual encouraging words to help us go ahead. But he did more than that, he said:

“The economy of communion, if it wants to be faithful to its charism, must not only care for the victims, but build a system where there are ever fewer victims, where, possibly, there may no longer be any. As long as the economy still produces one victim and there is still a single discarded person, communion has not yet been realized; the celebration of universal fraternity is not full. Therefore, we must work toward changing the rules of the game of the socio-economic system. Imitating the Good Samaritan of the Gospel is not enough.”

When he said this, it felt like an existential wake-up call and it set me and my colleagues on a path to rethink our actions and how can we do more, especially for victims who will be displaced by the urban and economic disruption.

Ever since that fateful January of 2017, we have been on a transformation journey ourselves to make sure that we are well-positioned to influence change. First, we felt that we had to find a way to influence future leaders in the way they think and shape economic strategies. So we signed a partnership with a university in Tuscany to bring leaders there on a five-day programme to help them discern about their roles in an age of disruption and reshape their personal leadership models. This September we will have the first class.

Then in November last year,

while I was in Sao Paolo, together with my colleagues in Latin America, after sharing about our work in helping companies find purpose before transformation, a local government official came up to me and said:

“Lawrence, what you said about purpose is so essential and is needed in Brazil. Just to let you know, just as you spoke about purpose. My daughter texted me to say that Daddy, I am no longer into drugs but still I need to find my purpose.”

That left a deep mark in me and I understood that we have to find a way to help individuals and micro-enterprises find their purpose and transform to be prepared for the coming economic disruption. So after 6 months of development, we launched Brazil 4.0 a programme to help individuals and micro-enterprises define their role and transform themselves and their business models for the new economy.

Back to ASEAN our home region, it is where we can have the greatest and most incredible impact. We are fortunate to have great and old friends in business; so many of you are here in this room. With CPG, we have been working together since 2004. And over the years, through projects from airports, security installation and now smart cities, we have built up an incredible amount of trust between us, above all even though we are from different disciplines, we can operate well together.

But what is capability if we cannot deploy it for good, what is power if we cannot shape the world for the better. And I believe Shao Yen would agree that we have been blessed with good and enlightened clients, clients who want to do meaningful projects. Just look around this room, we have government officials who shape policy, developers of influence, professional partners of scale. Collectively we are working in 20 cities at any one time, covering the major economic regions of ASEAN.

So the question is, what is the purpose of the Smart Cities or Nation movement. Is it a showcase of innovation or about solving existential issues. I believe that if the purpose of Smart Cities or Nation is not to provide solutions that will reduce inequality, poverty, abuse of resources and increase representativity, then it is not smart at all.

It is a question that CPG and us are constantly asking ourselves when we started the process of PlaceCORE, our shared method for transforming a township or city.

What impact can we achieve in a plan to shape sustainable development, how will it impact jobs and opportunities, how do we shape projects that are not projects of vanity but one that can sustain value? And above all to see the interconnectedness of all things. And when you put a planner, an architect, a business strategist, a brand identity designer into one room, and you have such conversations, the innovation becomes relational because it came from an existential purpose. It is through a deep understanding of what kind of relationships of persons and issues will be needed to come together to make this work.

At Consulus, we have been talking about relational innovation for some time. So how can we practice relational innovation better? The first step in relational innovation is to put yourself in the situation of the person you seek to serve. And in the case of Smart Cities, I often try to sense the different situations that happen in the city, the person who is alone maybe even homeless, or a person without a sense of place due to race or religion or the young person who seeks opportunity or the elderly seeking to recover his/her dignity while energy fades. It helps to put things in perspective so that we are not carried away by our own thoughts without a relational link. This then lends purpose to strategy.

Then the second step for relational innovation is to identify the unity that is needed to succeed. I do this by seeing the architect not as another but as a person necessary in this equation. I transform my view of the developer not as a client but as a person, his identity, his beliefs matter to me as I consider my proposals.

The third step for relational innovation is to shape catalytic solutions. How can this solution have a catalytic effect to generate relational goods? So even if we are working in a small place, how can this affect the entire city for good in terms of inspiring positive actions and innovation.

Saradise is a project that CPG and us worked on for a number of years. Dato Chris and Dylan are here with us and they will share more about the project later. But just to say that taking this approach of relational innovation has helped us a lot.

Like in other developments or projects in ASEAN where we have a long-standing practice of asking the community what they think through their stories. We started the project by not assuming that we know the issues in Kuching but by asking the people of Kuching what this place meant for them.

Through that story-collection contest, we learned a lot about the aspirations for the people which helped us as a team: planners, architects, developers, management and branding consultants to shape township that is inclusive by design. Over there, we are not CPG or Consulus, but one Saradise team for the people of Sarawak.

As you know Sarawak is a very diverse place with its multiplicity of tribes, languages, and beliefs. So it is interesting to see how Saradise Kuching, the integrated smart township there is uniting the community through the arts, ecology, and identity. We had envisioned that the place will be the new heartbeat of Kuching. In the last elections, it is.

Friends we still have lots to do and in the situation of ASEAN with its multiplicity of identities, languages, beliefs, and ways of doing things, we need a more relevant and relational approach to the challenges and opportunities in ASEAN. So allow me to present a few issues for your consideration as we begin today’s session.

1) A growing number of cities in ASEAN are overcrowded so is it wise to be so city-centric in our solutions? How can we consider the suburbs, even villages as part of our bigger strategy? How can we take the stress off our cities that are struggling to cope with rising population and costs?

2) ASEAN has a rich tapestry of culture and beliefs. So how can we reflect that as we shape the identities of smart city initiatives? Right now the identity and communication tend to be skewed towards technology. So can we include other stakeholders, religious and community leaders in shaping these developments so that it does not seem so alien to them?

3) ASEAN has one of the youngest populations in the world and Smart cities projects are about the future. But we seem to rush through a lot of plans for smart cities development without taking time to involve them. This could explain why the youth are not as excited as governments, developers and consultants are about Smart Cities.

4) Lastly, how can our smart cities help contribute to meeting Sustainable Development Goals and reduce inequality? How can we enable affordable housing, not as an appendix but mainstream them into a community through good design?

As we do our work in the comfort of our offices, let us remember those without a roof over their heads. As we enjoy our food in the course of our work travels, let us remember the thousands who do not have the certainty of a meal.

With the skills and power that we have been blessed with, we need to be able to look at the homeless, the hungry, the weary in the eye that we are doing whatever we can to shape a better world for them.

As consultants, business leaders and civil servants, we need to work together and also hold each other accountable, on how to evolve our collective work further, one that will generate revenue and also consistently improve lives and environment. Profit andpurpose can co-exist and need not cancel the other out.

Three weeks ago, as it was Father’s Day, I decided to bring my 3-year old on a cycling trip in my neighborhood. It was the first time that we were doing this and it was a beautiful experience. We cycled past beautiful waterways: I could stop along the way to let her play on different playgrounds, even take a moment to have ice-cream. It was landscaped beautifully and many cycling paths were shaded by lush greenery. As my daughter was enjoying her ice-cream, I turned my thoughts to what we are all trying to do together in ASEAN. Certainly along the way, as I cycled, there was technology, but the technology was not visible. But what was visible was how space is designed to be sustainable and shared. So this is what I wish for all the cities that we are working on, that our smart solutions will help to shape meaningful lives so that our children and their children will live in sustainable and shared cities where they feel welcomed and loved.

Thank you

About Shape the World Conference

Shape the World Conference, is a creative thought-leadership event aimed at provoking design-led ideas and strategies to inspire leaders, companies to innovate and shape a better world. Since 2005, the conference has gathered 5,000 leaders to meet in different cities from Bangkok, Colombo, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Singapore, and Yangon.

About Lawrence Chong

Lawrence shares about his experiences of helping leaders, companies, cities transform for Industry 4.0 to enable innovation through purpose and unity. His passion is in shaping purpose-driven leaders, companies and smart cities that will contribute to shaping a better world.

He is the Co-founder and CEO of Consulus Global Network, an innovation consultancy with business management and multi-disciplinary design capabilities. Lawrence is a featured speaker at global events such as Innovation by Design, World Marketing Summit, and World Brand Congress. He served as the Immediate Past President of Design Business Chamber Singapore. His thoughts on innovation and creativity appear in regional media such as FortuneNikkei Asian ReviewBusiness Insider, Business Times, Marketing MagazineNewsbase, Prestige Magazine, VTC10. In his personal capacity, he is a member of the Focolare, a movement in favor of building a united world through dialogue, economics, and politics.

About Consulus

Consulus is a global innovation consultancy with multidisciplinary business and design capabilities. Since 2004 the firm has served leaders, companies and cities in the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania to meet their innovation needs through a unifying approach that integrates business strategy, organizational development, and experience design. Clients include Teo GarmentsBIBD, Goodrich Global, DST, Health City Novena, MTU, and Sony. or follow us on Linkedin and Facebook

Applying our proprietary UNIFY methodology to redesign business models, organizational cultures, and brand experiences, we help our clients develop in-house capabilities so as to enable them to innovate more effectively and meet the complex challenges of the 4th industrial revolution.


1. Business Transformation: PurposeCORE

2. Customer Experience Design: ExperienceCORE

3. Development or Smart City Solution: PlaceCORE

4. Digital Strategy: DigitalCORE

5. Leadership Transformation: LeadershipCORE

Our custom-design solutions have allowed our clients to increase revenue by over 138%, expand to overseas markets, develop new products and intellectual property and prepare the next generation of leaders to drive and sustain high-growth. Today, Consulites serve throughout the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. Consulus is a member of the Economy of Communion (EoC).

In 2013, Consulus launched World Company Day initiative to inspire companies to shape the world into a better place through daily work.

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