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Developing future leaders in Southeast Asia

Developing the next generation of leaders: Youth Leadership Academy participants hone problem solving and communications skills during the 12-week program.

– Our firm is sometimes described as “a leadership factory” because so many McKinsey alumni go on to play leadership roles elsewhere. What’s less widely known is that in many countries we also help create next-generation leaders by supporting mentorship and development programs for young people. Now in its ninth year, the Malaysia-based Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) is a great example of this approach.

Each year the YLA team receives hundreds of applicants from Malaysian undergraduates, out of which 50 applicants are selected to participate. The 12-week YLA program includes workshops to develop skills such as problem solving and communications, as well as an opportunity to learn from some of Malaysia’s top leaders. Recent YLA mentors include Johan Merican, CEO of TalentCorp; Chen Chow, Co-Founder of KFit; Dzameer Dzulkifli, founder and managing drector of Teach for Malaysia and Nor Rejina Rahim, managing director of Nomura Asset Management Malaysia.

At the heart of the program is a social entrepreneurship project in which students work in teams to come up with innovative solutions to societal challenges. Last year’s winning idea: Agritravels, a social enterprise which encourages eco-tourism to foster sustainability. “Agri-tourism is a great way to bridge the socio-economic gap between rural farmers and more affluent urban Malaysians,” says Amy Kok, a member of the Agritravels team.

“More than anything, YLA gave me the confidence to believe in myself,” says Nurul Amalina Che Ariffin, a 2013 YLA participant. “Before YLA, I didn’t think I had it in me, now I’m determined to make a difference.” Since graduating from YLA, Amalina has founded Chili Padi Academy, a youth leadership movement, and followed her passion for human rights by training at a human rights law firm.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, McKinsey is a knowledge partner to Young Leaders for Indonesia, a six-month program to develop that country’s next generation of leaders. In Singapore, we partner with the Singapore International Foundation to mentor teams in the Young Social Entrepreneurs program.

What’s in it for McKinsey? While graduates from these programs sometimes join our firm, we think about it in much broader terms. “Whether you’re talking about a company or a country, we know from our work with clients that leadership capability is really important to unlocking performance improvement,” says Li-Kai Chen, a partner in our Kuala Lumpur office. “We are helping to develop leadership capability for the countries in which we work, and we are continuously inspired by these passionate youth leaders.”

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Li-Kai Chen

Partner, Kuala Lumpur