In particular, Asia needs to inculcate a virtuous cycle whereby business, political and social leaders interact to create new norms of economic, social and political behavior and values. One example is the dire need of a replacement for the highly individualistic, American form of capitalism which at its best, enormously rewards risk-taking, but at its worst, creates monstrous inequalities based on speculative gambling of other people's money. Capitalism is not universally identical; it's shaped by history and culture, resulting in the Scandinavian variant or the German model. The American model may not be broken, but after recent financial debacles, Asia should not blindly adopt it.
Asia needs to delve into its own history and culture for inspiration in creating an Asian variant of capitalism. One such source can be the webs of mutual obligations which serve as a common, recurring socio-ethical tradition of Asia. This communitarian characteristic of Asian culture can, if thoughtfully enhanced, nurtured and developed, replace the highly individualistic, Darwinian ethos of American capitalism. Communitarian capitalismcan be an Asian form of ethical wealth creation, where the interests of the community of stakeholders in an enterprise - owners, employees, customers and suppliers and the larger community - would be a higher consideration than return on capital.
In other words, communitarian capitalism would be stakeholder-driven, not simply shareholder-driven.
One of the contradictions of globalization is the starkly worsening income inequalities across the world, particularly in Asia. There is no middle way, no waffling position where Asia's elite claim credit for generating growth but deny responsibility for its negative consequences. Such waffling unfortunately, is what most Asian business leaders are doing today; hiding their heads under the sand, thinking that if they simply stick to what they're good at doing - creating and consuming wealth - they are part of the invisible hand of productive capitalism. But that's just not good enough because, as we've seen, unfettered capitalism is not an absolute good, and often businessmen deepen its imperfections.
History has shown how many institutions of a modern and progressive society, such as liberal democracy or universal suffrage, arose out of the demands of a rising business class - the bourgeoisie. Asia's rising middle class needs to play the same historic role as their counterparts in Europe several hundred years ago.
Thought leadership need not be in grandiose or visionary ideas, but can small, practical solutions to real problems. For example, as a tiny country, Singapore has no pretensions of being a global thought leader. It has simply and quietly created solutions to its own set of changing circumstances, setting a model for others.
Singapore's approach to social security and public housing, launched many decades ago, has been universally hailed as revolutionary. In the field of sustainable resource management for cities, Singapore is probably one of the leading world examples.
Across Asia, there are many more examples of innovative, inspiring thought leadership covering a spectrum of fields. But this is not enough. Asia needs fundamental paradigm shifts, particularly on political and business governance, if it's to reach the vision of its future. Future generations will either blame or thank the present elite for what they do, or more disappointingly, choose not to do.