Written by Leesa Chen, Westpac Scholar, 2019 Future Leader
Being a first-generation Australian-born Chinese, I was raised knowing that education is a gift and a privilege. My father was one of the millions of urban youths during China’s Cultural Revolution, and his struggles are a reminder of how the opportunity to be educated must not be taken for granted. As my time at the University of Melbourne as a Masters student draws to a close, I’m grateful for the ways in which I have been challenged to think bigger and consider the impact I can have in the organisations and communities I am part of in Australia and abroad.
I first discovered the possibilities of international business during my undergraduate studies, which prepared me for an unexpected career in Australian agriculture. From learning how to milk cows to managing global supply chains across the oceans, it was fast, exciting and an environment where anything seemed possible. After gaining some valuable real-life work experience, I was fortunate to receive a Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship which led me to a Master in International Business at the University of Melbourne.
Returning to the classroom was more than an opportunity to apply my anecdotal experiences into the coursework. For me, it became a period for reflective learning. As I progressed, I was challenged to rethink the role that organisations play in creating value for society beyond the communities in which they operate. I am left thinking about the construct of society and the need for more inclusive growth and responsible capitalism. Corporate social responsibility, synergies in partnerships or innovation to address the bottom of the pyramid consumer are celebrated in business as they ought to be. However, burgeoning societal issues - such as the depletion of natural resources, or a widening inequality gap exacerbated through the short-term focus of companies that encourage overconsumption - can only sustain for so long.
But the ability to see this beautifully complex relationship between business and society is the result of reflective learning. To this day, there’s nothing I enjoy more than challenging ideas and the art of productive disagreement which enables reflective learning to take place. Just as I entered the classroom with one idea, I leave with newfound perspectives. You might ask: what am I going to do about the societal issues that businesses contribute towards? Right now, I’m not sure. But what I do know, is that the decisions I make as a result of my time at the University of Melbourne will be different.
Time is the best gift to give yourself and education is the best gift to give others. If you are ever fortunate to pursue further studies, know that you are one of the privileged few who can decide what to study and where. Not everyone in this world has the same luxury of choice. Education teaches the past and prepares one for the future. Just as my education was a gift to me, how I share my learnings will be my gift to others.
Published 12 May 2020