Moses Lee

Talent Management at the BoP: Reflections on Growing Up as an Asian American

familyIt’s been a while since I last posted an entry on NextBillion.? My apologies to the community.? I have been wrapped up on a number of projects at work.

I’d like to use this post to wrap up the discussion on talent management at the BoP with some personal reflections. ?

I was at UC Berkeley a little less than a month ago, speaking on a Net Impact panel on the base of the pyramid topic.? At the conclusion, each of the panelists was given a few minutes to make a closing statement.? When the time came for me to speak, I challenged the students to bring up BoP issues in the classroom, to press their professors to incorporate more of this teaching in their syllabi, and to take untraditional jobs upon graduation.

Afterwards, I ended up having a really interesting conversation with Mike Lee (a second year MBA student at UC Berkeley who also blogs on Social Edge.)? We started to have a conversation about what it means to be an Asian American in a typically “non-Asian” field and the challenges faced to getting there.? (The topic was of such interest that we ended up having a follow-up conversation over Skype a few days later.) For those of you who are of the Asian decent, I’m sure you know what I mean by “non-Asian” field.? For those of you who are not, a brief digression.

Many of us who are Asian American probably grew up in families where academic achievement was of the highest value.? In high school, weekends were filled with language school, violin or piano lessons, and SAT preparatory classes.? What about sports, you ask? Asian parents would only allow their kids to play sports if it meant a better chance at getting into an Ivy League college.? The dream of most Asian parents is for their kids to get into Harvard and go onto to medical school to become a doctor.? But if not a doctor, then an engineer, a lawyer, or a businessman.? God forbid a job in the non-profit or social sector.

Asian parents can’t necessarily be faulted for thinking this way.? Many immigrated to the U.S. for a new life, working hard at blue-collar jobs to provide their children with opportunity.? So the idea of using that opportunity to work for a social venture is ridiculous.?? For me, my parents thought I was absolutely crazy to take a significantly lower paying job that appeared less prestigious and opportune than previous positions.? Despite the opposition, which eventually turned to reluctant acceptance, I took a job at WDI and have never looked back (though I must say that when I look at my paycheck, it is sometimes tempting to want to go back).??

All this reminds me of a conversation I had with Jon Yates, a 2008 Acumen Fund fellow, about the challenges for people in the emerging world to work for a social venture: “For many people who come from poor backgrounds, there is a real fear of being poor.? As a result, it’s very difficult for people who have this background to turn down an opportunity that could set them up for life.”

Indeed, often the greatest challenge to working for a social venture is culture and background, regardless of whether you come from the developed or developing world.? But what will help people overcome this hurdle and work for a social venture? The answer is different for everyone, primarily, because everyone has a different set of values.? For me, at the end of the day, idealism and faith won out.? I want to use my life and my business education to make an impact in the lives of others and my surrounding community.? Holding firm to this conviction was paramount to taking the plunge.?

And hopefully one day, when I have kids, there won?t be such a thing as “Asian” or “non-Asian” jobs.