Growth through Diversity as an Economic Strategy

By Vijay Eswaran

Hatred and intolerance lead to violence and tragedies – Corporations have a duty to fight them

Intolerant violence is on the rise around the world. This rise in intolerance and the accompanying violence reflect the increased channelling of blame towards migrants and ‘others’ for challenges that our societies face. This is driven by a powerful emotion: fear, and particularly the fear of the otherness.

To many, the answer seems to lie in a political solution only. It is true that political rhetoric can contribute to an atmosphere of intolerance, anger and hatred. Politicians throughout the world need to set an example and embody respect of diversity and tolerance to all faiths and ethnicities. 

However, the rest of the society and the business community in particular cannot just sit and wait for politicians to act and lead as responsible role models. Each of us, in our respective roles, should take action to promote a more open, diverse and tolerant society.

It is high time business leaders argued that diversity is also an extraordinary economic opportunity that brings success and prosperity to all of us. The cohabitation of people of different ethnicities, from different places, with different experiences in cities and societies, is a key driver of innovation. Societies which are diverse are more innovative because they encourage unique collaborations and chance encounters.

If you look at the most innovative, disruptive and therefore prosperous urban centres in world – New York, Dubai, London, Singapore, Hong Kong – they all have one thing in common: they are all international melting pots. Similarly, the most successful musical genres and innovations – such as jazz, rock & roll or hip-hop – are all the direct results of cultural amalgamation.

In my home country of Malaysia, ethnic, cultural and religious diversity has been key to our success. Like many others, I was speaking five languages by age 18, with friends from the Chinese, Indian and Malay communities. Of all Asian nations, Malaysia has by far the most diverse cultural and ethnic mix and as a result has outperformed most of its regional partners with an average annual GDP growth of 6.4% for the last 50 years.

The diversity dividend is not just born out on macro scale. It’s also vital within company structures.  A 2017 report showed that more diverse companies announce an average of two extra products in any given year.  McKinsey has also studied the strong positive correlation between financial performance and diversity. It means more disruptive products, business models, and ideas floating around the marketplace.

At my own company, the QI Group, our managing board is composed of 13 directors of 7 different nationalities, and employees spanning about 35 nationalities, with a gender ratio that’s almost 50:50. I have always considered this diversity to be at the core of our success.

As innovation is taking place at a faster pace than ever, we need to constantly adapt, adjust and accommodate. More than ever, flexibility and versatility are becoming the most important keys to success for individuals, companies and countries alike, and a culturally diverse environment is the best way to acquire these qualities.

Corporations, long the primary beneficiaries of diverse society, bear a responsibility to step up and advocate for diversity and tolerance.  A brilliant example is Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick in the recent ad campaign. More than a marketing exercise, it showed the world that one of America’s best-known corporations was willing to stand alongside one man in his battle against racial injustice and intolerance.

Corporations must also have their own houses in order: workplaces and boardrooms must be the shining example, bringing people from different backgrounds to work together.

We are not going to reverse the trend, or halt hatred and violence, with one article, one tweet, or one marketing campaign. But as a collective the corporate world must come together and be much more engaged and vocal than it has been in its defence of a diverse and tolerant society. It is an uphill battle, but peace and prosperity depend upon it. 

About the Author

Vijay Eswaran is an entrepreneur, speaker, and philanthropist. He is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the QI Group of Companies, a multi-business conglomerate with headquarters in Hong Kong, offices in more than 25 countries and customers in over 100 countries. A well-known thought leader in Asia, he has written and spoken extensively about business, leadership, personal development, and life management. Eswaran’s latest book Two Minutes From the Abyss is available on Amazon.

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