Lessons from Lagarde

One Friday, we found ourselves breathing the same air with one of the most powerful women in the world, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde.

Lagarde talked about the financial crisis, growth and development, and the impact of global economic developments on the Philippines during a forum at the Asian Institute of Management. Her talk was one of the highlights of her visit in the country.

For an hour, Madame Lagarde shared her thoughts on how the world can move forward from the financial crisis, particularly in the United States and in the Eurozone, and how Asia, now on the world centerstage, can continue its upward trajectory. However, she also took the time to stress the role of the youth in today's world and how they can navigate this new landscape.

These are a few things that we learned from her.Go beyond the borders. One of the gifts of Madame Lagarde's visit to AIM is the motivation she has given the audience, comprised mostly of business students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals. They are the ones that have witnessed the impacts of globalization and financial crises, the ones that have faced difficulties in looking for and holding on to jobs or in pursuing endeavors.

Despite these difficulties, she encouraged them to make the most out of their time.

"Be a citizen of the world. Understand beyond your borders - what are the requirements, the necessities of life for others," she emphasized.

The true benefit of connectivity is providing solutions. During her visit, Madame Lagarde learned about the Philippines' conditional cash transfer program, and how money is sent via mobile phones to families who live in remote areas or who have low financial literacy.

For the IMF chief, this is the value of the internet and mobile devices, their ability to channel support and resources to the most vulnerable members of society so they can share in the growth that other parts of the country are experiencing.

Countries can learn from each other's experience. As a result of the interconnectedness and connectivity that we now enjoy, our actions indeed have far-reaching consequences. For Madame Lagarde, Asia's success amid the 2008 financial crisis provides valuable lessons for Western countries to adopt as they begin to rebuild.

In finding balance, she used China's strategy in adjusting its policies to ensure that the economy is safe and to encourage its population to help the domestic market. This constant adjustment is one of the keys to help Asia move forward and maintain its progress.

"Asia embraced change, not without laborious, difficult processes, not without huge sacrifices, and not without misery and suffering. But as a result, it emerged stronger, less vulnerable, more resilient," Madame Lagarde said.

Policies address people as much as they address problems. As the IMF and various institutions around the world work to solve the financial crisis, Madame Lagarde talked about how institutions must act swiftly to deal with the uncertainty. She pointed out that in the US and the Europe, people worried about keeping their jobs and growing their businesses, which stemmed not only from the crisis, but also from the way that it was handled.

Later on, Madame Lagarde stressed the need to create safety nets, which included increased investments in education and healthcare, and setting up pensions and unemployment insurance. For the IMF chief, the core of every decision, of every policy, should be a genuine solution to address real, human concerns.

Cultivate an environment that encourages growth. IMF's first-ever female managing director also underscored the need for people to take risks, innovate, and think out of the box.

Crowd funding platforms such as Kickstarter provide people with opportunities to bring their ideas to life. Locally, programs such as IdeaSpace and Unilab Ideas Positive encourage the development of programs in technology, and health and wellness, respectively. However, despite these platforms, young entrepreneurs do not receive the support they need due to lack of prior experience. Madame Lagarde urged financial institutions to take a chance on these vulnerable sectors and provide them access to credit so that they may turn their ideas into reality, and make prosperity available to more people.

At the heart of growth and development is good governance, fueled by ethical and socially responsible leaders. In ensuring Asia's growth, Madame Lagarde urged educational institutions to continue developing the new generation of leaders.

She particularly cited the Asian Institute of Management for its mission to develop professional, entrepreneurial, and socially responsible leaders and managers. It was this mission and commitment that prompted her to visit the school and address its students.

"Why the Asian Institute of Management? Because it is one of the best institutes not only in the Philippines, but also in the region. It prepares you, as it has prepared before you 37,000 alumni to actually be good citizens and leaders who are well-prepared to take on the challenges of tomorrow," said Madame Lagarde.

At the end of her talk, she told us to view the world with confidence, knowing that there was always something that we could contribute-be it time, energy, or skill.

It is easy to wax poetic about Christine Lagarde's grace, be awed by her power, or even admire her sense of style. But more than that, she provided wisdom and inspiration, giving us fuel for our ideas and the larger communities that we belong to.

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