Navigating Difficult Waters: Darden Students Study Societal and Business Challenges in Singapore and Sri Lanka

By Kate Beach

In early January, 19 University of Virginia Darden School of Business students set off on a new Darden Worldwide Course to explore Singapore and Sri Lanka, two countries that have long grappled with challenges of race, religion, language and economic development. Both countries, once colonies of the British Empire, have taken divergent paths since World War II. Sri Lanka succumbed to religious and racial strife in the 1970s, resulting in a 32-year civil war. Meanwhile, Singapore — through careful strategy and design— has experienced incredible growth and prosperity in recent decades.

“One of the biggest surprises for me was to see the effect of long-term strategic planning on the countries that we visited,” said Pedro Timo (Class of 2018). “In Singapore, we saw an example of enormous success in terms of the government design and trust of the people.  In Sri Lanka, we saw a country that was considered highly successful in the ’60s, but has just emerged from a civil war and is in the earlier stages of their planning and execution.”

Throughout the new 10-day course led by Darden Professor Marc Modica, students met with a variety of business and government leaders, local academics and students. They also visited cultural sites and had time to explore Singapore and the Sri Lankan cities of Kandy and Colombo on their own.

In Singapore, Darden alumni helped students connect with local leaders and enterprises, including:

  • Global port group PSA Singapore, where students had the opportunity to hear from leaders such as Nelson Quek, head of PSA’s Tuas port development, and then visit the port itself
  • Professor Shunmugam Jayakumar, a former politician and diplomat who — among many prominent positions — served as Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke with students about the country’s development and future
  • The Housing & Development Board, offering the opportunity to visit a government-subsidized apartment and learn about Singapore’s successful public housing system
  • The Singapore Maritime Gallery, which showcased the development of the port and its strategic importance to Singapore and the region.

“The highlight of the course was our exclusive discussion with Singapore’s former deputy prime minister, Professor Jayakumar, and listening to him explain how the government was able to build and foster an integrated society and financially creative country. He explained that Singapore’s success is due to ‘a paranoia philosophy’ to never settle and to never accept the status quo. Always innovate and always think of a way to add value. Great advice for future business and political leaders,” said Tito Barroso (Class of 2018).

In Sri Lanka, students had the opportunity to visit both Colombo and Kandy, enjoying a train ride between the two cities. They also made a company visit to MAS Holdings, where they heard from both the company’s COO and the CEO and managing director of MAS Kreeda .

Darden students met with young leaders in Colombo as part of a workshop focused around the work of the United Nations peacebuilding efforts in the region. The dialogue allowed mutual sharing and understanding on topics such as gender equality, youth empowerment, sustainable development goals, and the role that domestic and international businesses play in the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. Following lunch with Sri Lankan peers, Darden students met with the secretary of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of National Integration & Reconciliation, hearing details of actions taken by the ministry to promote national integration.

Cultural highlights on the island nation included climbing Sigiriya Rock Fortress, a jeep safari through Minneriya National Park and a visit to Dambulla Cave Temple to learn about Sri Lanka’s history and natural resources.

“The experience of being part of a travelling learning community is one of the most exciting opportunities at the School, both for students and faculty,” Modica said. “We experience cultures and economies that are really beyond our capacity to fully understand. In fact by the end of the program, we are even more confused than when we landed; that is the beauty of the experience. Students ask brilliant questions and we all collectively wrestle with making sense of each day’s adventures. Confusion precedes clarity, which is just what we want.”

Darden students enjoyed a jeep safari in Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka.
Students chat with a guide in Sri Lanka on the train from Colombo to Kandy.
Darden students visited MAS Holdings in Sri Lanka.
At MAS Holdings, students heard from the company's executive leaders.
Darden students participated in a workshop discussion on peace and reconciliation with young Sri Lankan leaders in Colombo.
Darden students explored the Temple of the Tooth, or Dalada Malgawa, in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Darden students checked out the Singapore city plan at the City Gallery.
At the end of the first day of the course, Darden students enjoyed a visit to the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore.
Students explored little India in Singapore as part of an introductory city tour on the course's first day.
About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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