Professor Bala Ramasamy: Empowering youth through character development


Bala Ramasamy is Associate Dean and Director of the Global EMBA (GEMBA) programme at CEIBS. As a Professor of Economics, he is highly valued by students both for his rigorous academic knowledge and humorous temperament in the classroom. Outside the classroom, he’s a keen sports fan, who manages to integrate this passion into his economic studies. He is also dedicated to the development of responsible young leaders from disadvantaged backgrounds in China and his home country of Malaysia through his non-profit organisation FLAME.

We sat down with Professor Ramasamy as he filled us in on everything from his public welfare projects to the economic impact of hosting global sporting events on a host country, along with his new vision for the CEIBS Global EMBA programme.

FLAME - Empowering young people through character development

Having been living in China for 18 years, Professor Ramasamy is committed to extending learning beyond the classroom. In 2007, he launched the Foundations for Leadership and Moral Empowerment (FLAME) in Malaysia, a non-profit project that aims to empower young people aged between 12-14 years old from disadvantaged or lower-income backgrounds.

Coming from a modest background himself, Professor Ramasamy always felt motivated to offer inspiration to those living in poverty and deprived of education. His father, a teacher, passed away when he was young. However, thanks to his mother's dedication to morals and education, he and his siblings were raised in a nurturing environment, and all ended up attending college. This resilient family spirit of overcoming challenges had a great impact on him. 

“The program is about character development. It's about self-confidence and how to be successful. We’re not just talking about success in terms of money or education, but in terms of having certain goals in your life,” Professor Ramasamy explains.

These goals, however, are not about who you want to become, but what you want to achieve.

“We often ask kids ‘What’s your dream?’ Their answer could be ‘I want to be a doctor; I want to be a teacher’. That's not a goal. Ambition is not a goal. A goal, for example, is what problem you want to solve? It could be, for example, helping your parents, making your country proud of you, or even saving the world,” he explains, highlighting that one’s profession is a means to an end, not an end to itself.

Professor Ramasamy noted that young people of around 12 years old need a moral compass to develop their character, but inadequate education from either their schools or the inability of parents, along with the sometimes rebellious mentality of young people, can hinder this process. FLMAE, therefore, can provide assistance as a third party.

“I think many parents have problems when dealing with teenagers. So, it would be better if the training comes from people other than parents. Because teenagers, quite often, don’t listen to their parents,” he says.

Before each camp, Professor Ramasamy will rattle off the four rules of FLAME: be happy, don’t be unhappy, think about others, and don’t think only about yourself.

Initiated in Malaysia, the wholly self-funded project is also active in China, with the first camp being offered in Dali, Yunnan province in 2009 before expanding to Henan, Shanxi and Hubei provinces. FLMAE has now hosted 60 camps with 3,000 teenagers involved, and is frequently supported by the CEIBS community.


Sport & Asian economies – twin passions

Aside from leadership and moral empowerment programmes, Professor Ramasamy’s research interests also focus on Asian economies, foreign direct investment, corporate social responsibility, and international business strategy. In a recently published paper, he offered a fresh perspective on the economic impact of hosting annual international sporting events, specifically the extent to which Formula 1 (F1) can attract international tourists.

Hosting mega-sports events like the Olympics has long been touted as a way to attract visitors and contribute to the tourism income of a country or region. Nevertheless, Malaysia, the first country in Southeast Asia to host the F1 since 1999, decided to drop the race after the 2007 event due to financial concerns.

While the abrupt decision aroused public debate, Professor Ramasamy tried to figure out how much tourism – and with it, monetary gains – such sporting events really generate for their host countries and cities.

“With the use of empirical data, I found that F1 races do attract foreign tourists, especially the rich and higher-income groups who stay in decent hotels and spend money on good food during the sporting event,” he says, suggesting that Malaysia’s decision to withdraw from F1 is based on a non-economic rationale.

Delving even further, Professor Ramasamy’s study uncovered that the economic effects differ from one sport to another within a country, and within the same sport across different countries, due to the fact that different sports attract a different type and number of tourists.

For example, monthly data from 1998 to 2018 shows that hosting the F1 may prove to be effective for Canada, but has no significant impact in Australia and the UK. ATP tennis has a significant impact on all three countries, but may not be the star event of the calendar year.

“Therefore, if a city wants to plan for sports events to attract tourists, then it must do the research and try to figure out what it is that will attract more tourists. Not all events attract the same number of tourists. So, it's not about the number of events that the city organises, but which event does it organise,” he adds.

Diving further into “China Depth, Global Breadth”

Professor Ramasamy has been a top-performing professor at CEIBS since 2006, having previously taught in various universities including the University of Nottingham in Malaysia and Massey University in New Zealand.

After taking the helm of Global EMBA, he has stepped up the school’s efforts to enhance the “China Depth, Global Breadth” offered by the programme, while also striving to help companies to fulfil their social responsibilities.

To address the concerns of senior professionals and provide them with tangible corporate strategies in a time of unprecedented change, Professor Ramasamy led the GEMBA programme to launch its China and the World module last March, an inclusive and open platform for CEIBS faculty, diplomats, corporate senior managers, and CEIBS alumni to share insights on China's business, economic, and institutional development from a global perspective.

“Chinese companies that aspire to expand their overseas footprint need to develop localisation strategies that fit the host country, and see it as a partner rather than a threat. Multinationals investing in China, meanwhile, need to understand and adapt to China-specific rules, such as the country’s industrial policies," Professor Ramasamy explains.


China knowledge is also heavily featured in the CEIBS GEMBA curriculum to help local and foreign businesses stay abreast of China’s development and navigate the country’s industrial transformations.

The China Deep Dive module, initiated in 2021, is designed to pair theory with real-life case studies and provide opportunities for students to gain first-hand experience of different industries while diving into current business practices in China by visiting private Chinese companies as well as multinationals.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) is another area of interest for Professor Ramasamy.

To empower business leaders to develop sustainable business practices and create social value, Professor Ramasamy innovatively incorporated ESG related topics into the compulsory course of the GEMBA programme and introduced a new module entitled ESG Track: Actions and Reflections. Since 2021, the track has offered four core courses, including Ethics and Social Responsibility, Social Enterprise, Sustainable Strategy, and Towards a Carbon-free World.

Effy HE
Michael Russam