Asia HRD Congress

Address by Tan Sri Lim at the Asia HRD Congress, Kuala Lumpur
23 May 2009

Broadening the Vision

Let me first congratulate you on what I believe to be a very productive conference. These are trying times and the management of people can be a very trying portfolio.

Many of you here have come from different parts of the world. I know that in this room are some of the best brains in the world for peak performance, organisational excellence, human capital and talent development.

You have come together to focus on how to draw out the best in people; on managing and maximising human resource and talent to help organizations become more productive, more innovative, more inventive. In short, to help build and develop people to achieve their higher potential.

As performance coaches, specialist trainers and talent resource professionals, you are improving quality and empowering people everyday. In the building of organisations and generation of wealth, nothing can be more pivotal than pushing human capital up the value chain.

Over the past two days, and today, many experts would have shared their ideas and experiences about how to improve processes, how to create the best outcomes, how to attract and retain the best talent and how to ensure the best bottom-lines.

For sure, all that has to be said about performance enhancement and technology empowerment has been presented and discussed.

All that needs to be debated has been argued, and all that needs to be concluded has been tabled.

Therefore, I think here at the closing moments of this conference, my time is best served if I attempt to paint some broader strokes to get everyone thinking about how to make a more profound difference in a world that is not only very unequal; but one that is, in many ways, very divided.

Let me now share with you some facts about the state of the world today:

A billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or write their names.

The number of people living on less than US$2 a day has increased by almost 50 percent since 1980, to almost 3 billion – nearly half the world’s population.

The poorest 50 countries make up 10 percent of the world’s population, but account for only 0.4 percent of the world’s trade.

Fifty-one of the 100 largest economies in the world are corporations not countries. The top 500 multinational corporations account for nearly 70 percent of the worldwide trade.

The Gross Domestic Product of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries with a combined population of 567 million people is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined.

The world’s low income countries which account for 2.4 billion people account for just 2.4% of world exports.

Less than 1% of what the world spent on weapons annually could have put every child in school by the year 2000, but it did not happen.

A child before the age of 5 dies every 3.5 seconds. The killer is mainly poverty.

The wealth divide will grow wider since populations in the poor countries are growing much faster than populations in the rich countries.

Advanced nations are pulling away to higher levels while the developing world continues to struggle just to keep pace.

The rich countries in the world are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and the process is getting faster.

Unless we can find ways to bridge this divide between the rich and poor nations, and do it quickly, a new form of apartheid will spread across the world.

Here, I am just stating facts. In fact, some of the figures I have quoted are already out of date. In some areas, the situation has worsened.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Most importantly, half of the planet’s population – 3 billion people – are under the age of 25.

They are the biggest youth generation in the history of the world.

If we take into account the figures I just mentioned, we then know that most of these 3 billion people live in ways most of us cannot even imagine.

Take the numbers, take the anger, sense of hopelessness and frustrations that most of the 3 billion people feel – and we can see that we are looking at a world that is not very happy, certainly not healthy.

These are not just statistics. These are facts that we need to look at and deal with sooner or later, one way or another.

The reality is that we are largely focusing our building and maximising human resource of only 20% of the world, when 80% or nearly 4 billion people do not enjoy similar opportunities. It is easy to see, and it does not matter where you stand, that we cannot focus on wealth creation without looking at poverty eradication.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have shared with you some startling facts and figures, not to be a prophet of doom and gloom; but rather to show that the need, therefore the opportunity, for human resource development is far, far greater than what is commonly discussed.

As well, are we not contributing to this divide between rich and poor countries by focusing our efforts and energy only on developed and fast developing economies?

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is the innovation gap that divides the world.

It’s a divide between countries with the capacity to innovate and those simply without.

The reality is that whilst there are huge investments in education in Asia, the emphasis is more often than not, about how long a student stays in school, rather than how much he has learnt.

And this, I believe is at the core of why despite admirable efforts being made in education opportunities, the quality of the talent is still that of a follower, not an innovator.

In terms of commercialised technological innovation, the top 10 innovating countries in the world account for about 94 percent of all the patents taken out in the United States.

Yet these countries have a combined population of only around 14 percent of the world’s population.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The rise of innovation to the top of the agenda of many countries today has resulted in a profound shift in the nature of global competition.

Economic advantage no longer depends on natural resources, raw materials, trade of goods and services, giant factories, or even growing consumer markets.

Instead, innovative human resource is the force now driving the new economy and regenerating the old economy.

At the cutting edge of this shift is the creative sector of the economy – science and technology, software, health and education, digital media and design, innovation, culture and entertainment, and the knowledge-based professions.

Because these industries rely primarily on talent, advanced economies around the world have stepped up their efforts to attract the best thinkers and designers, the brightest scholars and top entrepreneurs.

Since the best brains would go to where they could do their best work, it is natural for the advanced nations with their better facilities and higher incomes to attract the best talents and the best brains.

Many of the best brains from the poorest countries who are sent to the advanced countries to further their education do not return home, and are lost to the rich countries.

The result is widening disparity in technology and creativity driven capital and resources between the poorest and the richest countries.

While internationally comparable data on the migration of high-skilled workers from Asia is incomplete, what we do know is that there has been an increase in the traffic to the West during the 1990s. The US is the main attraction, with 40% of its foreign-born adult population having a minimum tertiary education.

As one example, between 1978 and 2007, more than 1.21 million Chinese went abroad for study and research, of whom only about one quarter have returned to their homeland.

Meanwhile, Indian immigration to the US between 2000 and 2006 stood at about 420,000 – an average of 70,000 people a year. These are likely to have been highly skilled people – scientists, doctors, engineers and IT professionals.

Malaysia too is a victim of the migration of talents offshore.

30,000 Malaysians with tertiary education are currently working in Europe.

This figure does not take into account Malaysians contributing their skills and knowledge in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, China, Singapore and elsewhere.

Here is another illustration – whilst internet penetration in Asia is respectable as a whole – accounting for 17.2 percent of the world, the bulk of that figure is for the fastest growing economies in Asia – China, Japan, Korea and India.

In the least developed parts of Asia – in countries like Bangladesh it is only 0.3% of its total population. In Cambodia, it is at 0.5%.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Asia is a treasure trove of talent and possibilities. We are the world’s largest and most populous continent. The Asian continent covers 8.6% of the Earth’s total surface area, and we have about 4 billion people – over 60% of the current human population.

The people of Asia and the Middle East were the world’s first great innovators. They built the pyramids, constructed dams and bridges, developed calendars, astronomy, the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing. Any many more.

So groundbreaking were their discoveries that many of their innovations survive to this day and are part of our everyday life.

Asia is rich in a very wide range of natural resources.

Asia is also an exotic tourist destination with its blend of the past, present and future providing an intoxicating mix of natural beauty and sophistication.

Yet, despite all of these blessings, poverty remains Asia’s most pressing challenge in the 21st century.

In Asia, we must realize that the only way to get out of the cycle of poverty is to educate our people to be thinkers, not just doers, to be people capable of innovating our own solutions so that our destiny is not at the mercy of events beyond our control.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is true that innovation must be industry-led and driven. This is because industry knows what the market wants, and how to drive the market to open up new avenues and new opportunities.

But to be certain, the development of the innovative ecosystem must involve the people in the government.

Government agencies must be oriented to support and facilitate the private sector to enable it to be at its competitive best.

They must not be entrenched in controls and systems that have become stumbling blocks.

They must practise a culture of excellence and innovation, and not be stuck to blind compliance and routine administration.

They must understand the competitive nature of the commercial world.

They must know the speed at which the private sector needs to move in order to remain in global competition.

If the private sector loses a battle abroad, they must feel that it is the country that loses the battle.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the beginning of my address, I mentioned that nearly 3 billion people in the world survive on less than US$2 a day.

That paltry sum means they are unable to get adequate and nutritious food for themselves and their families.

Undernourishment negatively affects people’s health, productivity, sense of hope and overall well-being.

It reduces their capacity to fight their way out of poverty – even if they are offered the opportunity, which, for most of them, is also hard to come by.

It is a poverty trap with very little chance of escape, if they do not receive help.

I believe human resource development should adopt a “big picture” focus to transform as many as possible the billions of people now living in abject poverty.

Allowing them to continue living in poverty is to deprive the world of a huge pool of potential human capital that could expand economies and enrich societies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Developing human capital and building capacity have been priorities of what I am personally engaged in.

They are the objectives driving our outreach programme to set up campuses in Asian and African countries and in other developing regions.

On our campuses are students from 150 countries. Our website receives 6 million hits a month.

We are convinced that by dismantling the barriers to education and increasing access to knowledge and skills, we will be helping to create more economic winners.

Besides setting up campuses in developing countries, where we know we can make a real difference, Limkokwing University has also launched a programme to provide free training in ICT skills to disadvantaged communities in under-developed countries.

This initiative is spearheaded by the Limkokwing Institute for Tomorrow or LIFT.

LIFT will focus on setting up centres to provide free training on the use of computers and creative technology to help narrow the digital and knowledge divide and to help bring to the 21st century the most remote places of the world.

I would like to invite you to join us in this endeavour.

Your collective expertise can be put to even greater use in lifting up the hopes, dreams and opportunities for some of the most unfortunate people in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I shall leave you with that thought, and thank you once again for the opportunity to communicate with you.

I extend to you my very best wishes.