Innovation loop for real transformation

Innovation loop for real transformation

Listen to any speech by a politician or a corporate leader today and the word transformation is bound to be a common theme - whether it is about a country or a business entity.

Transformation comes from the word transform which simply put, means to go beyond the current form. While the word is in common usage nowadays, transformation in itself is nothing new, as every major change in history has required some form of transformation - be it in mindset, behaviour or structure.

However, with transformation in the context of a nation, the stakes are much higher. For a nation to transform, the effort can become unwieldy - riddled with the many slow moving parts of bureaucracy, as well as balancing the interests of different stakeholders - the general public, public servants, and business owners just to name a few.

To call this a difficult undertaking would be an understatement.

In Malaysia, the government has rightly been pushing the Transformation agenda because we have a goal to become a high income nation in the next six years.

Wealth creation from high quality human capital

Innovation loop for real transformation

A big part of the transformation push is in the human capital sphere, specifically in the quality of graduates we must produce to meet the demands of a fully-developed nation able to integrate with an innovative global economy.

While in its first decade of the transformation process, much of that emphasis has been about acquiring technological skills, in the last 10 years it has been about transforming the education system to produce graduates able to compete with their peers from developed countries.

High quality human capital is the most important source of wealth for any country.

Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak - in tabling Budget 2015 last week made it clear that the government will continue to focus on the “economic transformation process” to achieve a more equitable and balanced growth.

He addd that “creativity and innovation … including invention of new products” are needed for wealth creation.

While I realise that most talk about innovation tends to be skewed to Western role models, I think it is in Malaysia’s interest to look at a nearby country whose experience we should emulate.

Lessons from World’s No 1 innovator - South Korea

Innovation loop for real transformation

In 2014, South Korea won the No. 1 spot in Bloomberg’s Global Innovation Index. Of the 215 countries surveyed, it emerged as a leading innovator for electronics and telecommunications products, and is now trying to reposition the country as a leader in green technologies. It is also the second largest patent winner in the world, surpassed only by the USA.

Foreign Affairs magazine in its January 2014 issue had this to say about the country:

“South Korea’s development over the last half century has been nothing short of spectacular. Fifty years ago, the country was poorer than Bolivia and Mozambique; today, it is richer than New Zealand and Spain, with a per capita income of almost US$23,000.

“The country is a rich, technologically advanced, mature democracy with an impressive record of innovation, economic reform, and sound leadership.”

The country is as one article said “by far the most educated population on the face of the planet” with the highest broadband penetration in the world at 97 percent, and a leader in broadband speed.

In May this year, South Korean Ambassador to Malaysia said both countries are working on a “second wave” of the Look East Policy (LEP) for another 30 years, focusing mainly on high-technology and high-value areas.

South Korea, he added, has a three-year economic innovation programme from 2014 to 2016, called the Creative Economy.

Demystify innovation, make it accessible

Innovation loop for real transformation

While Malaysia has not been short of initiatives and funding for innovation, we need to accelerate and embed innovative practices through every stage of education in this country.

Much of the initiatives continue to focus on small groups of young entrepreneurs, leaving most Malaysians out of the innovation loop.

We must have a substance-based innovation programme to engage all Malaysians, including those in the rural heartland, that innovation will bring greater development, higher incomes and more business opportunities for them, without having to migrate to the big cities.

While it is important to learn innovation lessons from many different sources, South Korea’s success in transforming into a top innovation economy holds the most relatable example from a cultural and governance perspective.

It would be a much better fit than looking solely to the West for examples.


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About Tan Sri Lim

Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Paduka Dr Lim Kok Wing, the Founder and President of Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, does not fit into any ordinary mould that would describe most entrepreneurs.

His journey has been closely linked with the economic and social development of Malaysia.

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