Malaysia: Innovation Nation Building the ecosystem

Address by Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr Lim Kok Wing at the National Convention – Malaysia: Innovation Nation
20 July 2010

First of all, may I thank YAB Perdana Menteri for his kind presence as our guest-of-Honour and the keynote address he will deliver.

What the Prime Minister says will set the tone for this convention, which is about building the innovation ecosystem. The objective is to identify the gaps as well as opportunities that exist so we may transform it into a cohesive platform that facilitates change and promotes innovation.

Allow me to also thank Yang Berhormat Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili; whose Ministry is now a major driving-force of change and innovation simply by definition, for his presence and the presentation he will be making.

As well, I must thank each and everyone of our other distinguished speakers:

YBhg Datuk Johan Jaafar
YBhg Professor Dato' Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid
YBhg Datuk Mohd Badlisham Ghazali
Yang Berusaha Encik Chua Tiam Wee

Our speakers will focus on the imperatives of reinvention that are essential for innovation to take place and to take hold.

I have no doubt the recommendations made in their presentations will have an impact on the overall thinking of our transformation strategies. Ladies and gentlemen

Speaking before and in front of the Prime Minister is never easy, and it can be very tricky. Because one never knows what the Prime Minister may say after you have done your talking.

So I shall stay with stating the obvious.

Ladies and gentlemen

The rise of the innovation economy

Creativity is not new; neither is economics.

What is new is how the world is combining them to drive the new economy and re-invigorate the old.

The rise of the innovation economy is part of the restructuring and reshaping of the global economy.

And our Prime Minister is determined that Malaysia will not be left behind in the coming new world economy.

In launching the Report Malaysia 2010 last month, he said, and I quote:

“It is clear that countries that make innovation a priority have a clearer competitive advantage. Malaysia has learned valuable lessons from our Asian neighbours and we are in the process of applying those lessons in the right areas. This is the impetus for the 10th Malaysia Plan and the rationale for our policy initiatives focusing on our pursuit of high-income status by 2020.”

The 10th Malaysia Plan, and the New Economic Model and Government Transformation Programme, form the three pillars upon which the Prime Minister intends to build the New Malaysia.

We know he is outcome-driven. His vision of a high-income nation speaks to the aspiration of all Malaysians.

We know he is inclusive in his thinking and approach. His One-Malaysia concept of nation-building has been embraced by a majority of Malaysians.

We also know he cannot do it on his own.

He will need to get the public and private sectors in the country to work together to bring the vision he is offering Malaysia and Malaysians to reality.

Ladies and gentlemen

Industry in the driver’s seat

The private sector must lead the way in this mission.

This is because the private sector is full of people very driven to succeed. They work at it every hour, every day.

They know what the market wants; know how to respond to market needs and how to open up new opportunities.

Very simply, the private sector practises innovation all the time.

It has no choice; it must innovate to survive.

To be certain, however, the process of innovation must also involve the people who run the government’s approval system.

The bureaucracy must also innovate to become compatible with the private sector, to enable both sectors to move forward together – at the same pace and in the same direction.

We know it takes two hands to clap.

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

The stumbling blocks must be dismantled.

The divide must be closed.

Rules and regulations that do not promote innovation should be changed or removed.

Rules and regulations that stifle creativity and inhibit innovative thinking will lead to conformity and blind compliance.

Unless public and private sectors work as one team, transformation of the country is unlikely to happen as we have envisaged.

Ladies and gentlemen

Bringing the rural sector into the mainstream

When we talk about innovating the country, almost always the rural sector is not much included. This is my perception and I could be wrong.

The countryside is lagging behind because it is expected to be lagging behind, it is said. The thinking is that if we uplift the urban centres, the rural sector, somehow, will follow suit.

It won’t happen that way.

That mindset must change.

Countries in the developed world are innovative throughout. Their urban and rural areas use the same technologies, share the same system, enjoy the same standard of living and benefit from the same quality of life.

Here our people seem to have only one set of powerpoints for the whole country even though the urban and rural areas are at different stages of development.

We should move away from this one-size-fits-all mentality.

We cannot treat the urban and rural sectors in the same way.

The rural economy is different. It is running slower than the urban economy, if it is running at all. And it is running far behind the urban economy.

An innovative approach is needed to raise the educational standard in rural areas to the level in urban centres. Since the jobs people do in rural places are different, they must be provided sufficient knowledge and skills to perform those jobs more efficiently.

Adding new skills and new knowledge of the modern era will, undoubtedly, transform the rural economy to perform more vibrantly and generate higher incomes for the rural people.

This transformation process will bridge the innovation gap that now exists between the rural and urban sectors.

And it does not need a lot of time if well-designed enabling drivers are put in place to ensure that innovation takes place from product to packaging and from promotion to distribution.

Ladies and gentlemen

Thinking out of the box

In a world that is placing an increasing value on the power of innovation, our education system should nurture and inspire a passion to explore and create; not be obsessed with passing examinations and collecting paper qualifications.

We need our people to think and live outside of the box in everything that they do.

These are the kind of people who, through the ages, have changed the way we live and work, and the things we do.

These are people who would move mountains if mountains are standing in the way.

To be able to build this innovative human resource, we must empower a system of education that can effectively play a facilitating role; one driven by the motivation to learn, and the reward for accomplishment.

We must develop a culture in our education system that recognises and celebrates creativity, and build a teaching system that promotes culture for innovation.

The learning environment therefore must be one that is inspiring and not stifling; imaginative, not just administrative.

Ladies and gentlemen

Build the people first

I believe we should do away with dogmatic approaches in education if we want to be outstanding.

I believe we must develop a system of training that nurtures and inspires the young generation to be people who want to go beyond the ordinary; who want to achieve extraordinary success.

I believe education must be about empowering our young to be the best they can be, and motivating them to play a meaningful role in the building of their country’s economy.

I believe it must be about building successful people and not failing to build them successfully.

That, in turn, will help ensure successful transformation of Malaysia into an innovation nation.

But administrations, by their very nature, tend to be orthodox in their thinking and find comfort in keeping the status quo.

Breaking the norm is not easy and not encouraged, despite good intentions to do their best for their people and country.

It is time for a new national education model that is in sync with the Prime Minister’s innovation vision to be considered as part of the reinvention.

This I see as our most urgent mission.

Urgent because holding on to a system or a model that has lost much of its relevance in the current environment will only limit the potential of our human capital. More than 30% of our people are below 30.

Ladies and gentlemen

Blueprint for transformation

I totally agree with what the Prime Minister wrote in his New Economic Model blueprint that human capital development lies at the foundation of transforming Malaysia from middle-income to high-income.

And he added that this will require an education system that nurtures creative and analytical human capital.

However, innovation most often takes place only where new ideas are encouraged.

That simply means the ecosystem has to be urgently put in place for the change to take place.

To be an innovation nation capable of competing successfully around the world, we must make this country one of the world’s most creative.

We must start now.

We must build the social and institutional ecosystem that produces innovative leaders at all levels. A lot of them.

Ladies and gentlemen

The right policies, right leadership, right mindset

This country is not short of talents who have the calibre, the vigour and the ideas to take us to a higher level of development.

What we need urgently is to put in place a culture that will encourage, recognise and celebrate creativity and innovation in all spheres. The private sector and the government must team up to identify the outcomes that are desired and design the strategy to develop the human capital, cultural capital, social capital and institutional support essential to build this ecosystem.

Now we will need to revamp the systems to remove the stumbling blocks and unclog the bottlenecks.

Change will not come easy.

But change we must if we want to get ourselves out of the warp.

We will need the right people, in the government and in industry, to lead the charge.

We will need the right mindset in both the private sector and the bureaucracy.

We will need to involve everyone – from the student and farmer and administrator to the top corporate and political leader.

The chain must be complete. The commitment must be strong and unyielding.

Unless we make sure of that, unless we act in cohesion, our transformation to an innovation nation may not happen that readily.

Ladies and gentlemen

Extending our ecosystem to outer space

Here I would like to take a pause to show you a short video. The animation in the video will speak a lot better than I could ever do.

Yang Amat Berhormat, I apologize if you did look a bit shorter on the space station than you actually are. Why the space-craft? In time to come, all successful countries will have ownership of space-crafts and space stations.

That’s my prediction and that’s why, as quickly as we can, we must become an innovation nation.

On that note, I thank you for your kind attention.