A time to reset and rebuild

The shock of the pandemic has given the world an opportunity to reset and re-build systems currently in place for a more sustainable and inclusive society and economy.

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Published by Malay Mail, The Star, Malaysiakini & Focus Malaysia, image from Malaysiakini.

In real estate, buying the cheapest house on the block is a strategy that may pay off nicely. For the same budget, you’re in a tonier neighbourhood, and your home value is likely to rise faster to catch up to the median price. Perhaps most importantly, you are constantly reminded there’s room for improvement.

As home to more than 650 million people ― the world’s third largest population ― over 50 per cent being under-30 and tech-savvy, Asean is the fastest growing internet market in the world. Despite this, Malaysia has been bringing up the rear in the rankings amongst its peers.

Singapore is the knowledge hub; Indonesia gets the most foreign investment; Vietnam has the highest growth rates. Malaysia is often discounted or overlooked as pundits hype the potential of the region, especially when it comes to the talent pool for innovation.

Not all of this skepticism is deserved, surely, as Malaysia has put digital transformation at the center of its agenda in covid recovery schemes, with a focus on digital inclusion for micro-SME’s and the rural community, the speed of change for which has actually been catalysed by the crisis.

The Malaysian government ― via MDEC ― has embarked on a slew of initiatives to spur the digital economy and bridge the digital divide for all. These efforts are starting to pay off ― the digital economy is estimated to have contributed over 20 per cent to the nation’s GDP in 2020.

It would also serve us well to recognise the niche areas where we can swiftly catch up and overtake our peers. The powerful technologies of 4IR presents many new opportunities to leapfrog legacy systems. Ironically those with the most developed economies often have the most to lose by disrupting them, thereby opening up space for others more amenable to embracing disruptive change.

This is true for fintech, for instance, which global financial centres like Singapore approach more cautiously; or robotics, which challenge low-cost labour manufacturing hubs such as Vietnam; or blockchain, which holds the promise to decentralise authoritarian control of information directly into the hands of the citizenry.

Concurrently, Malaysia can leverage much of the cumulative IP it has developed in Islamic finance, oil & gas services, tourism and industrial agriculture to support innovative new business models ― particularly in digital start-ups ― in sectors that we already compete effectively within.

The shock of the pandemic has given the world an opportunity to reset and re-build systems currently in place for a more sustainable and inclusive society and economy. The current crisis has exposed the massive inequalities in our current economic systems, highlighting that a proper and sustainable recovery for the long-term needs to be inclusive.

In resetting, we must first acknowledge the inconsistencies, inadequacies and contradictions of our systems and even institutions. In rebuilding, we must first acknowledge how fragile the systems and we humans are; and how to build a new social contract that honours the dignity of every human being. 

As MDEC works towards its vision of Malaysia 5.0, where the interplay of technology and society is complementary and inclusive, it is logical that collaboration with all stakeholders will be key to achieving this vision. No one organisation can do it alone, so deep collaboration across society will be key: there is a saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

Dr Rais Hussin is the President & CEO of EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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