In 2020, despite Covid-19, Singapore raised 25 times more capital for its tech start-ups compared to Malaysia. Indonesia raised 22 times more; Vietnam, the Philippines and even Myanmar all eclipsed Malaysia. Notably, it only out-paced Cambodia amongst its Asean peers.
By this measure, the institutions charged with modernising the economy — the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) included — needs to up the ante, and this must be done quickly. Yet, changing this dynamic and bridging the gap defies any simple quick-fix as it calls for a grassroots change, to make a difference in society’s mindset.
As the digital age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) dawns upon all, it foretells a society evermore deeply integrated with technology.
It is the mission of Malaysia 5.0 that this interplay between technology and society is always inclusive and equitable, instead of further widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. In doing so, it aspires to unify society beyond creed and colour identities and strives towards commonly shared values to promote shared prosperity.
Powerful technologies of 4IR, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) will usher in the digital transformation of society and will raise the potential to decentralise data into the hands of the people.This will create, for the first time in the human experience, the necessary resultsto democratise all sorts of information.
It is the critical task of MDEC to equip all Malaysians with the tools and skills to not only navigate 4IR in this disruptive era, but also thrive and enjoy personal progress and economic growth at every level of society. After all, the primary goal is to leave no one behind.
MDEC recently announced its ‘Reinvent’ mission, a concept that ties in neatly to its 25thAnniversary this year. As the Silver Jubilee is significant, it heralds a paradigm shift to prepare for the uncharted terrain of the new norm that will, likely, linger around longer than many would expect.
The ‘Reinvent’ mission calls for a new approach and fresh perspectives to reinforce and further expand the digital economy as the key driver for Malaysia’s socio-economic growth.
The key hallmarks of the mission include:
1. Radical transparency and good governance;
2. Education from primary to tertiary; and
3. Collaboration within the government and across the private sector
Expanding on the above, MDEC is undertaking an independent holistic governance review to recalibrate its capability and capacity to deliver on the ‘Reinvent’ mission. The process includes having human capital movement at all levels, enabling it to bring in leading industry-focused talents and technocrats. This is in addition to the many super amazing talents already present at MDEC.
The second hallmark includes a comprehensive and wholesome education to increase public understanding of 4IR technologies and making all these advance innovations easily available to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially for micro-SMEs — a group that faces the greatest risk of being left behind as 4IR technology is widely implemented.
The third hallmark involves extensive outreach and engagement to instill interest and integrate advanced technologies, across all sectors of the economy. This will cultivate equitable and inclusive growth as well as boost development in under-served segments, especially in rural areas.
4IR has the power to change this with a new narrative and drive society beyond the informational age, as it seeks to move into the ideal era of 4IR and digital transformation. The concept — called Malaysia 5.0 — sees society being at the centre of technology, not the other way around. This includes making data decentralised and giving control to its creators so they can monetise it for themselves.
Admittedly, these gigantic tasks are beyond the capability of any one institution. It must be inter-ministry, intra-ministry, inter-governmental agencies and intra governmental agencies, without any silos.
MDEC’s role is envisaged as one amongst many in the peer group, leading engagement of all levels of society to partake in and contribute towards the new mindset required to sustain Malaysia 5.0. After all, it is a concept where society is deeply integrated with technology, governed by inclusive and equitable ‘eco-vironmental’ principles and practices.
Coming into the role as chairman of MDEC, I have taken this narrative forward as Malaysia 5.0, a concept that engenders a participatory culture in which social benefits belong to the people and serves the commonwealth of a nation.
It has three main components: firstly, instilling a new core identity philosophy that transcends individual and societal divides, while it upholds the value of shared prosperity.
Secondly, adopt, value-add and produce digital transformation and 4IR technologies that are centred on solving ‘eco-vironmental’ problems.
And thirdly, produce well-rounded citizens who are well-positioned and empowered to face, navigate and thrive in the 4IR era.
The goals of Malaysia 5.0 include encouraging growth and progress for all; deep integration of 4IR technologies at every level of society: individual, industry, government and environment; and transform and reform the national education system to reflect the ground realities in this new 4IR era — from primary school to tertiary.
4IR and digital transformation are inevitable global phenomena and Malaysia needs to embrace them and take the appropriate action under the vision of Malaysia 5.0. This includes embarking on it immediately, so as to not be left behind.
As the saying goes, “Time and tide waits for no man”.
Dr. Rais Hussin is President & CEO of EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.