KUALA LUMPUR, November 15 — As a teenager, Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin Tuanku Muhriz was intrigued about how human beings lived and organised themselves.
What fascinated him the most was history and “human geography” where he could learn about the formation of towns, cities and migration.
Today, the 37-year-old prince, who is the second son of the reigning Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan, Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir, is the founding president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), public policy-making advocate, newspaper columnist and sits on the board of few corporations and charity organisations.
Sportsman, musician and seasoned traveller are just a few more roles taken up by this accomplished prince.
Young, humble and articulate, Tunku Zain exudes a distinctive regal presence with a warm, welcoming smile that clearly states he is as down to earth as they come.
Despite his calm and friendly nature, the young prince is never afraid of addressing pressing social, political and environmental issues that concern the public.
Right after he completed his high school, Tunku Zain moved to the UK to pursue his tertiary education at Marlborough College and the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he obtained his bachelor of science in Government and Sociology and master of science in Competitive Politics and Imperial History.
Formation of IDEAS
Armed with academic knowledge and his inquisitiveness that had followed him since childhood, Tunku Zain kick started his career by working at a number of London-based think tanks and the Houses of Parliament before moving to Washington DC to join the World Bank as a public sector consultant.
In early 2006, Tunku Zain together with two of his London-based friends — Wan Saiful Wan Jan and Wan Mohd Firdaus Wan Mohd Fuaad — mooted the idea to establish an institute to promote classical liberal ideas to Malaysians in a more strategic and organised manner.
“It occurred to us that we don’t have such things here in Malaysia and we decided to start a think tank to look at Malaysian public policy issues,” he said.
The idea led the trio to set up a non-profit organisation called the Malaysian Think Tank London with a small team comprising the three founders, two researchers and few interns.
In 2009, they eventually decided to relocate the organisation to Malaysia, where it was renamed to IDEAS.
Tunku Zain recalled that the very first event they organised here was on press freedom, which was well-received.
“It then got some traction and we noticed that there were many people out there who were willing to express their views and contribute to the policy debates,” he added.
As the organisation grew, Tunku Zain said they decided to expand their initiatives while adopting Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman’s principles and the whole Merdeka spirit to be the basis of IDEAS.
The organisation also made several contributions to the education sector and parliamentary reforms.
The institute also established the Ideas Autism Centre in Rawang to provide early intervention care and education for children with autism, from low-income households.
“We also co-established Ideas Academy learning centre a few years back on the belief that education is for all, regardless of background, race or economic situation,” he said.
Apart from providing strong academic programme, the academy provides a wide range of extra-curricular activities and experiences such as arts, drama, music and entrepreneurial activities.
Tunku Zain beyond advocacy works
Ever since Tunku Zain returned to Malaysia in 2008, he has maintained a column in several newspapers to share his views on public policies, social issues and often his travelling experiences when he visits a new country.
In his article, Tunku Zain said he often talks about restoration of our institutions, the need to respect federalism, the policymaking process and the independence of judiciary system.
Tunku Zain also attends many public speaking engagements to discuss and tackle current social issues.
He will be the special VIP guest at the upcoming WOWComm 2019, where he will present a special keynote.
To be held at Putrajaya Marriott on December 5, WOWComm 2019 is Malaysia’s and the region’s first ever conference to promote sustainability and implement zero-waste.
Tunku Zain hinted that his keynote speech will touch on all the issues that he has raised over the past few years.
“I will be talking about some of the challenges we face today such as the need for institutional renewal and reform as well as the importance of communication in tackling challenges and promoting unity” he added.
His speech will also highlight the importance of sustainability and the need to protect the environment.
“I have to confess that I am a recent convert to sustainability, and it has become clear to me that everything I have said about democracy and institutions becomes irrelevant if we don’t have a planet left,” he said.
When it comes to adopting the right sustainability habits in Malaysia, Tunku Zain agreed that consumer habits still need to be changed despite the ongoing initiatives lately.
However, he said it is good that many people are more cognisant of reusing and reducing, and realise the importance of limiting the use of single-use plastic by carrying their own shopping bags or metal straws (as he now practices).
The conference will also bring business icons, captains of the industry, key government officials, high net worth investors, and industry influencers together to discuss the importance of sustainable business practices.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will also be the guests of honour at the one-day conference.
His passion for travelling, sports and music
When Tunku Zain is not busy with his advocacy work, he will be thousands of kilometres away from home exploring other countries.
Recently, Tunku Zain's schedule has involved much travel, feeding a curiosity to investigate how people have set up their own institutions and how they live.
“Travelling also gives me the ability to learn new things and share them with others.”
Tunku Zain finds his recent adventure to Cuba the most fascinating travelling experience.
Despite Cuba’s decades-long embargo by the US, Tunku Zain said he was amazed to see the country’s transformation, while observing different mind-sets between the older and younger generation in the country.
from travelling, the Negri prince puts sports and music as an integral part of his life.
He is an avid squash player and serves as the president of Negri Sembilan Squash Association as well as a committee member of Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia.
He is also a keen pianist and led a major project to revitalise his state anthem in collaboration with Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.
Love for arts and culture
Culture and arts has a special place in Tunku Zain’s heart and he finds them an integral part of nation-building.
However, he regretted that the incentives in Malaysia are “sometimes off” when it comes to promoting arts and culture, and preserving heritage.
He also argued that tourism and culture shouldn’t be bundled together as each serves a different purpose.
“Tourism has got nothing to do with our culture.
“Culture exists primarily to guide and enrich the lives of people to whom it belongs, not primarily for the benefit of tourists,” he added.
Tickets for WOWComm 2019 are at RM250 per person, RM220 for more than 10 sign-ups, and RM200 for more than 20 sign-ups.
Malay Mail and Bernama are media partners for the event.
For more information, surf over to the WOWComm website.