We choose to go to the moon — Nur Ayuni Zainal Abidin

JULY 11 — On September 12, 1962, the effervescent John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America delivered a speech to a large crowd gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas to persuade the Americans to support the Apollo programme to land a man on the Moon.

The speech’s memorable lines are “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too”.

Apollo 11 landed the first humans on the Moon on July 20, 1969. This feat fulfilled John F. Kennedy’s goal of reaching the moon before the decade was out and ahead of the Soviets as he had wished.

I chose “we choose to the moon” as this piece’s title because Malaysia had never dreamt of going to the moon. Yet we successfully sent the first Malaysian to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz TMA-11 in October 2007, armed with nasi lemak no less.

This is a symbolic move because despite our massive differences in science, technology and innovation capacity against the likes of the US and Russia, this nasi lemak nation never shy away from taking a risk to test and explore new ideas.

The Angkasawan programme unleashes the strength of entrepreneurial mind-set among our leaders and civil servants enabling such feat to happen. It allows our astronaut the chance to do what no one in space has done before; to eat nasi lemak without gravity. I bet no nasi lemak seller had even thought about it before. But this piece is not about my adoration for nasi lemak.

I am reminded of the Angkasawan programme in conjunction with the launching of our National Entrepreneurship Policy 2030 by YAB Prime Minister on July 11, 2019 (Thursday) in KLCC. In his keynote speech, he emphasised the importance of producing entrepreneurs with integrity and discipline because “no entrepreneurs can succeed without discipline and determination, as well as a positive attitude and the courage to take risks”.

DKN2030, initiated by the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development (MED) is a long term strategy to shape Malaysia as an Entrepreneurial Nation by 2030. DKN2030 functions as the overarching “umbrella” to promote entrepreneurship as well as integrate all players, regulations, policies and every part needed to complete the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem across all industry areas and communities.

Fostering an entrepreneurial economy is also one of the primary focuses of Budget 2019. An excerpt of the speech stated that “we need to create an environment for our human talent to fulfil their potential. Strong and dynamic economic growth can be found especially by promoting an entrepreneurial state relying on innovation and creativity, and by embracing the new economy and digital economy”.

The entrepreneurial strategy becomes all the more crucial as the leadership takes on a mammoth task of consolidating our fiscal condition by balancing sustainable economic development with the social wellbeing of the people. We need to explore new ways of creating wealth and providing jobs devoid of excessive reliance on the Government because the business of the Government is not to be in business.

From a development point of view, the Government is committed to ensure that Malaysia’s growth is inclusive and benefit all Malaysians. The Kick-Off Conference of the 12th Malaysia Plan 2021-2025 announced that the upcoming Malaysia Plan focuses on three main dimensions: economic empowerment, environmental sustainability, and social reengineering. The dimensions are complementary to one another aimed at realising the government’s “Shared Prosperity” growth model.

Question at hand, how to translate these visions into actions benefiting the men and women on the streets? My philosophical answer would be by doing things differently than before. Why? Because reformation requires an outlook shift to complement our world class infrastructures. How? By producing our own version of the Angkasawan programme through innovation-based entrepreneurship.

Malaysia is a country at a crossroads. The old economic model has served us well but the past is a distant memory. The future remains an unknown where nothing is guaranteed. A country with a high-income economy will mean nothing if its success is not felt by everyone. But developing the economy cannot remain solely the role of the government. So what’s next?

In July 2018, the Ministry of Entrepreneurship Development was revived after being “scrapped” in 2009 with YB Datuk Seri Mohd Redzuan Yusof a.k.a. Pak Wan appointed to lead the ministry. He aims to create entrepreneurs of high integrity, highly competitive and imbued with discipline. A solid foundation in form of good values will develop entrepreneurs who uphold the principle of ethics, non-conflict of interest in business and avoid corrupt practise. This sentiment was further reinforced in YAB Prime Minister’s keynote when he remarked that the government wants to create genuine entrepreneurs and not “lying or cheating” businessmen.

For innovation-based entrepreneurship to flourish, we need a favourable ecosystem where science and technology and entrepreneurial mind-set co-exist and flourish to co-produce. An ecosystem upholding innovation-friendly culture; encourages and accepts trial and error; and possess a high level of tolerance for failures.

As an entrepreneurial economy, the rule of the thumb is to acknowledge that we do not know everything. The days of government knows best are long gone. Everyone in the ecosystem will learn, albeit gradually that they do not have to do everything themselves.

Because we want our future to be one in which the political, public service, business and community leaders are creative thinkers and lifelong learners driven by a desire to do things better and able to produce own goods or at least offer sound advices and ideas.

Truth be told, many will remain trapped in the mind-set of business-as-usual. There will be grouses such as “this is how we do things all the while, why change” and other form of resistance and inertia. For although we have transformed from a plantation-based economy to industrialisation, fundamental through these changes is our value systems and thinking processes.

It is my fervent hope that DKN2030 will reign in a new culture of continuous learning and creative solutions to be pervasive and instinctive among Malaysians. We must encourage talents especially those contemplating entrepreneurship as a career to embrace curiosities, imagination, questions, debates and conversations with candour. Nobody has a monopoly to wisdom. A heathy debate, disagreements and constructive criticisms will be good for everyone. This is the kind of ecosystem that will lead Malaysia to achieve the desired results. Strive on hierarchy of ideas instead of hierarchy of positions.

Cambridge, Massachusetts is an ideal model where science and technology co-exist with entrepreneurial mind-set for innovation. The growth and progress around Cambridge has benefited Massachusetts greatly. Boston’s ready reservoir of high-skilled human capital provided the impetus to attract knowledge-based economy industries such as medical care, life sciences, high tech manufacturing, and clean energy to throng Boston. These sectors have close linkages with the private sector, generating multiplier effects in job opportunities and economic growth.

Perhaps the Government can consider designing Putrajaya or Cyberjaya as our own innovation testing ground like Boston and Palo Alto.

At the same time, lest we forget the importance of legislation to attract and protect innovation produced by start-ups, research institutions and the universities. In the US, the passing of Bayh-Dole Act in 1980 enables commercialisation of inventions produced in the labs. This has converted the gloomy Kendall Square around MIT into a gleaming centre for biotech companies.

Policymakers should keep these success stories in mind when considering strategies for Malaysia as an entrepreneurial nation through DKN2030.

In sum, rapid developments in science, technology and innovation globally demand a timely review of existing policies across sectors to ensure a comprehensive support for DKN2030. This will ask us to challenge conventional wisdoms on wealth, discovery, advancement, regulation, and education.

Malaysians especially those in the B40 bracket must be exposed to newer kinds of knowledge-production to survive in an entrepreneurial economy. This is the inevitable future and it has to start by rethinking our fundamental approaches to economic development, legislation, disciplinary training and mind-set that have long been ingrained in Malaysia.

The third national car project afforded the chance to review our national education system to include subjects supporting innovation-based entrepreneurship and skills for new engines of wealth such as IoT, BDA and digital economy.

I would like to end by postulating that DKN 2030’s success will be dependent on science and technology’s interpretive flexibility to prepare Malaysians with the knowledge, skills and wisdom to understand the present world and its future promises.

I thank MED for its timely formulation of DKN2030 as we strive to push Malaysians to become creators of wealth and not merely price takers in the future.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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