Believing in Malaysia’s future and potential — Iqbal Abdullah

JANUARY 28 — Referring to your article “The other side of Malaysia’s brain drain story”, I would like give my thoughts on this.

Malaysia spends time, money and effort to attract Malaysians overseas to return to Malaysia and contribute back to the country. The idea of getting people to contribute to the development of the country is on the right track: Heck, it’s the only track that we have! There are absolutely no alternatives to not wanting people to contribute.

On the other hand, I do not see the point of getting Malaysians to Malaysia in order to achieve that. I feel the narrative of showing better lives for Malaysians who returned home after years away, or of Malaysians who succeeded because they left home is missing the point.

In the 21st century you can be anywhere and still contribute

First, improvements in infrastructure, information technology and travel makes it possible for any of us to be anywhere on this planet. In an eight-hour period you can be in Helsinki or if you spend 30 hours, you can be in Beunos Aires. You can communicate via email, share information on websites and discuss ideas face-to face via Hangouts or Facetime.

People who want to contribute to something are passionate at what they do and will know that they want to contribute. The missing piece is the effort that we spend to identify these people, reach out to them and connect them to like-minded people or institutions that can help them amplify their contributions.

TalentCorp says they have approved 4,000 people within a period of five years since 2011. Malaysian overseas are estimated at one million people, which translates to only 0.004 per cent. Is 1,000 per year of people enough to contribute? Is 0.004 per cent an acceptable rate after five years? Are we doing too little, or is this too much?

Perhaps TalentCorp’s mandate is to identify and attract only talents with skills that can only be utilised if they are present in the country, like surgeons to do surgery. But we know contributing to something is more than that, and we need all the help we can get, not only from the sciences but also engineering and arts.

We also must not forget the home grown talents and people that are doing wondrous jobs. Overseas Malaysians have different backgrounds, ideas and approaches to the same problem we all have and these differences are what we want to be accessible to our home grown talents. They can learn from each other, improve and make something better together. Creating the missing piece of connecting these dots between locals and abroad Malaysians is where we should put more effort in, regardless if the overseas talent will be coming home or not.

Home is where the heart is

The second part is the most important factor of all: Where we call home.

Home is not where we were born. Making a place home is a self-conscious decision based on the different situation, personality and opportunities for any given individual. This should and must be the overarching target for any returning programme that we want to carry out.

Once someone calls a place home, the good and the bad will be taken in stride.

It is human nature to better their own home, for themselves and the generations to come, and when we can get people who want to contribute calling Malaysia their home, it will be a sustainable success story.

Although based on the article above, there are individuals who would return back to Malaysia because they did not find the bed or roses they thought were waiting for them wherever they were: “Who cares if there’s corruption and crime in Malaysia? I just go back, make heaps of money, then live in a condo with proper security. Solved. Whereas here, I’m just an average Joe, and I’m struggling just to keep my head above water”.   

These people do not call Malaysia their home. Making money is their intention, and when there are better opportunities elsewhere, they move on. What we should focus on for the long-term are those who stay, the builders and the committed.

Given this is what we agree to, to make Malaysia home, so the next big question is: How do you convince people to call Malaysia their home?

First, let’s think of what makes a good home? Obviously you would not want to live in a home that is fighting all the time. You do not want to live in a home that is wrapped in poisonous polluting gasses. You want to live in a home that is peaceful, clean and conducive to health.

We should accept and understand that the universal values that attract human beings with a purpose applies and this is where we should concentrate our effort in: The values of justice, fairness, equality, fair reward for hard work, a genuine effort in betterment, a chance to better oneself, rule of law. Similar to the so-called “The American Dream”, a slogan that made America the place to be for all people having dreams of a better future.

We do have an upper hand over overseas Malaysians to call Malaysia home, as they have family, roots and the eternal love for Malaysian food. But we should not take those for granted. There are more things that need to be done.

And then it’s not only Malaysians

Let’s face it: Globalisation means people, capital and goods will move around at a much easier and faster pace than it has ever before. Our competition is no longer our neighbours like Singapore, Thailand or Indonesia, but it’s New York, Rio de Janeiro, Beirut, Paris or even Banjul. It’s not countries anymore but cities: Cities now try to attract the best people from anywhere around the world to come and live there.

If people would not want to stay in Kuala Lumpur, all of these other cities will woo them and are more than happy to welcome their wealth, expertise and passion. The faster we realise this, the better it is for us.

The point here is that when we get our head around at aiming to make Malaysia our home, the universal values that apply to a good home will apply and attract many more people, regardless of nationality, colour and creed. This is what makes a country great: People believing in it and wanting to participate in its growth process. All these believers will come, and call Malaysia their home.

I believe in this vision of our country, where everyone wants to make it their home, and believe in its potential and future. In the end, this is what we mostly desire now: Believers in our country, its potential and its future.

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

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