Jeju Island and Sabah will soon have one more thing in common besides having breath-taking sceneries and being a favourite among international visitors. I have always tried to bring home one good idea from each official or personal trip abroad.
During a rejuvenating vacation in Jeju in July as I have shared before, I visited an innovation hub and start-up incubator based on the island called the Centre for Creative Economy and Innovation.
One year prior to this visit, the Korean government celebrated the first anniversary of 17 creative economy innovation centres around the country. My then counterpart Minister Choi Yang Hee, from the then Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, now renamed as Ministry of Science and ICT, announced that in just a year since the centres’ establishment, they have supported over 2,800 Korean start-ups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), raising USD 250 million in funding and created 1,400 employment opportunities.
Their public-private partnership model and enormous success impressed me. This is what MOSTI wants to achieve – we want to “democratise science, technology and innovation”. This means empowering ever member of the society to innovate, by ensuring that the support to do that is within their reach.
Say, you are aware of a local problem that needs to be solved, or you have an innovation idea you would like to test and eventually sell, would you know where and how to take the first step?
This was why the Korean centres were set up. In Malaysia, the mandate of spurring grassroots innovation has been given to Yayasan Inovasi Malaysia (YIM) that is based in Technology Park Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. YIM was set up in 2008 “to promote and inculcate creativity and innovation among Malaysian citizens, especially targeting children and youth, women, rural folk, people with disabilities and non-governmental organisations”.
While various programmes have been carried out throughout the decade by YIM to achieve its vision, we would now go a notch higher by fostering commitment from the Federal and state government, in collaboration with conglomerate firms from the private sector.
An adaptation of the Korean model, MOSTI through YIM would lead in the setting up of a chain of “Innovative Society Centres” in the country, focusing on empowering youths. Sabah would be the first state to benefit from such a centre for a couple of reasons.
According to a study by Malaysian Industrial Development Finance Berhad (MIDF), youth unemployment rate in the country hits 10.5 per cent in 2016, translating to 273,400 youths under 25 years of age, constituting about 17.8 per cent of our total labour force.
Sabah has been recording among the highest youth employment rates for several years. Most recently in 2016, we were reported to be the state with the second highest youth unemployment rate at 13 per cent, tailing Kelantan at 13.8. Melaka recorded the lowest youth unemployment rate at only 2.8 per cent.
This age group is the highest of the employment rate as they are particularly vulnerable due to their perceived lack of skills and experience by employers. But in a digital economy, the idea that one’s potential in achieving great success correlates with the person’s work experience and skills no longer always hold true. Virtually anyone, even as young as primary school children, can be tech savvy, be empowered to innovate and venture into entrepreneurship.
In terms of gross domestic product (GDP) by state, Sabah recorded the third lowest in 2016 at RM 21,081 million. Therefore we have vast growth potential especially if we leverage our strength in the state’s land mass and rich natural resources.
The proposed Innovative Society Centre, as deliberated and supported by the National Innovation Council held on Wednesday, would support the community from ideation to commercialisation. They would offer customised consulting services, advice on funding, patenting, facilitate networking and help you build a prototype.
We would kick start by focusing on local industries. In Sabah it could be in tourism, manufacturing, infrastructure, agriculture and environment. The same would apply to future centres in other states, prioritising those with high youth unemployment rates such as Kelantan, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur.
What is refreshing about this model is the synergy of a collaborative economy, which is essential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Government would play their role in regulation or deregulation, sharing the load among differing agencies and ensuring the dynamic start-up scene contributes to the nation’s focused economic areas guided by our policies.
Conglomerates could provide the much needed network and mentorship to these newcomers or smaller players, while benefiting by outsourcing some of their businesses to SMEs. I term this public-private partnership an “institutionalised National Blue Ocean Strategy”.
From the ideation of an Innovative Society Centre to its official kick start, this may be an encouraging progress. I envision that in the near future, if you have a problem to be solved or a brilliant spark to actualise, you could just walk into the Centre and make it happen. Just like that. This is the access we want to provide and barriers we want to tear down.
But there remains a lot of negotiations and work in the pipeline before its realisation. I urge the state governments and businesses to open their doors to this idea, empower our aspiring youths that would ultimately bring good to us all through a strong economy.