How Malaysia can achieve more

WHEN China’s former supremo Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore in 1978, he marvelled at Singapore’s rapid development.

Deng then adopted the “Singapore model” for China’s development that set the country on a path to be the fastest developing country in the world.

China is now considered to be the second most advanced country, both technologically and economically, in the world.

But what is the “Singapore model”?

I think Prof Kishore Mahbubani put it best during an interview when he mentioned his conversation with the then deputy prime minister of Singapore, Goh Keng Swee.

Mahbubani asked Goh, “What’s the secret of Singapore’s success?”

Goh’s answer was simple, “Learn from the best in the world!”

Well, this model has shown wonders for both Singapore and China.

A recent success story is the adoption of the China development model by President Kagame of Rwanda. The results are spectacular!

China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty and is now the second most powerful economy in the world! In fact, based on PPP (purchasing power parity, China has already overtaken the US.

Steve Jobs used the same model too!

In a 1996 interview, Steve Jobs, considered to be the founder of Apple, the most innovative and profitable company in the world, too, adopted this development model.

He attributed it to Pablo Picasso at that time.

Jobs said, “‘Good artists copy; great artists steal’ – and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas”.

This quote plus the successful Singapore and China models, set me on a journey of conducting research to develop the system of “copycat innovation” which evolved into “innovative public governance”.

What is innovative public governance?

What Malaysia needs is not linear growth but exponential growth. Your state’s prosperity depends more on resourcefulness than resources. In other words, take the elevator and not the stairs.

To do this, Malaysia must leapfrog by:

Cultivating resourcefulness through human resource development

Leveraging on technology, especially the web

Harnessing expertise

The answer to this is innovative public governance.

Innovative public governance is a measurable results-driven fast-track innovation process that minimises mistakes and risks by adapting the features of proven and successful innovations from all over the world – basically the China model on steroids! Why?

Because today, you can tap into the best brains in the world for free via the internet.

The philosophy as expounded is simple: whatever problems you have, someone out there in the world has already solved it, either directly or indirectly. All you need to do is to develop a system to harness the best solutions relevant to a country’s needs.

Why innovative public governance?

Experimentation is risky, costly, time-consuming with no guarantee of success. Worse still, it may end up with controversy and negative publicity for the government.

Innovative public governance is concerned with the conduct of government at all levels to bring the best possible benefits to the people.

The term innovative public governance defines a system of government administration that embraces and introduces innovations to enhance the quality of life of the people using minimum resources for maximum lasting impact. It focuses on what to achieve rather than what to prevent.

Fulfilment leads to joy and contentment whereas frustrations breed violence, crime, and emotional turmoil. It is about changing mindsets and it starts with the leaders.

Innovation begins by asking the right questions to identify the core issues and not taking the easy path to a temporary feel-good factor by addressing the symptoms.

It is about exploiting limitations to drive breakthrough action. Innovative governance demands exploiting limits, not ignoring them.

Benefits of innovative public governance

Just imagine that the Malaysian government can halve its expenditure and triple its benefits to its people.

This is only a conservative estimate. The actual results could be much better.

Three case studies are given below. They could be adopted by the Malaysian government.

Case study 1: Time-bank system by the Swiss government

Under this time-bank scheme, people volunteer to take care of the elderly. The number of hours they spend with the elderly is banked into the volunteer’s account.

This will entitle them to free care by new volunteers when they are old and need care themselves.

If care is not needed, well, they have performed an essential public service.

Apart from Switzerland, the UK is also following the time-bank scheme and the Singapore government is considering this scheme too.

Case study 2: Social impact bonds (SIB)

The key principle is that no government can solve social problems on its own.

It just doesn’t have enough resources nor the budget to do so.

The solution is to get the private sector and NGOs to propose innovative solutions that will solve the social problem quickly and at a much-reduced cost.

Social impact bonds are designed to help transform public service delivery at lower costs and greater effectiveness. They are also known as success bonds as payments by the government were only made when an agreed level of success is achieved.

It offers the Malaysian government a risk-free way of pursuing innovative social programmes.

Rather than focusing on inputs (eg number of hospitals) or outputs (eg number of beds), SIBs are based on achieving social “outcomes” (eg measurable decreased mortality rates).

The outcomes are predefined and measurable.

It is a perfect example of a public-private smart partnership with win-win-win outcomes.

The Malaysian government wins by implementing a risk-free innovative social programme.

The private investor wins by carrying out its social corporate responsibility for a profit.

The people are the greatest winner of all by enjoying the benefits of the programme, which they may never otherwise receive or need to wait for it for a long time.

This SIB concept has been implemented successfully in Australia, South Africa, Europe, the US and many other countries.

Case study 3: Power of Virtual Volunteers

The Covid-19 pandemic, the major crisis of 2020, requires the government to rise to the challenge by not only adapting to a virtual work environment but also responding to the increased demand from the people to connect and give back to their communities.

Virtual volunteering allows volunteers to support important causes – like making masks, answering questions, directing emergency response – all done by phone, mail, internet, and video chat.

The first part involves training volunteer leaders called community impact champions.

Volunteer match helps volunteers search for opportunities that fit their interests and needs.

According to clinical research, volunteering improves the quality of life not just for those receiving the benefit, but also for those who give.


Most countries in the world, including Malaysia, are facing an economic and financial crisis now. There are no quick fixes.

What is important is to launch Malaysia’s planning on the right path. The answer lies in adopting the system of innovative public governance.

Dr Yew is Chief Mind Unzipper. Comments:

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