In a very casual sit-down session with Patrick Grove of Catcha Group during Wild Digital SEA 2019, Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim shared some of his plans for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) when he takes the position of Prime Minister of Malaysia.
His main plan is to support initiatives of startups by changing laws and regulations. While he said that he would do whatever is required to push these startups to the next level, he acknowledged that the initiatives would have to remain feasible enough for the country to be able to expand on.
“It must be done, otherwise we’ll be left behind,” he emphasised on the importance of his plan.
Anwar has set a mission for himself regarding his aim to support future and existing SMEs but he admitted that there was still a lot he had yet to learn about newer technologies.
However, he said that his role is not to teach—it is to support the experts within the industry. His intention is simply to be a catalyst to accelerate the process of growing their businesses.
He assured us that his leadership will make sure to propel the country’s economy and digital technologies to success.
Addressing Concerns & Misconceptions
When Patrick brought up the case of fresh graduates thinking that their career opportunities lay overseas and not in Malaysia itself, Anwar replied, “You should start here. There is enormous potential and we have the leadership, a government that’s committed to support.”
He also stated that he understands and appreciates concerns about privacy and reducing inequality amongst the general public when it comes to the digitalisation of the industry. Marginalised societies should also be given a chance, he asserted.
Circling back to the subject of startups, Anwar lamented that the reason for our struggle now with startup success can be attributed to the lack of facilitation on required changes.
He continued, saying that these changes must be accelerated because, as of now, we are still unequipped to deal with digitalisation at the base of industrialisation.
He believes that our nation needs to become more tech-savvy, and the government has to be supportive of this agenda.
Raising Our People To Be Giants
According to Patrick, in the last 3 or so years, there have been 7 unicorns from Southeast Asia.
Dictionary Time: A unicorn is a startup company valued at more than a billion US dollars, typically in the software or technology sector.
With the exception of Grab, most of those unicorns came from Indonesia and Singapore.
“I’m just wondering if it’s something that you’ve seen and have a view or an opinion on,” Patrick asked Anwar.
“There is of course enormous potential,” Anwar replied.
“If Malaysia could produce Grab or AirAsia, there is therefore that immense possibility that we could produce many more.”
Anwar believes that what we currently lack is a clear direction on the policies, support and necessary changes in terms of regulations and the ease of doing business.
From listening to tech experts and startup companies, he’s learnt much and realised that if his agenda for digital technology for the country is to work, we would have to respond fast.
“The spontaneity, the speed, the pace has got to be escalated otherwise we’ll be left behind,” he stated.
He went on to say, “I’m not suggesting that we are in a position to give support and aid to all startups but we should facilitate—and we should know that dealing with digital technology and startups is not like dealing with beginners or new companies in the past.”
“So, even with new regulations, we have to facilitate the process and I use the term, ease of doing business.”
To Focus On Transparency, Not More Rules
Anwar believes that the process must be more transparent and broader-based, and that it can’t be too controlling.
“We’ll have a problem because the logic and thinking of most, if not all, political leaders and public servants is control, regulation,” he commented.
“It runs contrary to the whole philosophy of digital economy and digitalisation, which is open and transparent.”
“When we embarked on the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), we had a period when everyone talked about censorship. Now we’ve realised that talking about digital technology and focusing on the infrastructure of it is most efficient.”
“We fail when we do not give enough focus on software development, and working on the huge potential that we have, which is quite unique.”
He wants to focus on that now and to make things easy and fast when supporting ventures.
Fixing The Factors That Slow Down Growth
Patrick shared that in a previous meeting with Anwar, the latter spoke about one of the things holding internet companies back in this part of the world being the quality and quantity of engineering talent.
Anwar said that while the previous administration had taken some steps in addressing this situation, he didn’t see it as a well-concentrated, focused effort which is something that we need to do now.
By allowing or supporting the initiatives of startups from rural areas or the urban poor, Anwar said that they are dealing with issues of technology and at the same time addressing the issue of inequality.
Although what Anwar shared is a step in the right direction and shows that he has given some thought to SMEs and their future growth, it’s hard to make a clear judgement call on how effective his policies will be. He does seem to have a grasp on some of the problems businesses face, but it remains to be seen if those problems will be tackled by the government he leads.
Understandably, a session like this might not be the best place to go into depth, but we hope to see and hear of more concrete steps taken to support the entrepreneurs of Malaysia as they work to transform the industries they’re in.
- You can read our previous coverage of Wild Digital here.