Naser Jaafar aims for success to the end
By Dzof Azmi February 2, 2018
- The education system, with the right intervention programmes, can be world class
- Programmes to encourage the private sector to invest in CSR by offering an incentive
"I DON’T want to bite off more than I can chew," said Naser Jaafar (pics) in an interview soon after he was appointed the CEO of Agensi Innovasi Malaysia (AIM). This apparently modest ambition was actually in deference to the work done by his predecessor.
"I want to focus on what I’ve inherited from Datuk Mark (Rozario) and see it through to achieve the desired outcome. I want to focus on deliverables and results."
After 22 years with the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Malaysia, including a stint as the chief executive officer, Naser Jaafar's career took on a new sheen when he was appointed the chief operating officer of Agensi Innovasi Malaysia (AIM).
Eventually he was appointed as the CEO on Aug 1, 2017, and he hopes to do the most he can before AIM is eventually shuttered in 2020.
He splits the work done by AIM into six areas: Education, Social Innovation, Facilitating Industry-Academia Collaboration, Transforming Strategic Sectors, Improving Organizations and Catalyse Commercialisation.
For the last two years his focus has been charting new paths in education and social innovation.
One such initiative was to inculcate Higher-Order Thinking Skills into the Malaysian classroom, also known as Kemahiran Berfikir Aras Tinggi (KBAT).
"We really had to do a lot of hand-holding to introduce Higher Order Thinking Skills, moving away from rote learning," said Naser.
However, he is quick to emphasise that the Ministry of Education took the lead and AIM just facilitated. The project has since moved from pilot schools and rolled out to a thousand schools nationwide.
Another education-based project was introducing the International Baccalaureate (IB) to Malaysian secondary schools. By September 2017, ten schools had been certified as IB World Schools, valid for a period of five years.
Because a fee needs to be paid for IB certification, this model is unlikely to be rolled out to the remaining schools in its current form. The proposed way forward is Genosis, a new accreditation framework for Malaysian schools that incorporates lessons learned from the IB project.
"The message here is that our Malaysian education system, with the right intervention programmes, can be world class," Naser emphasises.
He also sees its adoption being driven from the ground up, from the community and parents. "The hope is that... if you feel you want to convert to a Genosis school then you can."
Social Innovation programmes
"How do you get the private sector excited about CSR?"
One possible solution is the Social Outcome Fund launched in March 2017, which enables the private sector to invest in social programmes - with the added incentive that they may get their money back if it is a success.
With groundwork prepared through work with the relevant Ministries, Agencies and NGOs, AIM engaged Social Purpose Organisations (SPOs) to identify possible interventions to social issues that could be more cost-effective than current practices.
These interventions were then presented to potential investors in the private sector. The incentive to them is simple: "If you deliver the KPI's as agreed with the investor, we the government will reimburse the impact investor the capital sum.
"It will become a more sustainable financing model for social intervention," says Naser. "The government (only) pays when there is impact delivered."
Another related programme is the Social Impact Exchange (SIX) which AIM implements together with the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC). The objective is to make it easier for SPOs to find and be found by potential investors.
"I'd like to think that SIX has achieved its objective," says Naser. "It has become a vibrant place."
Naser readily admits these programmes are straightforward enough that they could have been implemented by the agencies themselves. But when you consider that there needed to be a lot of inter-agency cooperation, a key ingredient for success reveals itself.
"Engagement. A lot of engagement," he admits. "You eat a lot of humble pie."
These programmes required a lot of cooperation between multiple agencies. "We never work in silos," he says. "We cannot afford it because we only have 60 staff!".
He also says it is also important to identify a partner and work with them from the start, as evidenced by their work with the Ministry of Education, and to ensure this partner takes ownership.
"You have to understand AIM is not going to be here forever," he says, referring to the planned intention to shutter AIM by 2020.
Searching for an icon
As for the investment side of AIM, there have not been any huge developments. Naser shares that they made one new investment in 2017 valued in the millions of Ringgit, and this will be announced later this year after completing due diligence.
But there are regrets as well. "Honestly, we missed out on Grab. They came to see AIM," he remembers. "But at that point in time they didn't ask for money."
What the eventual unicorn wanted was for AIM to help them persuade taxi drivers to use the app. "But it didn't work."
After that, Grab moved operations to Singapore. "That is something not we as AIM, but the country missed out on."
Looking forward to the end
"Maybe in I still like to think that we have a life beyond 2020 but probably a different form," says Naser.
He still has ambitions even in this short time left. "I want to head one or two icons from our equity investments," he confides.
Whatever happens beyond 2020, Naser has an appetite for the work. "I have no regrets switching from banking to this because I would have never been exposed to all the things that I just talked to you about (otherwise)".