Counterpoint: PM’s Genovasi drive just doesn’t jive

  • The Genovasi Challenge urges young Malaysians to stop complaining and do something
  • Yet when people do, they are punished – not a terribly good way to encourage innovative thinking

Counterpoint: PM’s Genovasi drive just doesn’t jiveMALAYSIA’S Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak launched the Genovasi initiative in August to much mainstream media fanfare and with all the right messaging: To develop 5,000 youths as ‘innovation ambassadors’ who would spur progress, a better quality of life and solutions for the nation.

Genovasi – a portmanteau of generasi (generation) and inovasi (innovation) – will work with ‘global innovation leaders’ to impart innovation, skills, expertise and methodologies to these innovation ambassadors.

More recently, the PM also launched the Genovasi Challenge, with its first focus on ‘Connected Communities,’ urging Malaysians aged 14 and above to submit ideas on how “to improve or develop your neighborhood that enhances the quality of life in the community.” There will be RM100,000 given out to fund the implementation of some of the best ideas.

Noble intentions, and certainly the first brainstorming session was enthusiastically attended by “youth leaders, bloggers, college students, opinion leaders and media and corporate personalities,” according to a report in The Star. Among the media personalities was Digital News Asia founder and CEO Karamjit Singh.

But Najib lost me with the messaging that came out of this recent session, including his declaration that this would make Malaysia “a nation second to none.”

It’s obvious that the Prime Minister wants to be associated with youth and especially ‘innovation’. Certainly, he has the speeches and public relations (PR) gambits that go with this: He declared 2010 the ‘Year of Innovation’ and 2012 ‘The Year of Innovation Movement,’ over two national budget proposals. Along the way, some actual moves were made, such as the formation of the Malaysia Innovation Agency or Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM).

But there does not seem to be a concerted, cohesive and coherent effort to inculcate innovative thinking in Malaysians, young or old. All we get are disparate or discrete programs (with a lot of PR and speeches), but no over-arching vision.

There are bits in the education blueprint, some pieces in the various transformation programs, large parts in the Digital Malaysia initiative – but you don’t get the sense that there is a drive for innovation that underlies his thinking and policies. Indeed, all we have are projects and programs, not policies.

Counterpoint: PM’s Genovasi drive just doesn’t jiveAs I write this, about two months after the program was launched, the Genovasi Facebook page (pic) has 180 ‘Likes,’ the backdrop picture featuring suits and all – hardly a picture that would convince Gen-Y to have a look.

The disconnect here is quite reflective of the disparity between many of Najib’s proclamations and that of his Administration’s actual actions.

You can’t inculcate innovation, at least not broadly, in a society which is afraid to speak its mind or discouraged from thinking critically about what’s happening around them. A youth has been charged for insulting the Sultan of Johor over something he posted on Facebook – bad enough, but the method of his arrest and incarceration and the way his entire family were treated seemed to have come out of a Gestapo handbook.

And just as bad, independent news portals that reported the event are now under investigation too. Indeed, around the same time, the police visited the office of Malaysiakini after that news portal had published a letter from an Australia-based Malaysian over a different issue.

Three police cars were sent to arrest Ahmad Abd Jalil, 27, over the case of royal insult. Fifteen policemen were sent to try and get the email address of the letter-writer in the Malaysiakini incident.

Oh, here’s an idea on how to make our neighborhoods safer: Get the police to channel their resources from going after letter-writers and Facebook users and instead towards patrolling our neighborhoods and chasing down actual criminals. Hold the Home Minister accountable for this.

But particularly galling was the Genovasi Challenge call to Malaysians to “stop whining and do something about it.” In April, instead of merely whining about it, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Malaysians, including this writer, did just that: We took to the streets in a peaceful march to demand free and fair elections.

We were met by teargas, and some of the demonstrators were assaulted. Journalists recording the Najib Administration’s retaliation were also manhandled by policemen and had their equipment seized. The Home Minister said this was standard operating procedure, but this was quickly denied by the Inspector-General of Police.

So you can see why Najib’s declaration of making Malaysia “a nation second to none” rings as hollow as his purported aspiration of making Malaysia the “world’s best democracy.”

Okay, I am sounding like a naysayer here. I know some of the people behind Genovasi, and I have no doubt they have the best of intentions and the bright minds to see this through. Also, getting young people involved in trying to improve their communities is an effort to be lauded.

In fact, I would like to contribute to the cause despite my age. One way to improve our neighborhoods and communities would be to make local councils more accountable and transparent. Despite the latest flap with Indonesia, it is doubtful our neighbour is going to invade us, like it threatened to do in 1964.

So let’s bring local council elections back. It can also help as a good step towards making Malaysia ‘the world’s best democracy’ and a ‘nation second to none.’

Can I have my RM100,000 now?

Point: ‘Make Malaysia a nation second to none’

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