Forum is a global think-tank dedicated to channelling entrepreneurship towards social good
Key recommendations from a Malaysian perspective to be included in its next White Paper
NAZRIN Hassan, the chief executive officer of Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd – the non-profit agency under Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance that manages the Cradle investment fund – has a unique energy about him.
You can spot him at most start-up gatherings, running around with all the enthusiasm and energy of an entrepreneur himself, and the only give-away that he is a “government man” is the usually immaculate suit. But as one industry observer told me months ago, “He is a patriot; that’s about the only ‘government-thing’ about him.”
Not that Nazrin isn’t aware of the challenges of navigating government waters – the same industry player says that the Cradle chief has been known to constructively criticize wayward government policies where deserved. There is no doubt that he has the country’s entrepreneurship ecosystem in his heart.
So much so that even when it is his efforts as an individual that makes a difference, he describes it as Malaysia’s contribution. Case in point: The recent World Entrepreneurship Forum in Lyon, France, in which Nazrin was the sole Malaysian representative. Before flying back, he posted on Facebook that Malaysia’s recommendations at the Forum would be included in the next White Paper.
It was only after some questioning from Digital News Asia (DNA) -- and with further clarification from his communications team at Cradle -- that we found out that he had been there in his personal capacity, and that it was really his recommendations that would be implemented.
The World Entrepreneurship Forum – think of it as the ‘other WEF’ – is a global community and think-tank of entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, experts and politicians chosen for their entrepreneurial achievements and their commitment to society. It began in 2008 from discussions between a few international decision-makers concerned by the state of the world.
They felt that the entrepreneur, being used to facing “ambiguity with pragmatism and creativity, appeared to be a cornerstone in imagining and implementing sustainable solutions to tackle our world’s major problems,” says the Forum website. From its yearly conferences, the Forum publishes an Annual White Paper.
The founding members were the EMLYON Business School (in France) and KPMG. In 2010, two additional founding members joined: The Singaporean Institution’s Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Malaysians have been participating in the Forum since its inception in 2008, Nazrin believes. In an email interview with DNA, he says that the value of participating is that one gets to hear from entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, policy implementors and academicians from all over the world, on their experiences, learnings and best practices in boosting entrepreneurship in different jurisdictions, each with its own and unique challenges.
“Those lessons and best practices can be adapted to one’s own country and ecosystem,” he adds. The World Entrepreneurship Forum also “provides an excellent opportunity for networking and collaboration on the international stage, between different parties in different countries. It can be very dynamic.”
When asked about such collaborations, Nazrin says it is still to early to speak about them, but added that the respective international parties are definitely keen to get them up and going. “You will probably hear more about this next year,” he promises.
Nazrin’s particpation saw him making recommendations from Malaysia's perspective and experience, some of which he says would be included in the Forum’s White Paper for this year while others focused on possible follow-up activities.
“One of our recommendations was to encourage multi-domain diversity,” he says, by deliberately encouraging more collaborations between people from different domains to come up with new and innovative business ideas and solutions.
These can “create entirely new ‘needs’ where they didn’t exist before,” he says.” For instance, if we deliberately mixed together a bunch of paedetricians and a group of animators and game developers, what kind of new innovative ideas could they brainstorm and come up with, just by learning the paradigms of each other’s worlds?
“Or if you mixed together a bunch of town planners and a group of mobile application developers, what can you come up with for solutions for a smarter development and intelligent information flow for the citizenry?
“The potential can be quite immense and endless – diversity and the sharing of perspectives can unlock entirely new landscapes of ideas and business models,” he says.
No cut ‘n’ paste ecosystem-building
Another recommendation Nazrin made was the need for metrics to measure a ‘healthy ecosystem,’ but not necessarily from the perspective of, or benchmarking against, Silicon Valley or a developed country’s ecosystem.
Instead, it should be metrics based on the “perspective of what each developing country is capable of achieving based on its own strengths and current economic stage and resources,” he says.
“It’s important that developing countries have a guide and direction as far as ecosystem-building goes, and not emulate blindly without fully understanding the factors that drive the success of a good ecosystem.
“We can’t implement better, if we keep understanding things wrongly. Ecosystem-building is not a cut-and-paste exercise,” he says.
Nazrin also says he sees the value of deveoping countries having their own branch in the World Entrepreneurship Forum, and for ‘mini’ or regional events, activities and collaborations to encourage more focused and tangible results.
The Forum has since 2010 been holding ‘Junior Forums’ too, organized by students for students. Nazrin says he wants to see a chapter of the Junior World Entrepreneurship Forum (JWEF) set up in Malaysia, so that younger entrepreneurs here can have a global fraternity to belong to.
“If you want global businesses, you have to start with a global mindset – and that can only happen with exposure, connections and collaborations with a global fraternity,” he says. “I think it would be useful for Malaysia to have a platform to encourage young Malaysians to have that mindset.”
Nazrin also recommended that the World Entrepreneurship Forum play a role in helping its member countries form an international market access platform. The Forum is currently present, through chapters and such, in 70 countries.
When asked if the Forum’s White Papers had produced any benefits to participants, Nazrin acknowledges that he can’t speak for previous participants from Malaysia, but adds that there are good practical lessons therein.
“The papers are not theoretical; they are pooled together from the experiences of people who have been involved in entrepreneurship, either directly or indirectly,” he says.
“I can’t say whether any of the previous Malaysian representatives had made use of them – they may have and I do not know about it – but I would certainly ensure that my participation will bring about some tangible benefit to the local ecosystem, for the long term.
“Right now, Singapore is the only face of South-East Asia in implementing Forum initiatives – I’m determined that Malaysia will play a stronger regional role in the coming years, either via Cradle or other initiatives,” he adds.