Malaysian Government very receptive to policy lobbying when it comes from industry associations
Patience, passion and a well thought out plan on tackling the issues important in order to get buy-in
MY article yesterday on Malaysia Debt Ventures Bhd (MDV) was interesting not because of the number of companies MDV is helping, nor the large amount of money it has given out in loans to tech companies.
What was really interesting to me was how the creation of MDV itself was due to a policy decision by the Government, which in turn was influenced by the passionate case made by Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) for a debt venture vehicle.
I give credit to both MDeC and its then executive Jiro Suzuki, who was influential in working to convince Government on the important role such a vehicle plays in a still emerging tech ecosystem. This happened circa 1999-2000.
It took MDeC and Suzuki about two years to work out the mechanics of the fund, to lobby the Government and get the funding sorted out. As you can imagine, it was hard work by Suzuki in particular, who was passionate about the need to plug this gap in the ecosystem. And, he was determined to make a difference.
The key take-away is that a well thought-out policy works marvels. The Malaysian Government has long been listening to the needs of its entrepreneurs and technocrats (the folk at MDeC are technocrats). And when you have passion, patience and an action plan to address a key market gap that Government can best fill, lobbying persistently and patiently works
In fact, these were the very words that were repeated last Tuesday at a briefing on Technopreneurs Association of Malaysia's (TeAM) newly formed Policy Institute. Helmed by experienced policy campaigner Dr V. Sivapalan (pic), the briefing was held to update members on the intentions and game plan for the institute, and to look for five good people to be part of it.
However, those thinking it will be an opportunity to hobnob with senior government executives need not apply; neither should those who think it offers an opportunity to update their LinkedIn profile with an important sounding position.
Because it will be hard work and will require staying power. "If you come in and don't put in the work, I will ask you to leave," Sivapalan said, not mincing his words.
Nazrin Hassan, another seasoned policy campaigner and chief executive officer (CEO) of Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd, emphasised the importance of having staying power and being patient.
"The newer the policy and the more complex it is, the longer it will take get buy-in from policy makers. But you need to keep working on it -- educating them, being persistent and passionate until you create 'echoes' in the corridors of power," he said.
Trying to influence public policy in tech and lobbying government works and benefits all tech companies -- hence Sivapalan’s use of the "a rising tide benefits all ships" analogy. Witness MDV; witness Cradle; and witness how CREST (Collaborative Research in Engineering, Science and Technology) was established.
I would even go so far as to say that it works very well in Malaysia where, to their credit, our policymakers have always been more than willing to listen to the views of industry. Sivapalan also concurs, adding that it is especially true when policymakers see them “under the banner of an industry group.”
In the past TeAM had worked with other industry bodies such as NEF (Malaysian Association of Bumiputera ICT Industry and Entrepreneurs) and Pikom (the National ICT Association of Malaysia) with success, and plans to engage with its peers where needed. "They are really receptive and take you seriously," notes Sivapalan.
His own seriousness shows in making sure he puts together a top team of volunteers who will be committed to making the Policy Institute (PI) a success. And work they will, with Sivapalan outlining a number of short- and long-term actions planned.
The removal of the requirement for MSC Malaysia companies to be located in cyber centres is the big one among the short-term policy changes TeAM-PI hopes to influence.
As Sivapalan points out, the main value of that in the early years was to get access to broadband connectivity. But the success of Telekom Malaysia's UniFi service and broadband offerings by TIME dotCom Bhd have made broadband available in most commercial places, thus nullifying this advantage. The requirement today tends to be seen as a thinly-disguised property play with prices per square feet shooting up before the paint has dried on the 'This is an MSC Cyberzone'.
Another short-term action plan is to advise the Ministry of Finance on the need for a more streamlined 'seed to late-stage' funding structure and to ensure availability of venture funding for growth and mature companies. "There is no money for Series A funding and we can't have this gap in the ecosystem," Sivapalan said.
The long-term goals are very structural and ambitious. TeAM-PI wants to try to inculcate a merit-based business environment. That would take a long time, but armed with the belief that moves such as this benefit all entrepreneurs, you may not want to bet against Sivapalan and the team he assembles.
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