Highlights at Penang Institute

Participation as a Panelist in the Penang Future Forward Summit

Penang Institute was invited to speak at the Penang Future Forward Summit. The Executive Director Dato’ Dr Ooi Kee Beng was one of the panelists in the session, “Shaping the Future of Penang – Meeting the Entrepreneurial Challenges, Identifying New Opportunities for Growth”.

After presenting policy directions already ongoing in Penang State, Dr Ooi highlighted the need to inject optimism into the population in concrete ways, and in summary, stated that the challenge now is “not only to enhance the employability of the young, but also to realise entrepreneurship in them”. This can be done through:

1. creating a supportive digital ecosphere,
2. inspiring key players to generate as much synergy for growth as possible at all levels of society, and
3. supporting optimism and confidence in the young.

Below is his full speech:

Penang Future Forward Summit, 25 October 2021
Meeting the Entrepreneurial Challenges, Identifying New Opportunities for Growth

Thank you, Dato Seri Nazir. It is a great honour indeed to be on this panel. In keeping with what Tan Sri Andrew said about Asian culture, I must apologise to the organisers that I cannot be there physically today. Good morning to all my fellow panelists, and to everyone present.
Now, not being well-versed in macro-economics, and definitely not one in the class of my fellow panelists, let me instead take a sociocultural and socio-political angle instead to discuss the challenges this panel is meant to explore.
I will do that by mentioning certain key initiatives my Institute has been strongly involved in, in collaboration with an array of agencies and institutions who have Penang’s wellbeing at heart, and most of these as contribution to Penang state policies.

One of the things Penang Institute is proud to have done was to lay the groundwork and to convince the Penang State Government to establish Digital Penang, an agency responsible for digitalisation projects within the government with the goal of creating an ecosphere conducive to this next stage in Penang’s industrialisation. This is a vital step in the implementation of the Penang2030 vision that was launched by the Chief Minister in August 2018.
Digital Penang was established in April 2020, just when the Covid pandemic began in all seriousness. Details on Digital Penang’s work, I think Mr Tony Yeoh, its CEO, will be talking about later today. But basically, the goal is to create in Penang as strong a digital environment as possible in as short a time as possible.
Digitalisation is the prerequisite for practically everything else we wish to talk about concerning the economic future of Penang.

Also, in light of Covid-19, a portfolio shakeup was carried out by the state government in 2020 to reflect new priorities post-Covid. So, the portfolios of Agrotech, Creative Economy and Social Development, among others, were created.

After that preamble, let me highlight two things for discussion. The first is that, with Covid-19, we should be more cognizant than ever that GDP figures do not really measure how people at the lower strata of society are managing, especially not in the short term.
The crisis has hit the poor in very painful ways. There is in the immediate term, a need to develop micro-level initiatives to provide assistance and to facilitate recovery at street level.
The wellbeing of many people going forward, especially those at the lower end of the economic ladder, is going to depend on the acquisition of basic skills, of digital literacy in as broad a sense as possible, and of practical education, and not education whose payback lies too far in the future.
There is a strong need to inject optimism and a sense of capability into society; make people feel that they must put their back to the wheel, get innovative, be bold, be collaborative, be optimistic.

The second point I would like to highlight is the serious lack of collaboration and connectedness between various segments of Penang’s society, economy and government. We need to break that trend, and we have a good chance of doing that now when so many players in society are in a Build Back Better mode, and when digital means are at hand for us to adopt.
So, in Phase Two of Penang2030, which we call “Accelerating Penang2030”, we are helping to construct projects that promote synergy. Synergy is the key word.

a. First, we need synergy between elected representatives, agencies and departments. Community-based initiatives have been started to strengthen state assemblymen’s work at the community level, aided by agencies such as PYDC, PWDC, PGC and DP. We are supporting volunteerism in Penang society, promoting digital literacy etc. Ms Ong Bee Leng of PWDC will talk more on that later today, I believe, as will Mr Tony Yeoh of DP as well.

b. Second is the need for synergy between Private sector players and Public sector players, for start-ups and in education, among other things: Hubs for developmental synergy involving Think City, Wawasan Open University, USM, Penang Science Cluster, Forward School and several other players, are in the works, the most important of which will be the Creative Digital District (CD2) in the middle of George Town.

c. And third is the need to Engage Penang’s big and small industrial players in initiatives affecting a society that is in crisis, and in policies concerning economic growth and adaptation to the New Normal.

d. In short, three sets of initiatives are underway which I believe can make a difference, namely Community-based Initiatives, Placemaking Initiatives, and Industry-engagement Initiatives.

Furthermore, to help the young, and others who are now out of a job, making TVET courses more attractive and accessible to them is important. Penang Institute is trying to create a mechanism for a TVET outreach to the least privileged, with help from certain agencies.

In conclusion, our main aim should not only be to enhance the employability of the young, but also to realise entrepreneurship in them. This we can do through:
1. creating a supportive digital ecosphere,
2. inspiring key players to generate as much synergy for growth as possible at all levels of society, and
3. supporting optimism and confidence in the young.

Thank you.
Ooi Kee Beng