Emerging Leaders: How will the Next Generation of Malaysians Shape the Nation?

09 MARCH 2015
As we edge closer towards becoming a high income and developed nation, the need for the younger generation of Malaysians to rise up and take the helm in shaping the nation is becoming increasingly crucial. Making up more than 40 percent of the country's total population, it falls to our young people to be our future leaders within the nation's political, social and economic landscapes. However, at a time where change is a constant occurrence that is happening faster than ever before, the question remains if this generation of young Malaysians are adequately empowered to take the lead. Are they aware of what is expected of them, and are they willing to become agents of change for the betterment of the society and nation as a whole?

To address these important questions, five outstanding individuals were brought together in the 8th Merdeka Award Roundtable – a television talk show held in conjunction with the Merdeka Award to constructively discuss key issues that are of interest to the development of Malaysia and Malaysians. This edition was entitled Emerging Leaders: How will the Next Generation of Malaysians Shape the Nation?, exploring the challenges faced by young Malaysians today and the ways in which they can be overcome to inspire the future generation of leaders towards the realisation of Vision 2020.

Organised by the Merdeka Award, the roundtable session was participated by Christopher Tock, Co-founder and Executive Director of Empowering Youth Endeavors (EYE); Dzameer Dzulkifli, Co-founder and Managing Director of Teach for Malaysia; Dr Kamalan Jeevaratnam, Recipient of the Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment 2014; Suhaili Micheline Ahmad Kamil, Choreographer, Lecturer & Performer; and Suzanne Lee, Documentary Photographer. Cynthia Ng of ASTRO Awani hosted the session.

Young people today live an inordinately fast-paced life, thanks to the significant advancement in technology and communication. These are a group of people that are growing up with smart devices, personal computers, Internet and by extension, social media, which gives them substantially increased access to information, connections and resources than in previous generations. In spite of this, several issues remain; the biggest of which is the level of readiness among young Malaysians to take the helm.

Malaysia's young people are one of the highest users of social media compared to their counterparts worldwide, yet their level of engagement remains superficial, focusing primarily on personal and local issues. Moreover, the ease in which they are able to voice out thoughts and opinions in this digital age have resulted in a generation imbued with a sense of entitlement that was absent in their predecessors. Consequently, the due process of developing core values such as patience and discipline are neglected as they are constantly on the move, looking for the 'next best thing'.

In terms of education, panelists argue that there is still room for improvement. Following the Government's increase in the overall education sector budget to RM56 billion in 2015 for developing human capital, practical steps must be implemented to ensure it is properly managed and well-allocated towards improving opportunities and education excellence in Malaysia. According to Dzameer, there needs to be a more equal fund distribution to ensure youths from all walks of life, particularly among the low-income group, receive the support they need to pursue higher studies towards a brighter future. Not only that, emphasis must also be placed on cultivating talents and soft skills, as well as the ability to think critically and strategically, he adds.

The way forward, according to the panelists, is by integrating the subjects of arts, culture and heritage onto the academic platform, where young people are taught the value and importance of these disciplines, and be made aware of other critical skills for them to compete on the world stage. There is also a need to break societal norms and change the prevailing mind-set on what 'proper' education is. This can be achieved through a liberalisation of education starting from primary right through to tertiary level, where there is no interference for talents to grow. Alternative disciplines such as performing arts and vocational trainings should also be increased to enhance employability.

Touching on retaining professional local talents in Malaysia, the panelists concurred that more efforts are needed to recruit and retain local talents. Dr Kamalan stressed that Malaysia is more than capable of producing home-grown talents to fulfil the numerous positions currently occupied by expatriates. A huge proportion of young people have the knowledge and skills for highly demanding and technical jobs, but many have decided to apply them overseas. Therefore, in addition to doing away with the notion of 'expat package' and 'local salary', there needs to be a sense of autonomy in the job and recognition for the individual's talent, among others. Through these steps, the brain drain issue in Malaysia can be effectively addressed.

The discussion was concluded with a final exhortation for young people to be the change they wish to see in Malaysia. They need to come up with a winning plan, challenge themselves to work hard and see their plan through right to the end.

Christopher said, "With such rich and diverse cultures in Malaysia, our people can go anywhere, do anything and succeed. There is no reason why we can't be a global citizen and do more for our nation. Our young people have an important role to play in our nation's development, hence, they need to take charge of their future. They need to capitalise on the bountiful support available to them and get ahead."

It is only then that the nation's young generation will be ready and equipped to assume a bigger role in helping shape Malaysia as a developed nation, in the years ahead.

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The Merdeka Award was established by PETRONAS, ExxonMobil and Shell on 27 August 2007, to recognise and reward Malaysians and non-Malaysians who have made outstanding and lasting contributions to the nation and the people of Malaysia in their respective fields.

The choice of name, Merdeka Award, reflects the Founding Members’ aim to commemorate the true spirit of independence, which transcends the conventional definition of national sovereignty. It explores the liberation of the mind and spirit – factors that foster the realisation of human potential and the pursuit of excellence.

Each year, the annual Merdeka Award is conferred on individuals and/or organisations whose excellent work and achievements have made an outstanding impact on the nation and its people in the following categories, namely Education and Community, Environment, Health, Science and Technology, Outstanding Scholastic Achievement and Outstanding Contribution to the People of Malaysia.

The selection of Merdeka Award recipients is made through a stringent and rigorous process, conducted first by the Merdeka Award’s five Nomination Committees, and then by the Selection Committee. The recipients are selected by the Merdeka Award Board of Trustees.

The Award categories reflect focus areas that are regarded as instrumental to the overall growth and development of a nation. One Award is made for each of the five categories above. In the event that in a given year, two individuals and/or organisations are deemed to be equally deserving of recognition, the Award will be shared. The Merdeka Award recipient receives a certificate, a trophy and a cash award of RM500,000.

Through the Merdeka Award’s other initiatives like the Merdeka Award Roundtables and the Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment, the Merdeka Award aims to promote thought leadership and innovation, foster a culture of excellence and encourage a world view, thereby enhancing Malaysia’s standing as a dynamic, competitive 21st Century Global Player in all key sectors from science and technology to the arts. To date, the Merdeka Award has been conferred on 28 individuals and 2 organisations.



Dr Edison Lee Tian Khoon
Dr Edison headed to Sweden’s Uppsala University, where he joined the Department of Chemistry, Ångström Laboratory, as part of his attachment stint. He is currently carrying out active research in polymer electrolyte and nanomaterials for Lithium-ion batteries. Read more about him here:
Innovating the Energy Ecosystem
Chrishen R. Gomez
Having attended the prestigious Ivy League Brown University as part of his attachment programme, 27-year-old Chrishen is now with the Wildlife Research and Conservation Unit at Oxford University. Chrishen is busy developing a genetic-based research project on the Sunda Clouded Leopard. Read more about him here: Conserving Our Forests & Future
Dr Zetty
Dr Zetty is currently working on anti-cancer compounds found in Malaysian seaweed and has continued to pursue her original project proposal of microalgae vaccine carriers for fish. A working solution has been patented by Dr Zetty and will be deployed within the coming year.
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