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Article Article December 13th, 2017

Making Malaysia's future

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Malaysia's #TN50 programme has engaged 1.7 million young people #FindingLegitimacy

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BCG has been helping Malaysia’s Ministry of Youth and Sports give voice to the country's youth #FindingLegitimacy

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Young people's aspirations will be the catalyst for a series of concrete actions #FindingLegitimacy

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All governments make plans for the future. That's no secret. But charting a path forwards is far from straightforward.

Events (both expected and unexpected), changes of personnel and administration, not to mention the day-to-day pressure of managing the government machine, combine to make accurate forecasts of what lies over the horizon something of a lottery. But that's not stopping Malaysia's policymakers from seeking to shape and make the future.

Today, Malaysia is at something of a crossroads. The conclusion of its 1991 Wawasan 2020 plan to become a fully developed nation by the year 2020 is fast approaching, and although progress is being made, eyes are now turning further ahead. In January 2017, it launched a new initiative, “Transformasi Nasional 2050”, (TN50)which seeks to underpin the country's direction of travel between 2020 and 2050.

Its target - becoming one of the top 20 countries in the world for economic development, citizen well-being, and innovation - is undoubtedly bold but that's a positive. After all, if you don't aim high and seek the best outcome then why do you go into public service in the first place? But while the objective is ambitious, a huge citizen engagement programme is helping ensure that it's rooted in the hopes and aspirations of young Malaysians the length and breadth of the country.

Changing world, changing ambitions

The good news is that Malaysia is already on the march. The gleaming skyscrapers that adorn Kuala Lumpur's skyline are testament to a rapidly evolving economy, one that has diversified and strengthened to such a point that it's often hard to believe it's only 60 years since we became an independent nation. Challenges remain, however, including a high cost of living, currency pressure, and solid - but not yet advanced - infrastructure. Anyone seeking to travel to remote areas of the country, in Sabah and Sarawak for example, should brace themselves for a somewhat lengthy journey.

Such problems are a vivid reminder that this is no time for complacency, especially when you throw in the megatrends that are continuing to reshape the world around us - urbanisation, changing demographics and climate change, to name but three. Malaysia - like every other country on earth - is not immune to these challenges. For example, by 2030 over 14 percent of our population is projected to be aged 60 or above but in 2050 it is expected to be 21 percent.

It's this pace of change that explains why the country continually needs to adapt and position itself for the future and to help it do that it is looking to the country's young and people.

Government does not know best

With this in mind, The Boston Consulting Group has been helping Malaysia's Ministry of Youth and Sports design and launch a series of national and regional programmes to give voice to the country's youth and help them shape the future. These have taken place nationally and regionally, online and face to face, via town halls and focus groups, social media and videos, essay writing and new app design - the list goes on.

These raw aspirations were then taken and refined through TN50 Circles of the Future - youth committees that discuss key topics such as the future of work and education, governance and health, to define targets and milestones for the country. These targets are vital, according to the Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar, Minister for Youth and Sports. “We want to have some specific targets about where we are in 2050, not just general statements, not just general aspirations,” he said at this year's Global Transformation Forum.

The result of these collective endeavours is that as of this month, more than 1.7 million young people have set out their hopes for the future - yes, 1.7 million - and more than 60,000 individual aspirations have been collated for review. 

We have identified six key themes that will feed into a youth aspirations report to be presented to the government in January 2018. These themes range from Malaysia having a global outlook but grounded on equitable growth, a sustainable core, an accountable ethos, and built by a united and compassionate nation.

These aspirations will, in turn, help shape the final TN50 policy document that the Prime Minister will present on the next Malaysia Day - September 16 - and also serve as the catalyst for a series of concrete action points that will be continually refined in the coming years.

Some of these are already coming to fruition. For example, the “SMK Unicorn” initiative aims to transform the education system by implementing a new curriculum, pedagogy and assessment - with the first schools undergoing these changes in 2018. There is also a new push for sustainable and efficient land-use. Next year, the target is for 21,000 hectares to be sustainably managed.

From talk to action

Clearly this is an ongoing process and while there is much still to do, it is equally clear that tremendous progress has been made during the course of the year.

The task now, though, is to ensure that the government really acts on what they have heard. Malaysia's young people have risen in force to offer up an inspiring vision of the type of country they want in future. Now comes the hard part - making it a reality. The countdown to 2050 starts now.

What is legitimacy to you? Where do you see legitimacy working well? How governments work with citizens to build legitimacy is a big question for CPI. 

Find out how to get involved in our Finding Legitimacy project 


Picture credit: Abdul Razak Latif /


Written by:

Nurlin Salleh Principal at The Boston Consulting Group, Kuala Lumpur
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