Resolved to enter the world’s exclusive club of “developed” countries by 2020, Malaysia is banking on innovative science and technologies, especially those related to the environment, to help more than double per capita income from US$6,700 in 2009 to US$15,000 in 2020.
This month in New York, Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak met for the first time with a newly-formed 43 member council comprised of titans of economics, business, science and technology, each volunteering to help Malaysia up the development ladder – lighting a path to a green, high-income economy.
Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib says the Council’s advice and active partnership will help support the country’s pursuit of several strategic initiatives, beginning with the creation of a model “smart city” and “smart village,” in which an integrated system of information and other technologies help maximize the efficiency of a community’s resource use and minimize waste.
While a handful of “smart” cities are under creation elsewhere — mostly in highly-developed countries — Malaysia’s “Smart Village” Pilot Project is a first in the region.
The Council’s expertise will help Malaysia maximize the yield and economic benefits of its palm oil industry, including development of palm oil-derived biofuels and biochemicals, to improve both the national environment and economy. The creation of new academic Centers of Excellence in Malaysia will support this “Green Future” objective.
The Council will also support highly-targeted efforts in Malaysia to improve education, increase the number of children in science and technology, and foster mentoring programs to help create more small and medium S&T-related enterprises.
“Malaysia’s ambitious goal is to simultaneously reduce poverty and achieve a Green Economy. We see science and technology innovation as key to achieving that goal, guided by the advice and active support of some of the world’s most distinguished entrepreneurial, scientific and economic experts,” says Dato’ Sri Najib.
“These experts, convened in partnership with the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), will liaise and work actively with key Malaysian agencies and institutions to develop ‘quick wins’ in the palm oil industry, in the creation of a smart city and smart village, and in education — nurturing the talent of our young people — to raise the number of scientifically and technically-trained individuals, entrepreneurs and innovators in our country.”
Beyond providing a new source of strategic advice, the Council will actively help the country increase commercialization, foreign trade and investment.
The Council comprises 43 members – 17 from Malaysia and 25 international members from China, India, Russia, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands, the UK and the USA.
The Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council is Chaired by Dato’ Sri Najib. Its members include Malaysia’s Ambassador to the USA, Dato’ Sri Jamaluddin Jarjis, and four cabinet members.
American economist Jeffrey Sachs, two Nobel laureates, and Rajendra K. Pachauri, head of the Nobel Prize-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are among the international members.
Heading the Council Secretariat: Ellis Rubinstein, NYAS President and Chief Executive Officer, and Prof. Emeritus Dato’ Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Prime Minister of Malaysia, and co-chair of the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT).
Says Mr. Rubinstein: “With an increasingly well-educated population, existing high-tech infrastructure and progressive leadership, Malaysia offers a perfect laboratory in which to potentially demonstrate how a developing country can transition to a high-income economy in an ecologically-sensitive manner. The opportunity has therefore attracted the active interest of some of the world’s foremost business experts and scientists”.
“The Academy is interested in producing solid, meaningful results that will advance the well-being of Malaysians.”
With billions of people expected to live in urban areas in coming decades, a rush is on in several countries to build new green “smart cities,” where necessities like water, power, traffic and communications are managed in a highly-efficient way with sophisticated technological infrastructure. The goal is to improve everything from energy use, health care, education, traffic and shopping by doing it “smarter” with the help of IT.
In Malaysia’s case, the goal is to harness national IT strengths to address some of the country’s most pressing challenges.
Applying IT to targeted municipal issues such as learning, health, and energy conservation will help Malaysia become a center of excellence with distinct technical competencies that can then be exported to other emerging markets.
The Academy can help by benchmarking relevant smart cities programs and activities in other places and by linking leading global IT firms into these activities. In the case of smart villages, efforts may begin with the provision of fundamental Internet technology and wireless access.
The smart city / smart village initiative forms part of Malaysia’s “Innovative Digital Economy” strategy, which in turn forms part of the Prime Minister’s “New Economic Model” to transform Malaysia into a high-income nation by 2020.
Malaysia’s existing strengths in the palm oil industry create opportunities for immediate technological and economic gains, with the country a potential research, development and innovation center for Asia in renewable bio-energy.
Co-operative technology research efforts involving Malaysian companies, academic experts and students to improve crop yields and produce new products for energy generation and nutrition are among the potential initiatives. With the Academy, assisting the design of a public-private partnership to advance palm oil-related innovation and with international connections.
Developing a talented, skilled workforce is key to economic success and Malaysia is pursuing its own path, seeking both short-term wins and long-term reform, starting with a fundamental understanding of the human capital needs of industry, government, and society at large.
National and international mentoring programs and curricula redesign to reflect both domestic educational capabilities and the specialized needs of key economic sectors and social challenges are among the options under consideration.
The Academy’s role envisioned is to help the national government, Malaysia’s National Professors Council and the Academy of Sciences Malaysia create and administer programs to promote mentoring and entrepreneurship, share best practices for post-secondary education reform, help coordinate research strengths and education competencies among campuses, and help create university-industry research partnerships.
“By focusing on high-tech answers to universally-shared environmental and other challenges, Malaysia can do well by doing good,” says Science Advisor Dr. Zakri.
“Simply put, a Green Economy involves all sectors of the economy and is characterized by low carbon emissions, highly efficient use of resources, and a healthy, well-educated populace.”
The 10 sectors thought crucial to achieving a Green Economy are agriculture, construction, energy generation, fisheries, forestry, energy-efficient industry, tourism, transportation, waste management and water supply.
For next year’s “Rio + 20” meeting — a follow-up to the landmark 1992 environmental summit of national leaders in Rio de Janeiro — developing nations have listed the technologies they most urgently need to create a Green Economy. The list was elaborated at a recent meeting in Malaysia of regional members of the International Council of Scientific Unions.
These technologies would:
Desalinate seawater and augment nature’s dwindling stores of freshwater, manage water efficiently and decrease the volume of water needed for agricultural irrigation—responsible today for 70% of world water consumption, store and transport energy better, aid reforestation and promote better health.
The new Malaysian initiatives build on existing national strategies and programs to achieve developed nation status by 2020 and include:
The New Economic Model, The Government Transformation Programme, and The Economic Transformation Programme.
Source: Malaysian Industry‑Government Group for High Technology

Inga Yandell
Explorer and media producer, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide resources and opportunities for creative exploration.