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Working together to improve education in Malaysia
- Quek Sue Yian, director, Hong Leong Foundation
- Maimon Arif Patail, director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Hap Seng Group
- Eddie Razak, executive vice-president, Social Innovation, Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM)
- Kathleen Chew, programme director, YTL Foundation
Moderator: Francis Kan
The Business Times: Why did your foundation take part in the Malaysia Collective Impact Initiative (MCII)?
Quek Sue Yian: Together with Credit Suisse, Hap Seng and Sapura, we were among the foundations actively involved in pushing this initiative into a collective impact group. We came together because of a common concern about what is next for the next generation. As we fanned out and surveyed other foundations, we realised that education was the common thread with most of the foundations, and those who wanted to work together gradually came together.
Maimon Arif Patail: We have to explore this new model as current interventions are not working. The statistics coming out from the Ministry of Education on the output from our schools are disappointing, and the bane in the Malaysian education system can't continue. We can't continue doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome.
Eddie Razak: Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM) is currently running a project known as the Social Public-Private Partnership, a project under the National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS). The project taps into the strengths of the government, the private sector and the social sector to address social disparities by looking at new ways of delivering social service. As MCII is about corporations collaborating for social good, AIM believes this presented a good opportunity for us to support as both parties are driven by the same agenda.
Kathleen Chew: We went to thousands of schools to provide Internet services and realised there were a lot of problems. Not only did they not have enough computers but there were issues of teaching not being delivered properly and disengaged children. The problem is huge and we can only address a small part of it. With MCII, we can get together and help a foundation do what it does best in this space.
BT: What role are you playing in the project?
Ms Quek: Hong Leong Foundation is part of the Steering Committee for this initiative. In terms of financial assistance, all partner foundations contribute to the programme backbone that is responsible for project planning, management and performance measurement on their behalf. In addition to this, relevant Hong Leong Foundation projects such as the After School programme, skills training and so forth would be expanded into targeted areas, namely in Klang Valley, upon instruction from this centralised office.
Ms Maimon: One of the uniqueness of the team that forms MCII is the fact that there is no one appointed as a leader, nor any committee appointment! The best person or the available person takes leadership, volunteers or takes turns to fill roles as and when they arise.
Mr Eddie: Besides funding, AIM with its fellow agency Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) are assisting in terms of capacity building for social purpose organisations (SPOs), providing social impact measurement through the creation of a social impact measurement toolkit, and also getting the buy-in where we can from other government agencies or ministries as and when needed.
BT: What are you hoping to achieve and change in the long term?
Ms Quek: We would like to see measurable impact within our targeted areas, where all methods and parameters are well documented in a comprehensive "how-to" kit. This proof of concept, so to speak, would showcase the value of our work to any interested parties, including the government, which could then play a lead role in the implementation of similar initiatives in problem areas nationwide. Alternatively, such a wholesale approach could even be introduced should there be increased and sufficient participation from other supportive foundations.
Ms Maimon: To see that this model is as relevant in Malaysia as it is in the US, or the other parts of the world. We also want to see a systemic change in education and have this model scaled to other geographical areas in Malaysia.
Mr Eddie: We hope to get greater participation from all sectors to allow for increases in scale, allowing for replications of successful projects in other areas, and the maximisation of impact to the targeted recipients. This could lead to the possibility of one day lessening, or perhaps eradicating, some social issues.
Ms Chew: Education is very important in Asia. We hope that we can really break the cycle of poverty by improving the education system. The end goal is to see a big change in education for the future of our children.
BT: Why is collaboration important?
Ms Quek: I have been involved with Hong Leong Foundation since 2007 and one personal observation over the years is that unless we change the way in which we work together, no large-scale impact for change will be forthcoming. Indeed, we have our measurable impact studies for our various programmes and while these support intended solutions, it would never be on a scale as large as it would otherwise be as a collective effort.
Ms Maimon: Yes, because more people are realising the power of mass collaborations or syndications. Cross-sector collaborations in particular are a goldmine because of their wealth of capacity, knowledge and resources.
With collaborations like this in tackling social issues, we can penetrate our target audience better and create greater impact. This is where collaborators can leverage on each other's strengths and multiply the impact or desired result.
Mr Eddie: By collaborating, we hope specific social needs are met through innovative and engaging intervention by localised SPOs with better skills and stronger support networks. We also believe beneficiaries stand to benefit more as impact is maximised.
Furthermore, collaborations allow for the scaling-up interventions to include a larger pool of beneficiaries.
Ms Chew: We went to the schools and realised that no one person can solve all the problems. But there are other people in different spheres of influence who can help make a difference.
Working in a bigger group also gives us more resources.
BT: What have been the challenges so far and how have they been overcome?
Ms Maimon: Getting the buy-in from stakeholders and getting them to understand and embrace the concept and idea of collective impact - it is a mindset change. Finding the talent to run the backbone has proven to be quite a challenge.
Mr Eddie: Collective impact requires a great amount of effort in aligning funding and strategies to support its initiatives' goals. The strengthening of existing relationships and the development of new partnerships through effective and open communication are key to success. Early results have shown that the partners are increasingly shifting their works and mindsets to align with the goals by embedding aligned strategies in their own strategic plans.
Ms Chew: We are used to working on our own programmes and now we have to try to get a consensus - that can be quite challenging sometimes, but as long as we all have our eyes fixed on the goal, we can remain focused.