Digital Talent Series Powered by MDEC #MyDigitalWorkforce movement, catalyst for talent to get on the K shaped economic recovery

By Karamjit Singh

  • Take advantage of many govt incentives to take various digital skills courses
  • LinkedIn describes hiring demand as “very high” in Malaysia vs Indon and Phil

As so many employment trends have shown, for instance the 2020 LinkedIn Emerging Jobs Malaysia, the digital economy is already upon us and employers increasingly expect that the talent they hire, can use digital tools to augment their non-digital skills, be it in finance, supply chain, journalism, customer experience or manufacturing.

This was the impetus for the launch of a key new initiative by Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), the #MyDigitalWorkforce movement, which catalyses action from public and private sectors with the goal of re-skilling the Malaysian workforce for the rising number of roles being created in the country’s fast expanding digital economy.

#MyDigitalWorkforce movement, catalyst for talent to get on the K shaped economic recovery

“The MyDigitalWorkforce Movement is yet another initiative catalysed by MDEC in line with our focus on ensuring Malaysians are digitally-skilled for the rising number of job opportunities that require digital tech skills” says MDEC CEO, Surina Shukri (pic).

The urgency of this movement is magnified by the rising belief that the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will likely be K shaped. And you guessed it, the upper half of the K represents step opportunities for all those with the right skills sets to keep moving up in their careers.

These skill sets are increasingly represented by knowledge of and familiarity with applying various digital skills such as analytics, coding, digital marketing, content creation, AI, cybersecurity and cloud, to the existing foundation of skills.

Digital has become a critical subset of new skills that need to be combined with long existing traditional white and blue collar skills.

And, when the likes of Accenture, IBM and Amazon have publicly announced they are reskilling/upskilling significant portions of their workforce, then you know this is real and this is serious.

Being at the heart of Malaysia’s Digital Economy drive, MDEC is well aware of how important these new skills set need to be merged with long established blue and white collar careers. 

Recognising also that no one programme or initiative will meet the needs of all, a plethora of initiatives have been announced recently as part of the grand, and mostly virtual, #MyDigitalWorkforce Week, held during the Aug 24 to Aug 28 period.

With more than 60 webinars and training sessions on topics ranging from games, animation, software, cybersecurity and Global Business Services careers garnering close to 60,000 views, and more than 10,000 job applications submitted, the #MyDigitalworkforce Week was the largest and most comprehensive event organized around the rising importance for any talent, be they fresh graduates, current work force, the unemployed and even those looking to start their higher education, to also equip themselves with some manner of digital related skills to burnish their employability credentials – or to even help them rewrite their career story. This is especially relevant for those still in the early phase of their careers.

This was a point that came up during the kick-off panel session for #MyDigitalWorkforce Week when panelists advised participants to take advantage of the many government incentives to take various digital skills courses that reflect their interest and desire to be digitally savvy and in the process, redirect their career trajectory.#MyDigitalWorkforce movement, catalyst for talent to get on the K shaped economic recovery

But just don’t run off and sign yourself up for as many courses as you can handle in the hope that the more digital courses you have under your belt, the more attractive you will look to an employer. Derek Toh (pic, right), founder and CEO of job portal, WOBB, advices against that.

“Taking digital courses is a good place to start but the next step is to build a portfolio around the programmes you have taken. You need to show that you are genuinely interested in whatever digital courses you have taken.”

According to Toh, at interviews, employers are trying to figure out if the job seeker is really interested and has the right mindset for a digital role.

For Munirah Looi, CEO of Brandt International, a fast growing Global Business Services company, having the right problem solving mindset in her customer experience business is the topping on the cake but that cake has to come with all the right ingredients such as communications and English proficiency; digital interactions; tech literacy and savviness.

But CX or customer experience, which is what Munirah delivers to clients also demands critical thinking, she says. “You must be able take a structured approach to solving specific complex customer issues which do not have ready-made solutions.”

It may sound daunting but all these skills can be acquired, more so when one has the right mindset. The courses are already available, through various incentives offered by the government. And if you do not know where to look, one invaluable resource is the Digital Skills Training Directory, which serves as a reference point for industry-endorsed training programmes and mapped to in-demand career opportunities. For selected courses, Perkeso will fund up to RM4,000 per person per course for unemployed Malaysians who are subscribed to the Employment Insurance System as well as for new employees under the PENJANA Hiring Incentive and Training Programme.

Let’s Learn Digital campaign and the sweetener from Perkeso

One of the key programmes offered specially to unemployed Malaysians is MDEC’s Let’s Learn Digital campaign in partnership with Coursera. Launched in April, it offers free training and is valid until the end of 2020. Adding to the incentive here is that Perkeso will provide learning allowances for every 4 hours of training completed. This however is for qualifying members who subscribe to the Employment Insurance Scheme.

#MyDigitalWorkforce movement, catalyst for talent to get on the K shaped economic recovery

Darshini Natarajah (pic)

a former HR executive who has rejoined the job hunt since January, coming off a five year break to be a full time home maker, has relished the opportunity to take relevant online courses from the MDEC-Coursera partnership. The four courses she took, two on data science including one from Duke University, has helped her present a more current picture in her job hunt besides increasing her self confidence.

She is also practicing what Toh is talking about in building a portfolio, signing up for relevant digital courses next month, one of which is R programming.

She may not have landed a job yet but she is setting herself up for success by augmenting her HR skills with a digital overlay.

You will be mistaken for assuming that jobs are tough to come by in the current tough economic climate but guess what? Tech roles are still aplenty.  And remember that not all vacancies in tech roles demand technical knowledge.

A search of jobs on some leading recruitment sites in Malaysia for July reveals 21,700 vacancies with IT roles forming around 30% of the vacancies. To get a finger on the pulse of the current digital talent pool in Malaysia, LinkedIn data reveals there are almost 184,000 professionals in the digital sector (this includes a variety of non-tech sectors with digital roles such as telco, media, digital content) , with software engineers forming the largest category.

For a sense of the picture in Southeast Asia, LinkedIn reveals that there are 1.22 million professionals in the digital sector with Malaysian ranking behind Indonesia and the Philippines. What’s really interesting here though is that hiring demand is listed as “very high” in Malaysia compared to Indonesia and Philippines.

That’s good news for the likes of Darshini and for Aaron Raj, a fresh computer science graduate who despite his tech education still signed up for some Coursera classes.

Describing the experience as “amazing” with knowledge he didn’t learn at his time in university, Raj says, “I built myself up to prepare for the real world.” Taking some professional certificates from Google, SAS and IBM have been worth their weight in gold for his resume and not surprisingly he is happily employed and enjoying the start of his career.

The highly successful #MyDigitalWorkforceWeek was held last month to encourage and create awareness among the talent pool in Malaysia of the rich opportunities available in digital jobs.
The highly successful #MyDigitalWorkforceWeek was held last month to encourage and create awareness among the talent pool in Malaysia of the rich opportunities available in digital jobs.

The benefit of creating a 30-sec video cover letter

Clearly there are jobs and there is strong interest to hire digital oriented talent. But right now, employers are still trying to find ideal candidates who have digital experience, not just the skills set. According to Wobb’s Toh, the reality is that the talent pool in the market is not there yet in terms of its digital experience and quantity and this is where he advices employers, “to find candidates who are very interested in digital and seem to have a mind for it.”

Hire them, he advices, and then put them through courses the employer wants them to learn.
 “The advantage of the employer paying for the courses is that you get to pick who they learn from and this could be some top expert somewhere in the world and this allows your new recruits to access cutting edge skills,” says Toh.

With Wobb collaborating with MDEC in promoting the newly launched  #MyDigitalWorkforce Jobs Platform, which aggregates digital jobs to make it easier for job seekers to find those jobs, Toh offers two key pieces of advice.

For those looking to change their career story, “rewrite your CV to focus on the new thing you want to do and don’t get caught up in your previous  career.” This repositioning is important so that an employer does not question why an engineer or HR exec is applying for a data job. Instead, they will see a person very interested in a data job who happens to come with an engineering or HR background. “It becomes a completely different picture, even though you are the same person,” he says.

The second piece of advice is on making a video cover letter. “If you feel your story does not come across well in your resume, then drop a 30 second intro on who you are,” he says. “It can make a difference.”

Indeed, there are enough tools, programmes and support structures in the Malaysian digital ecosystem for any job seeker, no matter at what stage of their career, to take advantage of to give themselves that edge in the marketplace.

But as we have been hearing from webinar after webinar and from the various agencies promoting the digital economy, job seekers must have that can-do attitude and mindset to want to make a difference in their careers. No support programme can inject that into you. That has to come from within you.

Originally published on Digital News Asia, 28 September, 2020

Restaurant owner saves family business by going digital during MCO


SENTUL: When the movement control order was announced in March, Kartik Ganason feared the worst, believing it could spell the end of his family’s 33-year-old restaurant.

Four of his family’s shops had closed down during previous economic downturns. He knew the last outlet would not be able to survive a hit such as the restrictions of the MCO.

“I was in a state of depression. I didn’t know what to do because we could not open for business,” said Kartik, whose Restoran Citra Maju was started by his father in 1987.

Kartik trained as an engineer but gave up his career to take over the family business when his father fell ill six years ago.

With his family’s livelihood under threat, he knew he would need to act quickly to keep his father’s legacy alive.

He decided to take Restoran Citra Maju online and signed up for Maybank’s Sama Sama Lokal after being approached by the service.The platform offered him a way to sell his food online and gave him the training and support he needed.

It only took Maybank a week to get the restaurant fully set up and online after receiving the company registration number, address and menu.

Everything from his profile and online menu to his payment gateway was handled by the Sama Sama Lokal team, who also walked him through how it would work and how to best communicate with customers and delivery drivers.

He said everything was transparent and easy to understand, keeping him from being overwhelmed by too many details.

The platform works like most food delivery services, but unlike other platforms which take cuts as high as 30%, vendors are not charged a commission. They are also paid within 24 hours.

Since going digital, Citra Maju’s business has improved by 50% and the shop serves nearly 150 more customers every week, as the system gives it an additional income stream and allows it to be seen by a wider group of new customers.

Even people from Puchong, some 30km away, have come to his shop since it reopened for dine-in customers.

Fans of Citra Maju who found the restaurant through Sama Sama Lokal have also asked it to cater for events, which Kartik sees as a big opportunity.

He believes digital platforms like these have the potential to help many other small businesses as it makes going digital accessible for everyone.

Now, he plans to attend training sessions organised by the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) through its eUsahawan programme, which he hopes can give him the tools to further grow his online presence and reach even more customers.

Having seen the way the shop has grown in such a short period, Kartik says he has no plans to leave the business behind, and takes pride in managing the business and continuing the family legacy. In fact, he is already looking to expand the Citra Maju brand as his father once did, with two new outlets planned for 2021.

“Before I came back, the first 10 years of my career I was away from my family. I missed everything. I couldn’t be there for good or for bad. But now, I’m not leaving them. I need to be here for them.”

MDEC recently launched its #SayaDigital movement, and its CEO Surina Shukri said the core objective of the initiative is to provide Malaysians with digital skills and to empower businesses to go digital.

“We want to equip individuals and businesses with the tools needed for them to thrive in the new normal while making giant strides in the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

Various programmes such as PeDAS, eUsahawan, eRezeki, 100 Go Digital, Go-eCommerce and eBerkat are designed to help cultivate the digitalisation of local businesses.

During August, #SayaDigital will feature several MDEC-led programmes, providing businesses with various means to go digital and enabling Malaysians to be digitally skilled with speed and at scale.

The first two weeks of the movement focused on scaling digital adoption among businesses, while the subsequent two weeks provide opportunities for Malaysians to learn and enhance their digital skills.

The recent SME Digital Summit, the first of its kind in Malaysia, attracted over one million participants who learned about and implemented digital solutions to restart or expand their businesses.

For more on how #SayaDigital can guide your journey through digitalisation, go to

First published by Free Malaysia Today.

From freelancing students to digital empire, the story of Softinn

Softinn team

PETALING JAYA: Jeeshen Lee and Caren Tee were still in university when they discovered that the Seri Malaysia and Tabung Haji hotel chains were among the largest in the country.

Ten years down the line, Seri Malaysia and Tabung Haji are among the 266 hotel brands the couple serve in Malaysia and Indonesia with their specialised software for hospitality properties.

“Back then, we were studying and taking up freelance jobs to pay for our tuition fees. So, when we heard there was a business competition with a RM10,000 cash prize, we knew we had to enter,” said Lee.

The competition, organised by Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), required participants to submit a business plan. On top of the cash prize, there was also a follow-up grant to be won.

“Our idea was for a hotel software system,” Lee said. “We came up with it because a friend of ours spoke to us about the challenges he faced running his hotel.”

As part of their pitch for the MDEC competition, Lee said they had to come up with a list of possible clients. They included Seri Malaysia and Tabung Haji as they had among the largest inventory of rooms.

“We didn’t win, we got second place. But we didn’t give up, and what started as a means to win a cash prize evolved into a labour of love as MDEC sent us to conferences and pitching sessions.

“This helped us grow into entrepreneurs, and in 2012, we founded Softinn with a paid-up capital of RM5,000, mostly to rent servers.”

Softinn offers hotels software for check-in, reservations and front office operations, at prices affordable for small and boutique hotels.

“A five-star hotel will have the infrastructure, expensive IT systems, a digital marketing set-up and loyalty programmes.

“But for four-star hotels and anyone smaller, this would be too costly. That is where we can help.”

Essentially, Softinn provides their clients with the infrastructure and platform to improve productivity and operational efficiency while creating large savings.

What started off as a company comprising just Lee, Tee and two other employees to serve fewer than 30 customers has since grown into a team of 15 serving 1,267 customers.

“In the first two years, Tee and I did not draw a salary,” Lee said.

But in just eight years, Softinn expanded its empire from a single client, a three-storey shop lot hotel in Muar, Johor to over 1,000 properties including chains in Malaysia and Indonesia.

“We provide hotels with a website and a booking engine that allows travellers to book their stay directly with our clients. The travellers get a better deal and our client does not need to pay a commission to online travel agents.”

Lee said the system, which costs 80% less to run than international systems used by larger hotels, can help hotels save up to RM1,000 a month on commissions paid to agents.

The system also allows hotels to gain insight into customer behaviour, patterns and opportunities which can be used to refine their marketing strategies and optimise sales.

Lee said businesses have to embrace and unleash their digital potential.

“It’s not just about software, it is about what data can do for business. This is something which in the past may have been a luxury for smaller hotels, but not anymore.”

As for Softinn, Lee said they have not forgotten what MDEC did for him and his wife, adding that they were still working closely with them.

“We are collaborating with them on their SME Digitalisation grant to offer a 50% matching grant for boutique hotels to digitalise their businesses.”

Commenting on the success stories of local SMEs like Softinn, in conjunction with the launch of #SayaDigital Month, MDEC CEO Surina Shukri said: “The idea is for MDEC to empower businesses to take the digital leap to thrive in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and to achieve shared prosperity for all Malaysians.

“MDEC will continue to support businesses via digital empowerment platforms such as the highly successful SME Digital Summit, which has just concluded. This is our first in a series of events in conjunction with #SayaDigital Month, which aims to accelerate a digital society in Malaysia.”

The month-long campaign aims to expand digital skills and adoption among Malaysians and local businesses, empowering them to successfully navigate the new normal.

The first two weeks of the #SayaDigital movement will focus on empowering digital businesses, while the second half will provide opportunities for Malaysians to learn and enhance their digital skills.

Watch MDEC’s videos on digital businesses on or at for inspiration.

First published on Free Malaysia Today

#SayaDigital #DigitalLeap #DigitalBusiness


Article credit to Digital News Asia
Written by Dzof Azmi

Assoc. Prof TS Dr Wan Mohd Nasir Wan Kadir has nothing but plaudits for Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC): “They make industry work for us!”

The Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Chair of School of Computing in the Faculty of Engineering is specifically referring to the productive relationship between academia and industry, courtesy of the Premier Digital Tech Institutions (PDTI) initiative.

It was only in June 2019 that it was announced that the PDTI pilot had proved successful enough to warrant a continued rollout. Its objective: To bridge the gap between universities and companies in order to produce a more employable graduate, specifically with an eye on the digital economy.

Eleven universities and five polytechnics are included in the initiative, based on criteria that they provide a conducive learning ecosystem that includes: Student employability; Industry experience of staff; Mentoring; Robustness of final year projects; Research linkages with industry and; Career placement services. 

Certainly, from a number’s perspective, the PDTI initiative has been impactful. More than 25,000 students have enrolled in digital tech courses in 2019, an increase of almost 40% compared to 2017. An even more important data point is the fact that the average graduate employment rate was 95%. It was 88% before the introduction of the PDTI.

“We started with Computer Science & IT faculties as those provide the foundational knowledge required for most digital tech companies” explains Dr Sumitra Nair, MDEC’s vice president for Digital Talent Development. “However, as Digital Tech became  increasingly embedded across more economic sectors, we realised the need to expand our focus horizontally to more faculties.”

Not only is digital tech now broadened into non-digital faculties like Engineering, Business, and Economics, but the level of applied knowledge called for has also increased. “Demand for skill-based graduates with Digital Tech expertise has also prompted us to commence efforts to work with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions,” adds Sumitra. The best proof of this is in LinkedIN’s Emerging Jobs Report Malaysia 2020 where all of the most promising jobs of today and the future have a strong tech element to them. Even in construction, one of the key job openings are for BIM (Building Information Modelling) Specialists.

Work-based learning and real-life content

Meanwhile, Wan Mohd Nasir shares that each year, UTM organises an Industry Advisory Panel (IAP). “We get feedback from them to improve our curriculum and make students more relevant to industry,” he explains.

One major outcome is the introduction of work-based learning (WBL) “We make sure that the students work closely with the real problems from industry,” he adds, with projects supplied by the companies they collaborate with.

The other is industry-based training with industry giving talks, three times a year with some courses having a module where students will make a presentation to a panel of industry partners.                      

Ng Sang Beng, the CEO of Aemulus, a Penang-based listed semiconductor components company, who has been actively involved in the PDTI initiative, is a big advocate of giving students exposure to real-world situations, to the point that he wants greater, not less, involvement. “Universities should consider a longer period of internship,” he said, “Students can receive training on the latest technologies, (and ) with that, they can bring these skills to their first employment.”

Ng even suggests that academics play a more engaged role. “It would be best to have lecturers visit during the internship as this will allow the academics to understand further on industry’s requirements,” he says.

Keeping faculty on the cutting edge

Ng makes an important about academic involvement – the ones who mould, guide and sharpen students. And, MDEC is all in. In fact, this year MDEC is working with eight industry partners to upskill another 200 PDTI lecturers, on top of the 240 who have benefited since 2017. The focus areas represent the most relevant topics today, including Data Science, AI, Cybersecurity, Networking, Cloud Management, Databases, and Java.

“It is very important for the teaching staff to keep themselves abreast with the latest technologies and trends in the industry,” agrees Dr Goh Hui Ngo, Multimedia University (MMU) Dean for the Faculty of Computing and Informatics. “We would like to minimise the gap and set industry expectations with the students. (For example), in 2018 and 2019 we sent staff to IBM and MDEC,” she said. “This is an important activity to enable us in developing future-proof academic programmes that meet the market needs.”

Covering the fundamentals

“It is very important to us that we don’t just cover the skills but make sure the students understand why and how they are important,” concurs Ng Shu Min, HELP University, Head of School of ICT. “We are constantly asking students to attend extra workshops and training and guest lectures too, but I think they will only appreciate it later!”

“I would say a graduate is “industry-ready” if he or she has been able to see a technical project through from start to finish, can communicate ideas well in reports and presentations, is keen to learn and not afraid to ask questions.”

This sort of collaboration requires dedication and tight cooperation from all those involved, with Shu Min acknowledging that, “MDEC is very good at creating opportunities for us to collaborate with industry.”

As a result, HELP often receives requests from industry partners for interns. “We have had very good feedback from internship supervisors with ‘repeat’ requests from companies for our graduates,” she says with communications skills, adaptability and work ethic being singled out by employers.

A balance between academia and industry

As much as academia wants to see students come out job-ready, a balance needs to be struck. “Sometimes industry expects our students to be fully equipped with the required specific knowledge and skills, although the students are only in year 2 or 3 of their study,” says Wan Mohd Nasir.

Better expectation management between parties is needed. “We overcame this by engaging industry through a series of workshops and discussions. This approach has helped. For example, we’ve simplified our student assessment tools, which were too academic and lengthy for the industry,” he admits.

Nevertheless, while academia has the final say on what goes on in the classroom, the PDTI are always open to new ideas, especially if it improves graduate employability by bridging theory to the practical.

Getting jobs, great salaries

The single most important metric of the PDTI, graduate employability and relevance in the digital economy has certainly improved. Wan Mohd Nasir confirms that job placement has risen from 88% to 95% at UTM, with many instances of students securing jobs even before graduating. Other PDTIs even report of 100% graduate employability.

UTM graduates have found jobs quite easily, mostly as application consultants and developers with the most popular post being software engineers. Employers including high-profile ones such as Intel, Top Glove, DHL, Maybank, Maxis, Schlumberger, Dyson, Forest Interactive, Heitech Padu, and Aemulus.

Wan Mohd Nasir notes that average starting salaries range from RM3,500 to RM10,000 (S$3,250) for those who got jobs in Singapore. “Demand, for now, is too high,” he quips.

[RM1 = US$0.23]

Further strengthening career prospects for students, the Career Development Centre Club (CDCC) was launched in 2017, initially with 13 PDTIs. The objective is to share best practices in strengthening the career readiness and employability among students and graduates. Most CDCC members of staff are certified by the National Career Development Association (NCDA). It has now expanded to include non-PDTIs as well with 29 members (including 5 polytechnics).

Keeping an eye on the curve and offering microcredits

Apart from satisfying the volume of demand, the challenge upon PDTIs is to also deliver depth. This is where the Industry Competency Centres (ICCs) and Centres of Excellence (CoE) come into play with their focus on key industry 4.0 areas such as Big Data Analytics, Blockchain, AI, Autonomous Robotic, IoT, Cybersecurity, AR and Simulation.

Funding for some of these centres are via the MOE-MITI Industry4WRD initiative, while two others are being funded by MDEC.

“The objective is for talent development and technology propagation. In terms of exposure, the centre team members have been engaged as industrial consultants in various capacities,” MMU’s Goh explains.

Examples of collaboration include one with the Ministry of Health where data analytics is being used to track Covid-19 cases in Selangor. Other companies involved in other partnerships include AirAsia, Australian-based property leader, REA Group and Hitachi EBWorx.

Improving relations and recruitment

Now that the link between academia and industry is beginning to show dividends, some believe that more should be done to encourage students to foster similar closer relationships.

“IT students need to be more outgoing and build friendships and networks,” observes Shu Min. “We plan to provide our students more opportunities for work-based learning, and plan to start involving them in industry projects during their first year at university.”

“We also have a work-based learning option where students can spend their entire third and final year placed in industry.”

And as success begets success, there is a growing realisation that getting digital skills adds a shine to whatever foundation you may already have. “Students and parents nowadays are looking for more flexibility in education, so as to be relevant to industry,” says MMU’s Goh.

Recognising this, together with a softening job market, Sumitra points to a scheme from MDEC to help “top-up” skills. “We are working closely with PDTIs on various industry collaborations including the introduction of micro credentials to ensure students have industry certifications before they graduate.”

As to what’s next for the PDTIs, according to MDEC, since the model has proven to be successful, they are exploring possibilities to expand it to more universities and TVET institutions across the country.


Written By Camilia Rezali for @Halal Magazine

When Datuk Dr Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff was offered the chairmanship of Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), it took him a while to decide.

It was, after all, also the first time he would be receiving taxpayers funds as his monthly allowance. But it reminded him of the responsibility to lead MDEC was also a trust (amanah) placed upon him from God. 

For Rais, the job is something right up his street. He has extensive experience in IT and communications, including co-authoring a book on AI, blockchain and fintech. And he is passionate about promoting Industry 4.0.

His enthusiasm for the job was evident. Just a day after his appointment on June 15, he issued a statement calling for the concept of Malaysia 5.0 as a new narrative for the country.

He felt it would position Malaysia as an innovation economy that could compete in a disruptive technology world and serve as a springboard into the Asean region, acting as a bridge between Asia, Middle East and Africa and interconnect with the 1.8 billion Islamic population worldwide.

He also wants to position Malaysia as an early-stage Islamic fintech start-up hub to attract local and foreign start-ups to anchor regional operations in the country.

In this wide-ranging interview with @Halal, Rais touches on several key issues, including MDEC’s role during the current economic challenges, e-commerce, the digital economy, the fintech ecosystem, Islamic finance and skills training.

Congratulations on your appointment as chairman. What were your first thoughts when offered this post?
Well, to be honest, it took a while for me before I decided to accept the offer. Thinking that for the first time, I will be receiving rakyat’s money as my monthly allowance places a heavy weight on my shoulder. It reminded me this responsibility is an “amanah” from Allah SWT (God) for me to lead the organisation in the best manner.

Nonetheless, I am thankful and honoured for this opportunity and trust to lead an organisation which has been driving an initiative that I have been pushing for and have passion for, which is the Industry 4.0. This dedication, thus, has resulted in the publication of a book entitled 4IR: Reinventing the Nation which I co-authored with one of the world’s leading blockchain experts, Dinis Guarda.

What I have in mind and hope for is for MDEC to move to the next level in playing a leading role in driving our economy and Malaysians in the transition to Malaysia 5.0 as the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we live our lives.

Whereas our Industry 4.0 still seems to be technology-driven, Malaysia 5.0 will be society-driven where you’ll see a lot of convergence in getting the virtual space via digitalisation going back to and fro towards the physical space. As a result, we will see a societal transformation. It makes society the master of technology rather than becoming a slave of technology.

You have vast experience in IT and communications, including co-authoring the book with DinisGuarda. How is this useful in leading MDEC?

As I have expressed before, my passion and dedication to promoting Industry 4.0 shows how driven I am to ensure the progress of Malaysia and Malaysians in the process of embracing digital transformation.

I envision Malaysia 5.0 as the new narrative for our country. With that, one of my proposals is to have a designated hub that interconnects 4IR companies in Malaysia to the rest of the world, with strong regulatory and strategic oversight and direction from MDEC, aligned with ongoing and newly-announced stimulus packages such as Prihatin and Penjana.

I also hope the existing initiatives pursued by MDEC would be monitored proactively and be of a transparent manner to ensure we via our platforms reach those who are in need. It is the right time to start and progress. If such vision and mission are missing from our National Strategy, Malaysia would be left behind and excluded from digital ecosystems and workforces.

Given the current economic challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, MDEC’s role and function have become more crucial. Your comments, please.

Yes, I am very well aware of this fact. Since the pandemic and then the MCO (Movement Control Order), our society has mostly adapted to the new norm by detaching ourselves from the physical infrastructure and relying on digital-based support to avoid frequent physical contact. This current reality has provided more opportunities and responsibilities for MDEC to be more engaged with society. I am quite impressed with what MDEC has done so far in terms of promoting digital initiatives amid the crisis known as #DigitalvsCovid Movement. There are e-learning platforms for students and trained professionals to access from home as educational institutions remain closed, avenues for the entrepreneurs and SMEs to register for digital jobs such as eRezeki, and a platform for businesses to shift online through eUsahawan and Go-eCommerce.

It requires constant monitoring by MDEC by conducting impact assessments to ensure these measures are the right ones and are effective. Lastly, frequent updates to ensure the relevance of each initiative to the current situation is also essential.

How significant is the contribution of e-commerce to the digital economy?

I will say without hesitation that e-commerce is very critical to the growth of the digital economy in Malaysia. In 2017, it contributed RM85.8 billion, which translates to 6.3 per cent of the entire digital economy. E-commerce recorded a 14.3 per cent year-on-year (y-o-y) growth from 2016 to 2017. From the figures, e-commerce is a crucial driver of the digital economy. With Covid-19 disrupting the supply chain as well as affecting consumer behaviour and habits, e-commerce is not only set to grow further but serve as catalyst and impetus for the digitalisation of SMEs.

MDEC is expecting a 20 per cent growth in e-commerce contribution to the digital economy this year despite the MCO. The anticipated contribution to GDP could go up to as high as RM170 billion for 2020.We forecast the projected growth could be achieved through the active intervention of various ecosystem partners via ongoing initiatives.

How can the RM500 million SME Technology Transformation Fund and RM100million Smart Automation Grant initiatives be streamlined to assist SMEs?

The concern now is the low take-up of the Fund and Grant. I don’t see bureaucracy as an issue here. Let me give you an example. On paper, the SME Digitalisation Matching Grants worth RM500 million over five years will benefit 100,000 SMEs. But we are working hard with relevant agencies to identify ways to track and measure in making sure the over 907,065 SMEs in Malaysia benefit from these incentives.

What matters is what I put down as the 3Es – education, exposure and engineering. They are inter-related. SMEs need to be educated, exposed and have their business models engineered to be digitalised. All three require sustainable and robust support from agencies like MDEC.

MDEC’s SME digitalisation initiatives have to date onboard 230 Technology Solution Providers (TSP) with 595 digital and technology solutions to support over 200 SMEs.

Meanwhile, under MDEC’s 100 Go Digital programme, we have engaged more than 100,000 SMEs nationwide with the support of 12 industry partners.

Islamic finance and the digital economy are key economic growth areas. How will MDEC help drive this growth?

The Shared Prosperity Vision (SPV) 2030 has identified Islamic finance and digital economy as Key Economic Growth Activities (KEGA). If I may quote from MDEC Islamic Fintech Report 2020: “This is a strategic move leveraging on Malaysia’s well-established global leadership in Islamic finance. It can be said to be a culmination of decades-long strong top-down approach and clear vision while taking advantage of the digital revolution in recognition of the transformative value the digital economy could play in the country’s overall economic growth”.(Note: please see sidebar).

How do you rate Malaysia’s Fintech ecosystem compared to other countries?

Malaysia is not an economy to be jealous of since its annual growth has averaged under 5 per cent for over the past five years. But the fintech adoption in the country and the interest from the local government to pursue this profitable industry might be a game-changer for Malaysia.With a population of 32.6 million and Internet penetration at a whopping 86 per cent, the country is ranked 1st in Southeast Asia when it comes to mobile penetration.

This is not surprising. The potential for innovation within fintech enhances financial services like cross-border remittance, fund management, insurance or captive insurance as well as forex and online payment processing, making it easier and faster to perform many financial tasks.

As of 2019, there are 196 key fintech players in Malaysia, and according to the Fintech Malaysia Report 2019, 38 per cent of them are in e-wallet and digital payment.Despite being new in Malaysia, the growth rate of fintech is phenomenal and is rapidly becoming a central part of the country’s financial sector, with considerable promise for expansion.

How can Malaysia, as a global leader in Islamic Finance, drive the Islamic digital economy and what is the role of MDEC in this regard?

With over 1.7 billion Muslims around the world, an influential Islamic digital economy provides a unique and competitive advantage for Malaysia to lead the regional and global Islamic digital marketplace. This possibility is heightened with the expected growth of the global Islamic economy to US$3.0 trillion by 2021. With most services in the B2C space, addressing Muslim consumer needs and pain points is critical in driving Digital Islamic Services opportunities, adoption and growth.

How do you get more industry stakeholders across different sectors to enhance the growth of Islamic finance in Malaysia?

Our Islamic finance system has been growing tremendously for the past few years, from retail to commercial Islamic banking and finance, to general and life takaful insurance and to sectors of the Islamic capital market. So, it is not difficult to continue encouraging it if the approach for Islamic finance is appropriate. 

The related authorities should improve shariah governance through research and development. Besides, the infrastructure to support further development of the Islamic financial industry in addressing the institutional capacity for the national and international levels should be strengthened to avoid any complications and people’s reluctance to take part in Islamic finance.

MDEC is providing skills training designed to bring in additional income avenues for Malaysians. How has the response been?

The response has been immensely great because the skills training offered by MDEC has helped many people generate extra income through various opportunities. This is through MDEC’s collaboration with a lot of companies to help individuals, entrepreneurs and businesses mainly through digital technologies.

For example, the new skills training to overcome the challenges of Covid-19 with Digital Technology has been well-received by many individuals and businesses as the training programmes provide reliable solutions to be leveraged on such as digital income and e-learning.

Last year, participants of MDEC’s GLOW (Global Online Workforce) programme generated an income of RM70 million by performing services mainly to international clients. What are your expectations for 2020?

Although this year is challenging due to the rise of Covid-19 pandemic, there is nothing to worry about the performance of MDEC’s GLOW initiative. Instead, this comes in as an opportunity for Malaysians to be part of the online global workforce since most of them might have faced an unfortunate situation and lost their jobs during this trying time.

Moreover, with the RM25 million government allocation to MDEC in the Penjana package, this can be utilised to drive incomes further through GLOW this year. However, I don’t have a specific number for it.

How do you see the growth of digital payments and wallets in Malaysia?

The emergence of e-commerce and technology-led initiatives, mainly since the pandemic are the key factors which are driving the digital payment market trends.

In recent years, Samsung Pay, Google, Alipay and Apple have emerged as the top players in the digital payment market. But Malaysia is not too far behind as we have Grabpay, TnGEwallet, and Boost to drive the local digital payment market. These players have undertaken massive investments in advanced technologies and have expanded their businesses in digital payment services.

With the current situation, using digital payments can help you avoid physical touch, avoid wasting time from the long queues at the ATMs and some convenience stores, and of course eliminate the hassle of carrying cash.

With the cashless payment adaptation, experts claim it would add more than three percentage points to the GDP. It is due to the increasing velocity of value transfers and the growing level of spending as making expenses is now less tangible. To add on, a data research firm Statista has also projected digital payments in Malaysia to jump 19.1% to US$11,904 million (RM50,949 million) in 2020.

It shows how valuable and “current” digital economy is now, and it is the way to move forward for Malaysia. Covid-19 has accelerated the migration of society from physical infrastructures into digital infrastructures, turning into a cashless society.

Nonetheless, the built-in of excellent digital infrastructures like stable mobile applications or online banking system is vital as its absence can be a hindrance for society to adapt to the cashless payment.

When do you expect the Shop Malaysia Online campaign to take off?

I can see that it is progressing. Some of the online platforms have recently started the initiative announced in Penjana. Lazada Malaysia has teamed up with TnG digital to launch an RM6 million programme named #KitaBantuKita to accelerate spending among Malaysian consumers on local products. I am positive that this campaign will benefit our local businesses and help them to recover from this crisis.


Article written for @Halal Magazine

The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) plans to establish a leading body at a national level to champion the Islamic fintech agenda

MDEC intends to position Malaysia as an early-stage Islamic fintech start-up hub to attract local and foreign start-ups to anchor regional operations in the country and use Malaysia as a gateway to Asean.

“We want to build an inclusive fintech ecosystem. It will comprise Islamic fintech start-ups, corporates, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Shariah banks, Islamic asset managers and practitioners in the Zakat, Waqf and Sadaqah space,” Chairman Datuk Dr Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff said.

“We also want to develop a local talent base and improve the awareness and understanding of Islamic fintech among stakeholders, especially investors and corporates.”

MDEC also wants to encourage B2B collaboration between Islamic banks to conduct research and development and support Islamic fintech ecosystem.

It will establish an effective mechanism to address regulatory grey areas and utilise existing tools or establish new ones to facilitate private investments into Islamic fintech.

On whether there was a need to rethink Malaysia’s approach to Islamic Fintech, Rais said the wide variety of Islamic FinTech and its diversified business plans make it challenging for regulators to build up a one-size-fits-all regulatory framework.

The government thus needs to think of providing supportive regulations for the Islamicfintech sector.

“Not too loose or too strict. The too-loose regulation will result in problems such as negligence of customer protection and privacy while the too-strict regulation may hamper the development of Islamic fintech.

“The rules should protect all parties involved in the Islamic fintech practice, namely, the firms, customers, and investors,” Rais added.

He said another challenge was the threat to information security and privacy.  It was imperative as for the consumer; trust is everything. The adequacy of current security standards and protocols is questioned considering the high number of cybersecurity events in recent years.

“There should be a rethink of two important matters. Regular meetings and engagement between the regulators and fintech stakeholders in the early stage of regulatory development are very crucial and necessary in building clarity and a secure environment.”

Rais said the growth rate of Islamic finance in Malaysia was impressive by any standard.

However, to encourage more industry stakeholders across different sectors in enhancing the growth of Islamic finance in Malaysia, the products and services should be diversified in attracting every area to participate in Islamic finance. 

“There should be more effective initiatives for every sector in terms of providing precise and detailed encouragement as well as a clear explanation of the differences between Islamic finance and the conventional system.

“Our Islamic finance system has been growing tremendously for the past few years, from retail to commercial Islamic banking and finance, to general and life takaful insurance and sectors of the Islamic capital market. So, it is not difficult to continue encouraging it if the approach for Islamic finance is appropriate,” he said.

From time to time, he said, Islamic finance should be conducted more efficiently by reducing its limitations such as the conflicts between its implementation and the rule of Islamic law.

He felt the related authorities should improve shariah governance through research and development.

Also, the infrastructure to support further development of the Islamic financial industry in addressing the institutional capacity for the national and international levels should be strengthened to avoid complications and people’s reluctance to take part in Islamic finance.

MDEC can help Malaysia, which is a global leader in Islamic Finance, drive the Islamic digital economy. Rais said as with most services in the B2C space, addressing Muslim consumer needs and pain points was critical to driving digital Islamic services opportunities, adoption and growth.

“Digitally and commercially, Islamic finance, Islamic media, halal travel, modest fashion and halal food stand as the most attractive industry verticals with the most significant digital services activity and online market potential.

“For instance, the global revolution in communication technology (through social media, mobile and broadband technologies and smartphones) has enabled the Islamic Economy lifestyle sectors to achieve a wider global reach and exposure,” he revealed. 

He said MDEC could provide platforms for relevant businesses to enhance and improve their sales portal for modest fashion apparel and accessories. It can be as good as other giant e-commerce platforms like Amazon and eBay, since e-commerce, in general, was the most effective and fastest-growing digital service, not only in Malaysia but all over the world.

There are also excellent opportunities in the Islamic economy education and Smart Mosque areas. Smart Mosques is where mosques are employing modern ICT technologies that enable them to interact with users in a way that enhances their understanding and improves their prayer experience. It also includes mosques which apply smart technologies to resolve practical issues to improve their efficiency, effectiveness, sustained operation and maintenance.

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