The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) has been a force to be reckoned with for nearly 25 years. Established in 1996 as the leading agency to lead the MSC Malaysia initiative, it has evolved in the last decade to being a key agency under the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia (KKMM) with a track-record of successfully leading the digital economy growth in Malaysia.
MDEC has been spurring the nation’s digital economy through three key thrusts – empowering digital skills, enabling digitally-powered businesses and driving digital sector investments. The initiatives lead by MDEC have had a positive impact on the nation’s economy; according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia the digital economy accounted for 18.5% of Malaysia’s GDP in 2018 and the growth continues to be bullish with the increase in digital adoption nationwide.
We met with Surina Shukri, CEO of MDEC, for a quick chat.
“Digitalisation of the workforce” has always been a key mandate for MDEC since its inception. How has this mantra shaped MDEC’s journey thus far?
Talent has been a key component of the nation’s digital ecosystem. The digital competency of Malaysians is essential to facilitate digitalisation at all levels of society and businesses as well as to support the development of our digital industries. This thrust is focused on up-skilling Malaysians via initiatives and programmes targeted at different segments of society, so they are equipped to thrive in the various digitalised occupations.
One example is #MyDigitalMaker. Launched in August 2016, it is an initiative that encourages and provides opportunities for students to become digital creators, producers and innovators. The initiative is also in collaboration with the Ministry of Education Malaysia to train teachers on programming, micro controller and computational skills.
To date, 1.3 million students and 88,000 teachers have been empowered with digital skills. For the period Jan-June 2020, 2,000 teachers were trained for computational thinking skills certification and Science Teaching Certificate. Digital Maker Hub is now being scaled-up by the Ministry of Education, resulting in the surge of interest for digital skills among students.
Digital Ninja is another leadership and digital skills enhancement programme that hones the youths’ innate know-how, provides exposure and inspires change-makers. As of 2019, 20 new projects were conceptualised and developed involving 407 students nationwide.
To prepare graduates, we launched the Premier Digital Tech Institutions (PDTI) in August 2017, an initiative we started in recognition of 16 top institutions of higher learning that can deliver first-class training in digital technology. In June 2019, we also began a campaign called Empowering Women in Cyber Risk Management, a reskilling programme to encourage women to return to the workforce. 26 women were trained in 7 different sessions which ultimately saw 42% return to the workforce.
eRezeki is another programme designed to open-up opportunities for Malaysians to leverage on their idle time, under-utilised physical assets or certain knowledge and skills via crowdsourcing and sharing economy platforms. Launched in June 2015, 333,130 participants (till end 2019) have benefited from this initiative and have reported earning an additional income. From Jan-June 2020, 585,662 have gained additional digital skillsets to earn supplementary income.
When MDEC was first established, e-commerce was still fairly new . It has since grown to become one of the key strategic drivers of the digital economy. How has MDEC nurtured e-commerce over the years?
In the late 1990s, we saw the launch of internet companies such as Amazon and eBay as e-commerce slowly made its way to the mainstream. For this revolution in retail to reach Malaysian shores, MDEC had to facilitate an improvement in the country’s internet infrastructure. The rest as they say, is history. Fast forward to the early 2010s, we saw a proliferation of local e-commerce players that have set the benchmark for the industry worldwide.
In 2016, we launched the National Ecommerce Strategic Roadmap (NESR) which has become the primary reference and cornerstone for many e-commerce initiatives. In that vein, we viewed the digitalisation of retail businesses as an opportunity for SMEs and other businesses to diversify their income stream. As such, we started programs to help them, essentially, go digital.
eUsahawan was launched in November 2015 as a digital entrepreneurship programme that helps onboard micro enterprises onto various e-commerce platforms. From Jan-June 2020, 41,789 entrepreneurs have been trained with a total of sales value of RM65.4 generated.
Launched in July 2017, Go-eCommerce is an online learning platform with internationally recognised curriculum for beginner, intermediate learners and advanced entrepreneurs. From Jan-June 2020, a total of 112, 803 participants from across the country benefited from this initiative. Under the ambit of this platform, we also launched Project DESA which encouraged rural-based merchants to shift their businesses online and continues to drive cross-border trade for all merchants.
As of June 2020, we have had 322,834 SMEs adopting e-commerce with 17,372 actively exporting goods to other markets.
As the country prepares to embrace the “new normal”, how has the COVID-19 pandemic shifted MDEC’s priorities?
The pandemic of 2020 has underscored the urgency and relevancy of digital transformation for the Government, businesses and all socio-economic facets to confront and overcome the challenges of this new era of digitalisation. This includes acknowledging and embracing the digital new norms, gaining access to the right tools and support services that can help all Malaysians, including businesses, make that digital leap.
Specifically, what did programs did MDEC embark upon to answer this clarion call to go digital?
When the first phase of the MCO was enforced on 18 March 2020, MDEC immediately went into triage-mode to attend to the distress calls from the rakyat and businesses that were affected by the regressing economy. The #DIGITALvsCOVID movement was launched on 24th March 2020 with a loud rally call for tech companies to extend digital solutions and services to those who are affected by the MCO.
In just weeks, MDEC’s #DIGITALvsCOVID campaign garnered over 2000 digital solutions offered by 561 homegrown tech companies, which was systematically catalogued in an online directory to aid the unemployed and struggling entrepreneurs.
From the onset of the MCO, MDEC has been resolute to combatting the effects of the pandemic and pivoted its operations and initiatives to ensure Malaysia continues to make the ‘digital leap’ despite any odds.
Recently, we launched the #SayaDigital movement, which aims to improve digital literacy among Malaysians amid the new normal. In the month of August, #SayaDigital featured several MDEC-led capacity-building programmes, providing businesses with various means to go digital and enabling Malaysians to be digitally skilled with speed and at scale.
We also leveraged on our existing Global Online Workforce (GLOW) program which assists those in need of crowdsourcing platforms to generate digital revenue. From the months of January to June this year, the programme generated an income totalling RM190.8 million.
SMEs are the backbone of our economy. How has MDEC worked to empower SMEs that have taken quite a hit during this pandemic?
The transformation of businesses through the adoption of digital tools and platforms is a critical step towards improving their business sustainability, operational efficiency and potential to tap new growth opportunities. Initiatives under this digital adoption pillar are aimed at growing start-ups, digitalising MSMEs and globalising scale-ups.
For example, the SME Business Digitalisation Grant was introduced in February 2020 by MDEC, in partnership with Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN), to provide digitalisation advisory and technology solution providers. The 50% matching grant offers up to RM5,000 per company for subscription of services to go digital. A total of 498 SMEs have been recipients of this grant.
In May 2020, we organised e-Dagang Expo (eDX) a week-long virtual event which engaged over 500,000 micro-entrepreneurs and SMEs looking to take their offline operations to the online space. Partnering with global e-commerce giants, we aimed to address the urgent needs for MSMEs to adopt e-commerce to better mitigate the immediate impact of COVID-19 and beyond.
At the same time, we also launched eBerkat, a platform to increase SME and B40 awareness and access to SLIP (Savings, Lending, Investment, Payment) digital financial services and instruments. We onboarded 2,000 MSMEs and 13% successfully secured funding.
SMEs were also advised to look beyond Malaysia, in search of new markets to expand into. Through the Digital Free Trade Zone, we enabled 4,367 SMEs to engage in cross-border e-commerce. In a similar vein, The Global Acceleration & Innovation Network (GAIN) helped grow 130 local digital companies into global players.
The new normal has thrown digital industries like animation, esports and game development into the spotlight. How robust are investments into such industries which are still very much nascent here in Malaysia?
The digital creative industry in Malaysia is set for a meteoric rise for the next few years thanks to a proliferation of high-quality animation and video game development from local studios. Compounded by pandemic-induced demand, jobs in this sector are skyrocketing in popularity due to their flexibility and “work-from-home” nature.
Malaysia aspires to be a hub of digital creation and innovation by attracting investment in niche areas such as animation; games development and esports; being the regional hub for data centres; and as a test bed for emerging technologies.
At the same time, MDEC is also actively cultivating and tapping e-commerce, Big Data Analytics (BDA), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) as sources of economic growth.
Our efforts didn’t just begin at the start of the pandemic but in 2016 when we launched the National IoT Framework to create a national Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem to facilitate industrialisation of next-gen network platforms as a new source of economic growth. There are a total of 283 companies in this network that are driving-up the demand for next-gen network transformation, with a cumulative revenue of RM233.8 million and RM121.5 worth of export value.
The focus on the digital content industry kickstarted with the establishment of the Digital Content Ecosystem (DICE) in 2019. Previously, DICE had been a long-running effort to stimulate digital content creation and production with the goal of growing the local digital content sector. Since Jan-June 2020, DICE has benefited 324 companies by enhancing their digital content development. Just this year alone, DICE has generated RM1.6 billion total revenue and RM260 million worth of exports.
We are also aware of the interest that the gaming industry provokes among the younger generation. Level Up @ School is a program we began targeting school students to nurture future talents for the games industry. Thus far, we have discovered and cultivated 1,220 students from 330 schools who are keen on gaining first-hand experience with developing games.
MDEC turns 25 next year. Taking stock of MDEC’s achievements over these years, where do you MDEC heading in the next decade?
With MDEC turning 25 next year, I envisage it taking on a larger role as the forerunner of the nation’s digital economy, setting the course forward to thrive in the 4IR era by empowering digitally-powered talent, enabling digitally-powered businesses and driving digital-sector investments.
MDEC will embrace the concept of Malaysia 5.0 – a human-first society in a tech-age, where digital innovations will capably resolve societal problems while building a sustainable and inclusive economy where Malaysians of all walks-of-life will enjoy shared prosperity.
We are ready to reinvent!
MDEC will run parallel to the tech trends that are evolving at warp-speed, ensuring:
- Malaysians make the digital-leap and elevate their IR4-readiness
- Phenomenal acceleration in digitalisation and scaffolding businesses to be global tech champions
- Malaysia is primed to be a fertile ground for investments and global test bed for emerging technologies
By 2025, the reinvented MDEC will firmly establish Malaysia as the Heart of Digital ASEAN.
First published in the Edge on 26th of October 2020