On 21 February 2023, the Tech for Good Institute conducted a roundtable discussion with leaders in the Malaysia tech ecosystem to discuss how technology and the digital economy may support Malaysia’s growth and development.
Twenty (20) participants from the public, private and civil spheres shared their perspectives on what “tech for good” meant to them and their respective organisations and provided action-oriented recommendations to advance it for the country.
The Roundtable surfaced key themes of inclusion through connectivity, digital literacy and capacity building. As participation grows and deepens, building trust in the digital economy and ecosystem are imperative if growth is to be sustained. This can be achieved through evidence-driven, consultative policymaking that takes a holistic and responsive approach to driving innovation and inclusive growth.
Human-centred approach in technology can help promote a more inclusive digital society
- Malaysia’s National Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) Policy emphasises rakyat (people). Some segments of the population require immediate attention to drive digital inclusion. This includes the bottom 40% (B40) socio-economic group; those residing in rural areas (e.g. Sabah, Sarawak, and Terengganu), and people with disabilities. To promote inclusion, a human-centred approach to designing digital products and services is needed. This can be done through the conduct of impact assessments, knowledge-sharing opportunities, and an ethics review process. Consumer participation in the design of product processes could also be effective in ensuring that the digital economy is being used to benefit those who would need it the most.
Digital upskilling will future-proof the Malaysian digital economy
- Investing in human capital will enable a future-ready and resilient workforce for Malaysia. In partnership with the DECs, the government should prioritise a national reskilling program. For example, the government can introduce more training on e-commerce and the use of social media for the masses to catalyse more economic activities. This can drive economic empowerment for the population, including those in the B40 group.
- Investing in digital skills will also allow the labour force to be adaptive to economic shocks. Given that technology permeates several sectors of the economy, the digital skills acquired will also be applicable and transferable across industries. A digital-ready workforce will enable the population to pivot to complementary jobs, including gig work, in response to various economic conditions.
- Digital upskilling will also make Malaysia’s digital economy competitive in the long-run. With a focus on the youth, which comprise a large section of the country’s labour force, Malaysia can attract more investments if there is a steady supply of digital talent. In addition, a digital talent base will support a vibrant digital start-up economy which further contributes to more innovation in the country.
Whole-of-society approach is needed to create safe online spaces
- There are key risks and challenges in Malaysia that the government needs to confront with regard to online spaces. For example, harmful online content that promotes misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation are immediate issues of concern for policymakers. The government should consider creating a governance framework to ensure safe online discourse and interactions. For example, clear guidance on regulation of bots which may be used to promote misleading and harmful information will protect users from harmful content.
- The private sector has a key role to play in creating a safe environment for Malaysians. Together with regulators, DECs can provide their inputs for agile and anticipatory regulations. Within their own systems and platforms, DECs should also implement content moderation policies that protect the interest of the people. In addition, DECs can afford to be more transparent about the use of data to gain the trust of the users.
- Safe online spaces are also about creating a secure and reliable online experience for Malaysians. This includes ensuring data protection and cybersecurity practices are in place for both the government and the business sector.
A competitive and responsive digital economy enables growth
- The government plays a key role in implementing responsive regulations and guidelines that would facilitate a level playing field in the digital economy. This would encourage innovation among businesses, which in turn results in better quality of products and service. Healthy competition may also drive prices down of a digital good, thus making it affordable to a larger population.
- “Archaic acts” and misalignment of existing competition policies with digital economy policies needs to be addressed through a thorough review of policies. To keep up with current technological trends, old laws need to be updated. A central agency might be needed to regulate and define the standards and guidelines for the digital economy. However, overregulation must be avoided to foster creativity and innovation.
- Policy coordination is also key for the digital economy to thrive. Policymakers should not work in silos, but through a mechanism that would allow effective coordination to thrive. In addition, policy coordination is not limited to government-to-government coordination, but there should also be room for impact-focused public-private cooperation.
Sustainable development should be a core pillar of the digital economy
- DECs are encouraged to adopt green technologies and more sustainable business models. For example, data centres can explore off-grid energy solutions to reduce carbon footprint. The government should also provide incentives to help DECs access and pilot green technologies. In addition, the government can also consider setting up an ESG fund to nurture impact-driven start-ups that focus on sustainability. One effective approach could be to recognise DECs that advance ESG goals.
- DECs should also exercise consistent ESG reporting. Greenwashing should be discouraged in the digital economy. There should be a mechanism that allows the public and the people sector to hold DECs accountable to their ESG commitments.
To read the national-level priorities of Malaysia, please click on the link here.
This study is made possible with the support of the AsiaTechX (ATX) Programme Office, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) Singapore. A consolidated report of the six roundtables will be launched at ATXSG 2023.