SCIENCE, technology and innovation (STI) are powerful instruments of social change. Their effects are felt through the modernisation of technologies and systems, changing life at every level — from individuals to societies and nations. As we advance further into the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), science, technology and innovation will improve competitiveness, boost productivity, upgrade industrial structures and address global challenges.
The rise of global value chains, the role of entrepreneurship, the search for new sources of growth, and the challenges raised by environmental and social issues have introduced new objectives and instruments for policy intervention.
Malaysia is steadfastly moving forward towards its aspiration of officially joining the ranks of developed nations. The New Economic Model (NEM) and Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2010 jointly provide a broad overarching framework for structural reforms to catalyse change and to initiate a continuous sequence of high-impact investment projects to accelerate the economic growth momentum.
This model was designed to transform Malaysia into a high-income nation, and our country into a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable society, with no one left behind, opportunity available to all, and the fundamentals in place to secure a stable and successful future.
The government is committed to putting science, technology and innovation at the heart of economic policy. When we speak of an innovation-centric economy, we refer to an ecosystem that is supportive, vibrant and inclusive. It is an environment that empowers every man or woman on the street to push the boundaries of their abilities and help advance the socio-economic development of their immediate and extended community.
Today’s complex economic, societal, environmental and cultural challenges require science, technology and innovation to be woven into the fabric of society. They require a society in which knowledge is co-designed and co-produced through science-policy-society interfaces, processes that connect and allow for fertile exchange between the three.
They require countries to actively invest in the education of their youth in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and empowering citizens in the use of evidence-based information for decision-making.
Only through strong linkages between science, policy and society can knowledge societies be created where decision-makers and citizens alike have the capacity and power to choose the future we all want for our planet.
The science-policy-society nexus requires us to take a broad perspective of the relation between science and democracy. The principles of democratic societies, where STI impact and transform the daily lives of individuals and communities, require that citizens be able to participate in shaping these transformations.
This was one of the main reasons the prime minister launched the National Transformation 2050 (TN50) vision of propelling Malaysia into the world’s top 20 nations within three decades.
The government has committed to a bottom-up approach to formulate TN50, thus ensuring our future direction reflects the people’s aspirations and providing a collective journey on the path of Malaysia’s transformation. In short, TN50 will be by the people, with the people and for the people.
We naturally began our TN50 engagements with youth — the custodians of Malaysia’s future. We are now extending TN50 engagements to cover all segments of society, including senior citizens, women, industry and civil society, civil servants, and academics. Because Malaysia’s future belongs to all Malaysians, it is essential TN50 be inclusive in its aspirations and that it benefits from the wisdom and experience across a wide cross-section of society.
STI was identified as the primary means of implementation for sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference in 2012. It is an integrative concept and its effective application will facilitate integrated and balanced development of the three dimensions (economic, social and environmental) of sustainable development.
With new advancements, science has helped us to better understand and analyse the world around us. Breakthrough, frontier technologies offer the use of new resources, the ability to mitigate climate change, time and input-efficient production, and better service delivery mechanisms — all of which offer new solutions and new ways of achieving sustainable development and doing business.
To achieve the globally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), countries will need to align their STI agendas with the new sustainable development paradigm.
In Malaysia, the SDG principles and our commitment to the ambitious Agenda 2030 milestones are entrenched in every facet of the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020), formulated with the benefit of a National SDG Roadmap and mapping exercise involving non-governmental, civil society organisations and the private sector.
Malaysia’s collaborative and systematic approach to sustainable economic development founded on STI has helped to lift millions of citizens out of poverty and created a burgeoning national economy that ranks among the best in Asia. That same approach will help us soon to achieve a new international status as a developed nation.
Zakri Abdul Hamid is science adviser to the prime minister. This article is based on a keynote address delivered during the 25th anniversary of the OECD Working Party on Innovation and Technology Policy on Dec 11 in Paris.