MITI: English builds confidence & makes Malaysians global
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Thursday, 24 December 2015
The world is our oyster
by mustapa mohamed

It is also a fact that almost all of them have a good command of English. One man I met was a graduate from a local university who is now attached to a US oil and gas multinational.

Prior to his posting in Kenya, he had worked in Houston, Nigeria and elsewhere. As he himself admitted, his fluency in English was crucial in enabling him to succeed overseas.

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Home > News > Nation

Thursday, 24 December 2015
The world is our oyster

by mustapa mohamed

Our strength lies not only in our strategic location but also in our ability to produce world-class human capital and companies. Ours is a success story which other developing countries seek to adopt.

ABSENCE makes the heart grow fonder. It also has a way of putting things into perspective.

I am writing this from Nairobi, Kenya, where I am attending the 10th Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organisation.

I won’t bore you with the policy minutiae of the WTO sessions.

Instead, I would like to share with you the things I took away from meeting our Malaysian diaspora there.

That’s one of the things I enjoy about travelling for work: I also get to meet Malaysian entrepreneurs, professionals and students abroad.

I was surprised to discover that there are about 70 Malaysians in Kenya.

Of course, you can find Malaysians everywhere but the diversity in Nairobi was amazing.

The Malaysians there come from every background and are active in a multitude of sectors.

Our little “kampung Malaysia” in Kenya is also a shining testimony to the versatility of Malaysians and Malaysian companies overseas.

Eleven of the Malaysians I met are serving in either the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) or the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). Another holds a senior position with a global communications giant.

Then there was the businessman I jokingly referred to as the “jalan man.”

His company is using Malaysian technology to build two 10km stretches of road in two counties. The Kenyans were so impressed with the company’s professionalism and quality of work that it was awarded a further contract to do another 10km pilot project in a third county which could increase to 100km if the pilot project is successfully completed.

There was another man who teamed up with a few partners to start an 800-acre tea plantation, one of Kenya’s biggest exports. Another Malaysian I met is an entrepreneur and is married to a Kenyan whom she met while studying in a branch of a foreign university.

Speaking to these Malaysians, I felt a sense of pride in their accomplishments – as well as those of other Malaysians who have risen to prominence elsewhere in the world.

It was also deeply satisfying to witness the high regard in which the people in these distant lands hold Malaysians.

In terms of tertiary qualifications, some of our Malaysian universities must be doing something right. While some of those I met studied abroad, several others graduated from Malaysian universities, as well as branch campuses of foreign universities – including a CEO of a multinational bank who oversees the entire East Africa region. He obtained his undergraduate degree from the International Islamic University before completing postgraduate studies at the University of Malaya.

The achievements of the Malaysian diaspora not just in Kenya but in many other parts of the globe burnish our international image. We should be proud of how they are helping paint a positive portrait of our nation all over the world.

At this point, one might be tempted to ask: but how did they succeed? What makes them stand out?

One obvious trait is their self-confidence: they are prepared to take risks and venture outside their comfort zones. They are prepared to make sacrifices and work hard. They aren’t content to be big fish in small ponds.

It is also a fact that almost all of them have a good command of English. One man I met was a graduate from a local university who is now attached to a US oil and gas multinational.

Prior to his posting in Kenya, he had worked in Houston, Nigeria and elsewhere. As he himself admitted, his fluency in English was crucial in enabling him to succeed overseas.

We can be proud of such stories. But they are reminders that we here at home need to do better.

We need to keep our economy open and flexible. In a hyper-connected planet, the very definition of “kampung” has changed. Isolation is not an option when the world is your back yard.

Malaysia is currently ranked among the top 25 trading nations in the world. Our investments overseas now stand at about RM600bil. Indeed, we’ve always been a trading nation, ever since the days of the Malaccan Empire.

But as the abovementioned stories show, our strength not only lies in our strategic location but also our ability to produce world-class human capital and companies. Ours is a success story which other developing countries seek to adopt.

But as I said, the challenge is maintaining our global mindset. We must intensify our engagement with the world.

We must be integrated in the world economy and we must transcend narrow, parochial concerns by uniting in a national resolve of “Malaysia Boleh.”

The success of Malaysians overseas testifies to the fact that more than ever before, to paraphrase that old cliché, “The World is Our Oyster.”

The challenge is wanting this enough to work to make it a reality.

Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed is the International Trade and Industry Minister. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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