Malaysian youth get a chance to shape policies that touch on various aspects such as public transport, education and police powers, affecting the man on the street.
YOUNG Malaysians are often accused of being apathetic towards the country’s politics and policies.
In 2008, the naysayers were proven right – 70% of those eligible to vote were not registered to do so in the 12th General Election.
But, the tide has turned.
The 13th General Election, a mere five years later, saw one of the largest turnouts in terms of young voters. For the first time, 2.6 million citizens came out to cast their ballots.
Clearly, young people want in on discussing national issues and policies, too.
So, it should come as no surprise why in the past five years, over 700 college and university students have applied to join the Malaysia Public Policy Competition (MPPC).
The yearly case-based competition gives students a taste of the public policy-making framework in a real world context. It is organised by the International Council of Malaysian Scholars and Associates (ICMS).
MPPC 2015 project director Sherrinder Kaur Jamit Singh said through the competition, she hoped people would realise that “youth matters and we have an important say in nation-building, too”.
Choong Jien Yue, who is the ICMS Executive Committee chief executive director, said that the competition was where youths can voice out their opinions on Malaysian matters.
“Instead of just complaining about how the system works, MPPC is where these young people can present their ideas to their peers, the public and the people who are running the country.
“There really is no other platform like this,” said Choong, 20.
How it began
While doing his A-Levels in Singapore, Louis Chuo became impressed by the “brutal efficiency and effectiveness with which society operated” there.
He then set off to the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom to complete his Finance degree, where he was invited to attend the first Singapore Public Policy Competition.
Though some of the brightest, young Singaporean minds in attendance had him in awe, what stood out for the now 25-year-old was the “extremely senior public figures” from the Singapore Public Service Commission and Prime Minister’s Office who were also present.
“That made all the difference. Singapore’s current leaders value the development and opinion of their youth.”
So, instead of waiting for the Malaysian government to offer a similar opportunity for youth here, Chuo took charge and got the ICMS, which he founded, to look into developing something similar.
With that, MPPC was born.
Since its inception in 2011, the competition has been held four times, aiming to create awareness on how public policies are conceptualised and implemented.
What’s in store
As Chuo had envisioned five years ago, the competition gives youth an opportunity to engage with experts from the government, private sector and academia.
To do that, the organising committee brings in a prestigious panel of judges, speakers and partners every year.
Previously, partners included Talent Corporation Malaysia Berhad (TalentCorp), the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu), the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), and Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd.
Those who had taken part in previous competitions were privileged enough to hear from judges and speakers such as Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, former deputy higher education minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, National University of Singapore associate professor Prof Lee Der-Horng, Centre for Public Policy senior director Ng Yen Seen and Penang Institute executive director Zairil Khir Johari.
Participants also had the chance to interact with peers who share their passion and curiosity for public policy-making.
One of the many who appreciated the opportunity to take part in such a competition was MPPC 2014 participant Aina Salihah Shahruniza.
The 20-year-old was surprised at how serious her competitors viewed the event.
“All team members ‘suited up’ for the event which made them look professional.
“I really liked the commitment and spirit of the participants,” said the 20-year-old.
For Leo Wai Kin, meeting like-minded peers was a money-can’t-buy experience.
“I’ve always been interested in public policy but there aren’t many avenues for students to contribute or voice their views.
“The competition was intense, but the learning process was fruitful,” said the University of Bristol law student.
His teammate, Annamarie Jacob Thomas, shared that their opponents were “incredibly talented”.
“I learnt just as much from watching them as I did from my teammates,” she said, referring to Leo, Ng Yan Chuan and Kyle Chan.
But, the 21-year-old International Medical University student agreed with Leo – the competition was stressful.
She added that sleep was a luxury her team could not indulge in throughout the three-day competition.
“We were given a limited amount of time to come up with a new policy, but also present it in a marketable manner.”
As such, getting into the semi-finals was a “pleasant surprise, as each round was more competitive than the last!”, said Annamarie.
Leo said the sleepless nights were worth it, as he “enjoyed” having his team’s policy “exposed to criticisms from the floor”.
“The process of improvisation can be tedious, but definitely fulfilling,” he said.
To join MPPC, hopeful applicants – from pre-university right up to degree students – are asked to submit their resumes, an essay of motivation (on why they would like to join the competition) and an essay response to one of three questions provided.
Aina Salihah advised future participants that the requirements were “more than just writing essays”.
“It turned out that we had to give our opinion on exisiting policies. And to give our opinion, we had to know a lot.
“And to know a lot, one has to read,” said the Universiti Malaya medical student.
MPPC 2015 deputy project director Hazel Lo Moong Hua said the most crucial part was the “preparation stage” after the shortlisted applicants were announced.
“They have about two weeks to go through the information pack we provide, which has hundreds of pages of research papers and data.
“We want the participants to be independent and come into the challenge well-prepared,” she stressed.
After four years, this year’s organising committee is making a few changes.
The competition, open to Malaysian students studying locally and abroad, is now open to international students studying on our shores.
“We believe it is important to hear from different groups who are affected by Malaysian policies, too,” said Sherrinder Kaur, 20.
The competition format remains the same – it culminates in a three-day, two-night challenge where teams present their policies through slideshow presentations in every round.
Seminars held during the event will be open to the public this year, said Lo.
“As they’re informative, we hope to allow more people to join these sessions.
“It is also to help us spread the idea that youth can and should participate in policy-making,” said the 22-year-old.
Striking a balance
Making policies is not just about drafting up a bunch of things that needs to be done, though.
“It is important for us youth to discuss the issues which affect our country and devise practical solutions for them.
“The ultimate goal, of course, is to have these policies implemented one day,” said Sherrinder Kaur.
Lo added that the policies “made” during the competition must be feasible.
“We don’t judge solely on a team’s presentation style. There’s a comprehensive judging guideline that gives emphasis on the ideas that they come up with, and how specific and implementable it is,” she said.
The MPPC website states that the competition also hopes to help participants “tackle common dilemmas in striking the right balance between populist policies and realistic ones”.
Leo shared that “policy on paper can be rainbows and unicorns, but the technicality and practicality of the solutions are key to the success of any policy.”
Asked what makes a good policy, Lo was quick to rattle off a list of criteria which participants must keep in mind.
“Identify the problem first. Then, find out who will be affected by this new policy you’re drafting.
“Check out exisiting policies and infrastructure and look at what’s good or bad,” she said.
Lo also stressed that policies must be based on statistics and data, which must be analysed thoroughly.
“Not only do you need to look at it from all angles to address the loopholes in the policy, you also need to look at the monetary aspects – if it is the right time to execute it,” she said.
But ultimately, “there is no perfect policy”.
“You just need to understand the purpose of the policy and have the conviction to make it happen.”
A real impact
Though the prizes are very attractive – first prize winners walk away with a cash prize of RM5,000 – it comes secondary to the potential impact that the participants may have.
Some have had the chance to present their policies to the authorities.
The winning team from last year’s MPPC pitched their ideas to senior executive personnel from SPAD and Prasarana, among others, to discuss the potential implementation of their policies.
As for the winners of MPPC 2013, they actually saw their ideas brought to life!
Their policy was adopted in Budget 2015 and implemented through the 30% Club, a group of business leaders committed to achieving better gender balance at all levels in an organisation.
Though they did not win, previous participants found that the competition had brought about positive outcomes for them.
“The competition has impacted my life in many ways,” said Aina Salihah.
Not only does she now know how to pitch ideas, she has a new-found interest in the nation’s policies.
“Before offering an opinion, one must have a sound knowledge of the subject.”
Victor Tan “learnt the hard way” that not everyone sees the world from his point of view.
“It’s not about having the ‘right’ policy as much as it is about tailoring your words for the audience.
“It is about understanding that your audience may have lived and experienced life in a different way, and then making appropriate recommendations,” said the 22-year-old.
Has MPPC changed the way he feels about Malaysia?
“It has, to some extent.
“Policy-making doesn’t just take into account what you think is best for society. There are other factors as well,” shared Tan, who is now studying Economics at the University of Chicago.
Even after five years, Chuo continues to hold on to the belief that youth will, at some point, be able to influence some areas of public policy by working with the Malaysian government and non-governmental organisations.
“I am convinced that the competition will continue to draw very bright minds towards a career and future in public policy,” he said.
He added that while he hoped the Government gets serious about the livelihoods of the 30 million Malaysians, that isn’t enough.
“As much as we deserve better from our leaders, we must not wait – I call on young Malaysians to take charge of their future.”
MPPC 2015 will be held from Aug 28 to 30 this year. Those interested can apply by July 31. For more details, log on to icms-mppc.com or www.facebook.com/ICMSMPPC.