IN 1851 the Great Exhibition was held in London. Organised by Prince Albert, it provided a platform for nations to show off their newest inventions, sparking creativity and ultimately fuelling scientific progress and economic growth. Over the years, these World Fairs evolved, and now come under the ambit of the Bureau international des expositions, organised into “World Expos” and “Specialised Expos”.
We have a good record of involvement. The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 saw the participation of Johor, and the New York World’s Fair in 1964 – though not receiving official recognition from the bureau – saw the new nation of Malaysia feature a pavilion with a Negri Sembilan roof showcasing rubber, timber and tin and offering satay to visitors.
Different ministries have taken charge over time: readers may recall the then tourism minister
Tan Sri Dri Ng Yen Yen opening Malaysia’s pavilion with a more pronounced Minangkabau roof in Shanghai in 2010, while the pavilion at Expo Milano 2015 led by the International Trade and Industry Ministry used seed-like structures to celebrate our biodiversity and high-tech approach to agriculture. The most recent specialised expo in Astana in 2017 on the theme of Future Energy saw the Energy, Green Energy and Water Ministry take charge, with the pavilion receiving 600,000 visitors.
The next edition is the Dubai World Expo 2020, the first in the Middle East, with the themes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability. Initially, the Malaysian government was hesitant to participate, given the heavy responsibility of hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders’ summit in 2020.
However, there has been a gearshift in enthusiasm and it seems that the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change is now fully committed with GreenTech Malaysia being the implementing agency.
Malaysia’s theme will be “Energising Sustainability”, encapsulating a commitment to socio-economic and environmental concerns towards a secure and sustainable future across six pillars: Agriculture and Primary Commodities Sustainability; Energy, Science, Technology and Innovation and Environment; Culture and Tourism; E-Commerce and Information and Communications Technology; Trade and the Fourth Industrial Revolution; and Education Women and Youth.
The target is to generate RM10bil in trade and investment value, a thousand business leads, a million visitors to the pavilion and 20 MoUs or partnership agreements. Two hundred booths for public and private companies will be available, with the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) offering RM200,000 to those engaging in international export promotional activities. Furthermore, the Ministry of Finance is offering tax incentives to those wishing to participate in Expo 2020 Dubai.
Though achieving these numbers is important, intangible benefits will come in the way of increasing Malaysia’s visibility, an avenue for soft diplomacy as well as raising the awareness of Malaysians on relevant initiatives as well.
Combining these strands is the #MyButterflyEffect campaign launched for Astana and relaunched for Dubai. Drawing on chaos theory, it hopes to encourage small positive changes with the aim of creating much bigger beneficial changes across communities and societies.
I am honoured to have been asked to be this campaign’s ambassador and in my speech at the very energetic relaunch, I said: “If you have leaders who engage in corruption, years later resources will have been wasted and fundamental institutions might be compromised. If you have politicians who stoke divisions in society, years later you might see ethnic violence domestically and war abroad. If you have policies that reward environmental destruction, years later you might be dealing with catastrophic climate change.”
But small changes start with us too, and can be quite simple – eliminating single-use plastics is one that I have adopted with some gusto, bringing several metal straws with me everywhere in the hope that no turtle or whale will choke to death just because I used a plastic straw to drink a coconut.
Small changes can lead to behavioural change that make us better citizens, too. A prosperous and happy democracy does not mean just having strong institutions and protections of freedoms: it also requires those who do the right thing because they believe in the right thing – not because they are forced to do so by compulsion.
As ambassador I’m not involved in the major executive decisions about Malaysia’s participation, but I did set one condition upon accepting the role, which is that all tenders and awards for the pavilion and other spending is done in a fair and accountable manner.
I have received this assurance and I hope with that, I can invite all Malaysians to contribute to the success of our efforts towards Dubai – the latest in the line of profound historical expositions – through the newest medium of social media and the #MyButterflyEffect campaign.
Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin is Ambassador for the Butterfly Effect campaign in conjunction with Malaysia’s participation at Expo 2020 Dubai. The views expressed here are entirely his own.