TO BEGIN WITH Chapter 1 of Fuelling the Kreativ Malaysia
TO BEGIN WITH, Malaysia was neither there nor here when it comes to its Creative Industry. Of course, this observation was made earlier in 2011 when the Creative Industry had only contributed 1.27% to Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This may not be a positive statement to start an article such as this, but it is that bitter truth that needed to be dealt with that had led us to a realisation. A realisation that ignited thinking. A catalyst so to speak. A take stock of a condition that would later bring changes. Changes that matter.
To begin with, we must analyse the profile of our country. Malaysia is relatively a young country when compared to some other nations that we often compare with when it comes to Creative Industry. In 2011, some of our neighbours, such as Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, have already recorded GDP contribution of 5% to 7% when it comes to their Creative Industry. No use comparing to Japan or Canada or the United States of America (USA) for that matter. You would already guessed the results. Korea however, would be a very interesting country to compare with.
To begin with, Korea was not that great anyway in their Creative Industry three decades ago. With a lot of realisation and a lot of changes, Korea transformed its nation from agriculture based to knowledge based economy particularly the Creative Industry. Thirty years ago they (Koreans) had already formulated a framework that provided the progressive blueprint for its Creative Industry. Today, they are a great nation. Their electronics have overtaken the Japanese, if not on par, and the automobile industry is just following closely behind Japanese waiting for that sweet moment to kick Honda, Toyota and Nissan.
To begin with, the Korean Government, via its KOCCA initiative, did provide the necessary seed for the Korean Creative Industry to bloom and take a progressive direction. Rain (the singer), wasn’t born that way. Rain was identified at an early stage and undergone many transformation. They trained him. They groomed him. From vocal classes to fashion. From dancing steps to charismatic appearance. He is the product of KOCCA. Korean private sector also played an instrumental role in this transformation. Samsung had certainly invested a lot. This is what Malaysia needs.
Malaysia needs some changes like the Koreans. Do we blame ourselves for not changing earlier? Probably not. As mentioned earlier, Malaysia is a young nation. Perhaps our current realisation (to change) came at the right time when it is supposed to be and when Malaysia is ready to make changes. In 1997/1998 we (Malaysians) have already realised the need to embrace technology. We initiated the Malaysian Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) and along with it came Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, or MDeC (previously known as Multimedia Development Corporation). This had certainly shaped how our nation had progressed in the past two decades. Thanks to that realisation, we are now a savvy nation – being the number one ranking social media freak in the World.
The point here (linking back to the Koreans) is that, we can make changes. We have done so in the past. We are doing it as we speak. We can certainly replicate success and change further. Like many nations, we need to have that realisation first before any meaningful actions can happen. Do we have that realisation now? Are we too late in fixing the Creative Industry? Luckily, the answer to that is, no, we are not too late and we certainly have what it takes to make the necessary changes. The Government has pumped in so much money to fuel the economy and the Creative Industry is not forgotten (perhaps slightly when ranked against the other industries).
How have we Malaysians progressed since independence in 1957? When we try to answer this question, we will forgive ourselves more (from the context of making necessary changes to our Creative Industry). Our great leader, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, had his special role, and he executed it well. Of course achieving independence is one, but what Tunku had to prioritise is our nation’s sovereignty in the eyes of the World. There were so many ‘fill in the blanks’ required in order for the World to recognise Semenanjung Tanah Melayu (prior to the inclusion of Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak). We were faced with communism threats and hence, we were also pressured to take a position in declaring war against the communists. Tunku had to also convince the nation that we are against Apartheid in South Africa. There were many aspects that required Tunku’s attention and what had been mentioned are just the tip of an iceberg.
The fact that Creative Industry was no where in Tunku’s brain shows that our nation had many other matters to deal with. Meanwhile, the Creative Industry was just nicely brewing in Malaysia with names such as P. Ramlee and Saloma. In any way, we can forgive Tunku. Next is Tun Razak, our second Prime Minister. Tun Razak is a visionary man. He had great visions for Malaysia. He was an epitome leader of the region (Nusantara – the Malay Archipelago). He knew that we needed so many changes in order to move forward as a significant nation in the eyes of the World. He was brave in his policies and he meant business.
However, Tun Razak had one issue he cannot ignore, that is, poverty. To fix poverty, he needed to fix the income disparity amongst the citizens. That was (still is), a sensitive matter as it was (still is) very much linked to the different significant ethnic groups we have in Malaysia. The ethnic disharmony situation towards the end of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s reign needed to be addressed. Tun Razak was the man for it.
Thanks to Tun Razak, his methods to tackle the disparity in income distribution is a fixed policy that forms the foundation of Malaysian economic framework for years to come until now as evident in Malaysia Plan 1 to 11. At that point, Creative Industry was still not in any priority list. To be honest, perhaps it was never in our neighbours’ list either. In any case, we now move further in the history continuum of era. Tun Hussein was a transition Prime Minister and everybody knows this. He was a good administrator of course. What we needed was the third phase after Tunku’s Sovereignty Era and Tun Razak’s Economic Adjustment Era. And there was Tun Dr. Mahathir.
The third phase was the transformation of Malaysia from a primarily agriculture based nation to a neo-industrialised country (NIC). We were to move away from being the largest tin mining country in the World. We were to move away from being the largest rubber exporter nation in the World. We were to emulate the Japanese (post war). We were to emulate the Koreans. We were to emulate the Germans (post war). We were dipping our toes in so many modernisation initiatives. Fortunately for us, we had the money from our petroleum revenues. This was the Modernisation phase. This is when we started exporting semiconductors from Penang, cars from Shah Alam, petrochemicals from Kerteh and many more factory based products.
Tun further started the ball rolling on K-economy (Knowledge Economy). It was the era of universities growing like mushrooms. It was when the earlier mentioned MSC was made into existence. Along with this the Creative Industry started to see the light at the end of the tunnel for Creative Industry is very much a subset of K-economy. A significant portion of the Creative Industry is the Content Industry. The Content Industry was and still is, very much human capital intensive in its nature. A lot of investments needed to train people as they are the sole largest and most important asset in the Content Industry. Later in this thesis we will touch base with Fashion, Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Music and Literature, but for now, the Content Industry takes a front seat.
So there it was, the beginning of an era where Creative Industry starts appearing in Governmental policies. Tun Mahathir left shortly after the commencement of the MSC and after a short governance by Tun Abdullah, Dato’ Sri Najib Razak became the Prime Minister. Unlike his father (Tun Razak), Dato’ Sri Najib inherited a country with relatively more stabilised income disparity condition, a well established country that is accepted by the World and a country that has the ripe platform for a transformation from a Developing Nation to a Developed Nation status. This is when Creative Industry will emerge as a significant force to be reckoned with when politicians are talking about national economy and the employment market.
At this stage, it is still nothing to shout about. What we need to understand is what it means to be a Developed Nation? A Developed Nation no longer struggle to make statements for World sovereignty security. A Developed Nation no longer struggle to address poverty. A Developed Nation no longer does soul searching on what the sources of economy should be. A Developed Nation starts talking about identity.
What is an identity? That is the question. This is where the Creative Industry will be noticed. When we ask about Malaysia’s identity, we will think about our culture for culture is the one variable that differentiates us from the other countries. Culture is the umbrella for many creativity elements. Under culture we embrace art. Under culture we embrace our traditional music and plays. Under culture we identify our culinary uniqueness. Under culture we say who we are to the rest of the World. This is what the fourth phase should be, that is, the age of Identity. We are to shout to the World that we are beautiful just like how the Japanese did with their animation. Just like how the Americans did with their Hollywood. Just like how the French did with their culinary arts. Just like how the British did with their theatres. Just like how the Koreans did with their K-Pop.
This is what the Najib (Dato’ Sri) administration should be about. It is an era of identity. It is an era of culture. It is an era of knowledge. It is an era of human capital. It is an era of the Creative Industry. We have thousands of years of evolved culture and along with it we inherited immense creativity. Our youth no longer talks about being accountants, lawyers, engineers, doctors and the like. Our youth is talking about information technology, gaming industry, digital content, social media, internet of things, virtual reality, augmented reality, sustainable development and many more phenomenon that only suggest that creativity is a necessity rather than complementary.
Looking back at the Malaysian budget for the past decade, we can identify billions of money being invested for the Creative Industry. The preparation of the infrastructure to open Malaysia to the internet world itself is already a huge thing. MDeC had, on many levels, facilitated this by partnering with many international companies who opened their offices in Cyberjaya. The telecommunication industry saw a paradigm shift when its consumers switched from fixed lines to mobile lines and started to consume data rather than voice. And there was the huge investment in High Speed Broadband by Telekom Malaysia.
There were also many funds being made available to help grow the Creative Industry. Grants were transmitted from agencies like MDeC, FINAS, MCMC and Cradle providing the financial means for Research and Development and product design. We started to see more technology companies mushrooming and many of them were/are indeed fuelling the Creative Industry. From the basic Keluang Man cartoons, we now have the more complicated BoboiBoy and the infamous Upin & Ipin that had spread their wings into the Indonesian market.
The gaming industry now praise the awesome new games such as Street Fighter V and Final Fantasy XV. Guess where were these games developed? Here (Malaysia) in Bangsar South by a company called Streamline that employs eighty percent of their workforce from the Malaysian youth. Who did most of the computer generated images (CGI) for the movies Snow White and the Huntsman and Life of Pi? As you may have guessed, Malaysians who formed majority of the work force at Rhythm & Hues in Cyberjaya back in 2011. The point here is that, we (Malaysians), have what it takes. We just need to launch it off into the sky. But, why have we not done so yet? Sure we have some successes. Great. What we really need is pervasive success.
What is pervasive success? Pervasive success is a state of affair where all initiatives, whether structured or unstructured, are based on a dedicated foundation with the view of sustainable existence, provided that that particular existence, is indeed a success that is acknowledged. For example, teaching students is an initiative. Teaching comes in many forms. It can be class room based. It can be practical exercises like what an intern experience. It can be training sessions like in the boxing ring. When we take all of these initiatives and arrange it into agendas, we will get a syllabus, an educational syllabus.
Syllabus are then cascaded into an institutionalised system that we all love so much, i.e. schools. The establishment of schools survived decades of generation until such point where more than one generations can find common grounds. This is true because the kids in school today learn the same thing that we learn one hundred years ago – i.e. mathematics, geography, history, science, biology, physics, chemistry and language. True that the content and methods may differ from one generation to another but the basic premise of those subjects remains the same.
For the Creative Industry to achieve this pervasive success, we must first define what is success. Earlier it was mentioned that in 2011, the Creative Industry only contributed 1.27% of the Malaysian GDP. In 2013 this figure increased to 1.34% and the latest statistics (Source: MDeC) revealed that 2015 achieved 1.60%. This is a fantastic improvement. A lot of this was contributed by Government initiatives to boost the Creative Industry.
With the continued grant financing via agencies mentioned earlier and business loans being made available through Bank Simpanan Nasional and MyCreative Ventures (a Government investment arm), the last half decade has shown a more than gradual increment. Is this the success we are talking about? It can be, but it need not be the only one or the most important one. There are other indicators worth pursuing such as employment in the Creative Industry, number of entrepreneurs in the Creative Industry and recognitions achieved.
We can define success all we want but we have not yet established the parameters of what we can agree as a pervasive nature of the success. Let us take employment in the Creative Industry as an example. Success is defined as jobs being created for youth in the Creative Industry. However, when we take a ’pervasive’ view on this, not only should we have jobs being made available, we must ensure that the youth is educated to match the job requirement.
Do we have enough academic institutions to give our youth the qualification required? Are the qualification too philosophical instead of practical? Perhaps students for the Creative Industry need not go through the usual university myopia and instead, a more vocational and technical approach taken? If we have a system that matches our youth’s skills to the jobs being generated by the industry, and that system is maintained, then we have indeed achieved pervasive success. For now, Malaysia is still taking baby steps. So, when we struggle to fuel the Creative Industry and hope that it can blossom, we must ask the right questions. Are we doing it the correct way? The typical “Give a Man a Fish versus Teach a Man How to Fish” thing.
Which of our initiatives are ‘Fish’ and which ones are ‘Teach How to Fish’? Millions of money have been injected into the Creative Industry in the form of grants. This is to help reduce the financial burden of film makers, game developers and animation studios. Grants are great. It certainly help new entrepreneurs to kick start their businesses. However, those companies must grow. They must graduate onto the next level. Instead of talking about “How do I fund this project?’”, they should be asking “How do I fund my Company for the next five years?”. When grants have become their ‘Ganja’, then that is when grants are ‘Fish’ instead of ‘Teach How to Fish’. At this juncture, we shall stop talking about this as there will be plenty of opportunities in future articles where such matter can be deliberated on.
What about our society? Is our (Malaysian) society susceptible to embracing culture the way it is supposed to be embraced if we are to grow the Creative Industry? How many times have you heard your friends asking for free tickets for theatre or musical shows? How many times have you seen your friends buying pirated DVDs or surfed on a pirate site instead of buying the legal content? How many times have you seen your friends reading junk on the social media rather than reading proper novel written by professional writers? How many times have you seen your friends buying cheap art from Bali instead of supporting local artists? How many times have you seen your friends wearing Indonesian Batik rather than Malaysian Batik? You can bet your bottom Dollars that the answers for those questions are not favourable (to the local industry) and what is worse, you apply those questions to yourself instead of your friends.
Many of us (the so called consumers of our Creative Industry) do not realise how we have forsaken our culture, and along with it, forgotten our creative offerings. Our lives are somewhat influenced by civilisation, historical or contemporary, both with significant impact. No doubt ancient civilisations extinct, but they leave behind elements of culture, a legacy that survives throughout time. One important element of culture is Creativity. Creativity and human evolution is inseparable. Unfortunately, many people do take things for granted by ignoring the importance of Creativity. Why do we accept arrogance and ignorance that led Creativity to a forgotten phenomenon in our very life? Even the God and prophets of human civilisation shone through art. Will it not appear awkward if we deny Creativity as part of our existence?
By now, most of us would have already concluded that we need to do a lot more. Some of us may have also forgiven ourselves and reassured ourselves that we did not start late given the natural progression of our nation establishing itself in this World. Now is the time when we strive to convert Malaysia from a Developing Nation to a Developed Nation and with this, we ought to pull the Creative Industry into the projection. Many efforts need to be put in place. The Government has an important role to play when setting policies and budgets. The players in the industry certainly have crucial roles to be carried out for they are the building blocks of the Creative Industry. The general society (assuming the society as a whole is the universe of consumers relevant for the Creative Industry) must embrace the Creative Industry. Or else, how else can the Creative Industry ensure its going concern?
Chief Executive Officer
Photo credit: http://www.iqxazmi.com/