by Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in 27 January 2016

When I received the invitation to attend a conference in Perlis on Monday (25 January), I wasted no time to confirm my attendance. My paternal “kampung” is in Beseri, Perlis, and I am keen to grab any opportunity to make a contribution to the state.

The conference was called “Konvensyen Perlis Maju”. Perlis launched their “Perlis Maju 2015” agenda in 2005. So after 10 years of implementation, the state government held the event to look back at their achievements and to examine where they did not do very well.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azlan Man spoke first at the conference. It was a frank and honest speech. He explained that the Perlis Maju 2015 agenda had 53 key performance indicators (KPIs) and the state managed to achieve 48, or 90 percent of them.

The KPIs are divided across eight key sectors that include areas such as the macroeconomy, human capital, government administration and physical environment.

Azlan went on to explain his vision for the state’s development. He told the audience there were four major initiatives that he was working on. He. was putting together the foundations for an industrial and logistical hub in Lembah Chuping, a port in Sanglang, a public transportation hub in Kangar, and a maritime city in Kuala Perlis.
These are very noble ideas but it will not be an easy task for the small state. Perlis is small not just physically but in terms of population too. It is just 821 square kilometres in size and its population is less than 250,000. If it wants to develop and prosper, it must utilise the limited land productively and at the same time it must attract talents from outside too.

Interestingly the MB made it clear that he wanted the state’s economic growth to be driven by the private sector and he wanted to rationalise the government’s role in the economy. He was spot on. These are indeed the best ways to ensure sustainable growth for the state.

But in order to attract private sector investments, Perlis must ensure that they have the human capital to fulfil the needs of industry. Education therefore becomes the key. I guess in this context, the same challenge applies to the country as a whole, too.

I took the opportunity to meet a group of young activists after the conference. I told them about the speech I just heard from the MB. They immediately recognised the importance of education if the state’s ambition were to be realised.

I must admit their commitment to contribute to helping the state grow is very heart-warming.

They told me they had been thinking about organising educational activities to help kids from underprivileged backgrounds in Kangar. In particular, they wanted to hold regular tuition classes for kids from poor families who need that extra push. And they have been investing their own time and money to create the plans for this effort.
It is initiatives like what these young activists are doing that give hope to the country. Of course we need the state and the federal government to buckle up and improve our education system. But there will always be a group of children who would benefit from a little nudge. Having the younger generation voluntarily helping those in need is exactly what we need to catapult our country forward.

In fact these Perlis youths are not the only ones who are playing their part. I know of various groups of young people who do what they can in Alor Setar, Ipoh, Seremban, Kuantan, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru. I am sure there are more in other places too.

Earlier in the week, at an event in Kuala Lumpur, a member of the audience asked me what they could do to contribute to nation-building. The gentleman came from a middle class background and was worried about the country’s future. He wanted to do something but did not know how.

I have met many people like him who asked the same question. They wanted to make a contribution but they felt they needed a platform to do so because they wanted to personally do it.

My answer to this question has always been the same. Not everyone has to be physically or personally involved in activism work. It is much better to have a division of responsibility. It is unrealistic to say that everyone should run an NGO or open a free tuition class.

Instead, we need to develop a bigger group of people who fund the work done by those on the ground. As someone who works full time in the not-for-profit sector, I can honestly say that the biggest help we need is money. For us in the not-for-profit world, having the manpower is great but having the money to help us pay for the work is just equally important.

So while the culture of helping is growing in the country, we need to cultivate the culture of giving too. The two go in tandem together.

In our race to become a developed nation, we must remember that voluntary charitable work plays an important role to ensure that no one is left behind. We must support the growth of the charitable sector in any way we can.

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Wan Saiful Wan Jan is the chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)

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