By Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in The Star on 3 February 2015.

This coming Sunday, 8 February 2015, marks the 112th birthday of Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj, our Bapa Kemerdekaan and Bapa Malaysia.

As always, we at IDEAS will be holding a special event to mark the day.  But to respect those who might be going to church on Sunday, we will hold the event on Saturday 7 February instead.  Doors will open at 9.30am and we hope to start by 10am.

The venue Memorial Tunku Abdul Rahman on Jalan Dato Onn, Kuala Lumpur.  This is a public event so I invite all of you to join us.

We have a line-up of speakers ready to debate the theme of “Where is the leadership?”.  And you will also get a very rare chance to hear a personal story from the Tunku’s grand-daughter, Datin Lara Hussein.

However the Memorial’s auditorium can only accommodate 200 people so I do apologise in advance if you cannot find a seat on the day.  I hasten to add, however, that the Memorial itself is worth a visit even if you cannot join the formal event in the auditorium.

The same date also marks the fifth year of IDEAS.  Yes it has been five years since we were officially launched on 8 February 2010 by YBM Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, in an event graced by three generations of Almarhum Tunku’s families and friends.

The launch date was chosen because the establishment of IDEAS was inspired by Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman’s vision to see our nation “be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nation”.

That was what he said in the Proclamation of Independence and he repeated it again in the Proclamation of Malaysia.

Indeed the philosophy of liberty and justice is the founding principle of our country.  And over the last five years, we have tried our best to translate liberty and justice into policy ideas.

Our resources are limited so we spent most of our time on the two areas that we feel can produce the most impact – school reform and political economy.  We have become more disciplined in accepting funds, ensuring that we are directed more by our strategic plans instead of grant availability.

It has not been easy to instil this discipline because as an organisation that is dependent on grants and donations, usually the tendency is to follow funders’ priorities.  But we feel it is necessary to work more strategically so that we produce maximum effectiveness when spending the precious money donated to us, instead of spreading ourselves too thinly to try to do everything.  I am most grateful to all our funders for their understanding and support.

Our team grew from three in 2010 to seventeen in 2014.  We remain as a not-for-profit organisation and our income is dependent on grants and donations.  Revenue in 2014 has not grown significantly compared to 2013, but is still healthy at RM 1.84million.

In terms of media coverage, we generated RM25.2 million worth of PR Value, which means that if we were to pay for the total coverage that we received, that is how much it would have cost us.  But more importantly, it is really encouraging to see more people advocating and supporting liberal ideas in various media today.  The growth of the liberal “community” gives hope for a more harmonious and prosperous Malaysia in the future.

Our influence on Malaysian policy debates continues to grow as our ideas start to be adopted by politicians and policy-makers alike, particularly around school reform, good governance and economic liberalisation.  But of course we still have a long way to go and we will indeed be doing even more.

In addition to policy advocacy, we also conduct “proof of concept” activities.  Our IDEAS Autism Centre in Rawang, Selangor, is an example of how quality care and therapy can be made accessible to special needs children from low income families.  And last year we started another venture in private education.  Working with a Dutch partner, the IDEAS Academy has been set up in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, to show that it is indeed possible to provide high quality education using international syllabus to the underprivileged.

We are certainly proud of these achievements.  The team has worked hard throughout the year and they certainly deserve a pat on the back.  They have shown amazing commitment to showing how classical liberal ideas can be implemented in this country.  It is their hard work that makes it possible for us to continuously look for ways to translate Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman’s vision of “liberty and justice” into public policy.

While I am happy with IDEAS’ progress over the last five years, I cannot say the same about the trajectory of our country.  Illiberal voices attacking the philosophical foundation of this country are becoming louder.

Misguided minority groups are proudly showcasing their ignorance of our Rukun Negara which says that we are committed to “guaranteeing a liberal approach towards our rich and varied cultural traditions”.

These dim individuals regularly call people to ignore Tunku Abdul Rahman’s reminder that “You can’t have peace without freedom, and you can’t have freedom without peace”.

The trend is worrying.  We must double our efforts to remind people that this nation was built on the philosophy of liberty.  We need to work harder to revive the spirit of freedom that was so precious to our forefathers, and to translate that spirit into concrete policy ideas.  At the very least, we owe that to the Tunku and his generation and to the future generation too.

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Wan Saiful Wan Jan is the chief executive of IDEAS.

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