For the past three years, the Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) has been a highly-anticipated annual conference where leaders of the freedom movement across Asia meet to discuss challenges facing the region and to collaborate with one another to advance free-market reform. This year, the 4th ALF was held from 18th to 20th of February 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the first time. Organised by Atlas Network, with its regional partner, the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), India, and local organising host, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Malaysia, the forum was attended by over 250 delegates from across the world, and was held at the Renaissance Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.
The ALF began with an opening dinner, with a welcome address by Tricia Yeoh, Chief Operating Officer of IDEAS, and Baishali Bomjan, Director of Development and Strategy, CCS. This was followed by a keynote address by the renowned Tom G. Palmer, Executive Vice President of International Programmes, Atlas Network. The opening dinner saw to the start of many friendships, as delegates formed new networks and partnerships with one another.
The second day of the ALF kicked off with an exciting, hour-long, speed networking session. Borrowing from the format of speed dating, delegates had to introduce themselves and network with each other quickly before moving on to the next person.
After the speed networking session, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Chief Executive Officer of IDEAS, delivered his welcome address. This was followed by an opening address by Siegfried Herzog of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Southeast Asia. In his speech, Herzog emphasised the importance of events such as the ALF, saying, “The chance to engage with new people, new concepts and new perspective is vital to the development of freedom.” He ended by encouraging delegates to seek out random encounters with one another so as to build avenues to advance the freedom movement together.
(Click here for a full summary of the opening address.)
The forum’s first session was a panel discussion featuring six founders of new liberal think tanks in Asia. These included Rainer Heufers, Centre for Indonesian Policy Studies, Indonesia; Baladevan Rangaraju, India Institute, India; Dhananath Fernando, Advocata Institute, Sri Lanka; Noor Amin Ahmad Institute for Leadership and Development Studies, Malaysia; Basanta Adhikari Bikalpa, Nepal; and Rishi Kochhar Amritsar Policy Group, India. Panellists related personal accounts of starting their own think tanks and shared about their think tanks’ initiatives, their organsiations are engaged in, such as the annual property rights conference organised by the India Institute and CIPS’ goal to establish a group of low-cost private schools. Each panellist emphasised the importance of passion in their work and the importance of educating young people in ensuring that the sustainability of their work and ideas. Through this sharing of diverse experiences, delegates gained an insightful glimpse into the hard, yet rewarding work involved in starting and operating a think tank.
(Click here for a full summary of the panel discussion.)
After the panel discussion, there was a screening of a documentary titled Poverty Inc. by PovertyCure, exposes the ills of the poverty industry. Following this, there were breakout sessions covering a vast range of topics, including TPP, TTIP, RCEP, AEC & Other Trade Deals, Using Networks for Leveraging Influence, From Aid to Enterprise, Liberty in the Muslim World, The Role of the Internet: Challenges to Liberty Online and Scaling Liberty through Academia. Each breakout session featured a panel of leading experts in the respective workshop topics from various libertarian organisations in Asia, North America and Europe.
The second day of the conference concluded with the Freedom Dinner. The dinner included a heartfelt tribute to recently deceased champions of the liberty movement and a freedom toast by Parth J Shah, founder of CCS. The Freedom Dinner ended with Atlas Network’s 2016 Asia Liberty Award, which was awarded to Samriddhi – The Prosperity Foundation, Nepal.
The final day of the Asia Liberty Forum began with a documentary screening of India Awakes¸ which highlights how free market reforms are helping many Indians rise out of poverty. (Click here for the full discussion on the documentary.) The morning continued with a panel discussion on recent political changes in Asia, chaired by Tom Palmer. Rajesh Jain, Free a Billion, India, shared about the various historical factors that have contributed to a flawed government system and constitution in his country. Steven Wong, Institute for Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia, and Kriengsak Chareonwongsak, Institute of Future Studies for Development, Thailand, examined recent developments that have led to greater democracy in Asia, while Rohan Samarjiva, LIRNEAsia, Sri Lanka, related of the current challenges to economic reforms in Sri Lanka.
(Click here for a full summary of the panel discussion.)
Breakout sessions followed the morning’s panel discussion. Topics discussed included Protecting Yourself Against Daylight Robbery, Private School Revolution in Asia, The Chinese Financial Crises and their Impact on Asia, The Rhetoric of Liberty and Building Evidence for Policy Change.
After the breakout sessions, Atlas Network held its Elevator Pitch competition, an exciting contest featuring over 20 youths from the think tank start-up training, who each gave a minute-long speech promoting their organisations’ work in their countries. IDEAS’ very own executive, Yohannan Nair, won the grand prize of USD $500.
Towards the end of the afternoon, the Mentor’s Roundtable was held with over a dozen senior leaders in the global libertarian movement having their own one-on-one discussion with ALF delegates, where they shared openly about their experiences in their work and discussed key issues surrounding liberal ideas.
The Asia Liberty Forum was brought to a grand close with a gala dinner celebrating IDEAS’ 6th Anniversary and the 113th birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia. The anniversary dinner was graced by members of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s family, prominent political leaders and public servants, civil society leaders and IDEAS’ council members.
The event began with an address by IDEAS’ founding president, YAM Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin Muhriz. IDEAS’ Chief Executive Officer, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, then presented IDEAS’ Annual Report, recounting IDEAS’ events, activities and finances for the year 2015.
The highlight of the evening was a keynote speech by former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, YABhg Tun Dato’ Musa Hitam. Tun Musa spoke fondly of his memories serving under Tunku Abdul Rahman in the government, and gave insightful reflections on the current political challenges in the nation.
(Click here for the full text of Tun Musa’s keynote speech.)
The dinner also featured captivating performances by Sean Ghazi, a famous Malaysian singer and actor, a gamelan troupe from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, as well as Tunku Abdul Rahman’s great-granddaughter, Natasha Idris, who sang a beautiful rendition of “What a Wonderful World”, Tunku’s favourite song. The evening concluded with a cake-cutting ceremony to commemorate Tunku Abdul Rahman’s 113th birthday and a vote of thanks by Baishali Bomjan for the Asia Liberty Forum.