Penang: Changing mindset to create a better future

Individuals and communities must have the right mindset and work together in spite of the obstacles to change their sphere of influence if they are to create a better future in terms of physical and social wealth.

Prof Suresh Narayanan (right) introduces the speaker.

Prof Suresh Narayanan (right) introduces the speaker.

This was expressed by Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, Chief Advisor to the China Banking Regulatory Commission, at the public lecture on ‘Why East and West Will Meet in George Town’, organised by WOU’s Centre for Dialogue under the Chancellor’s Lecture Series at the main campus today.

He said Penang is geographically well located and that it is not real estate but people and talent that create wealth. He stressed that innovation can be the drivers of real growth in cities, and this requires human capital, R&D inputs, risk capital, workforce, and tech concentration.

He suggested Penang grab the best of the East and the West and organise the social technology and the business package into a workable model to take George Town to the next level.  “It’s not a matter of how you do it as the technology is available but whether we have the mindset to do it.”

Highlighting the success of Silicon Valley in the United States.

Highlighting the success of Silicon Valley in the United States.

He mentioned successful city-to-city alliances, like that of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland to form the Silicon Valley in US, which has some 40 universities and is now home to the top 39 high-tech companies, including Adobe, Apple, Facebook, eBay and Netflix. He said investments now are in start-ups, with ICT directly impacting future national wealth and income creation.

Sheng quoted research that by 2020, 940 million online shoppers are expected to spend $1 trillion on cross-border e-commerce transactions, with today’s money made with apps and services like Uber, Alibaba, Facebook, and Instagram.

He remarked that Penang faces long-term competitive challenges namely: it cannot rely solely on real estate; loss of talent to abroad and growing over-reliant on foreign labour for construction and service jobs;  intensifying competition from other cities; and lack of coordination between academic, business and civil service.

Sheng elaborates on how Penang can move forward to achieve growth.

Sheng elaborates on how Penang can move forward to achieve growth.

He shared that Penang must position itself in the networked economy, where the world is today our customer base, and there is easy access to information on content, branding, infrastructure and marketing.  He said Penang must improve productivity and increase labour utilisation to generate growth, stressing the key is continuous education, training and skills upgrading at state, corporate and individual levels.

He noted that universities are hub for knowledge and content generation, and that graduates are not only talent-pool for new ideas, but also cheap labour for entry into jobs. He said universities need to work together with the community - business, government, civil society - to be a platform for knowledge exchange and innovation, and that this cannot happen without input of Penang’s corporate captains, civic leaders and academic profession.

Responding to queries from the audience.

Responding to queries from the audience.

During Q&A, Sheng replied that we are now plugged into a global economy. “What’s stopping us to go to the next level? It’s the individual.” He advised for people not to blame anybody but rather to change their sphere of influence as individuals and by working as communities to create the future.

The lecture was attended by about 70 people including Pro-Chancellor Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, Board of Governors Chairman Tan Sri Emeritus Prof Gajaraj Dhanarajan and Vice Chancellor Prof Dato’ Dr Ho Sinn Chye.

Part of the crowd at the lecture.

Part of the crowd at the lecture.