Monday, August 08, 2011

Malaysia Public Policy Competition 2011

A friend still in university, with Kian Ming's advice, has initiated a public policy competition for Malaysian youth. This is the sort of initiative and independence which more of our students should have. Registration has closed, and now almost 50 teams from a variety of schools and universities are competing for 16 spots in the final, where public policymakers will judge their ideas. The final round, to be held at UCSI University, looks like it will be exciting, even if you aren't participating -- how often do you get to hear 16 teams of Malaysian youth putting their policy suggestions out there for actual policymakers to listen to and critique?

The final will be held on Sunday 4 September, 2 to 5:30PM at the UCSI University North Wing, Kuala Lumpur Campus, in Cheras. The judges include the Chief Commissioner of the MACC, and the Speaker of the Selangor State Legislative Assembly. For more details and to guarantee a seat at the final, visit:

For more general information about the competition, including a list of teams, see

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What's After SPM? A whole world awaits

Like most young people, I'm still not sure what I want to do with my life. Most people I think have an inkling of their personality and their interests, but not much of an idea of how to translate this into a vocation, career, or ideally, a calling. This is what makes the book What's After SPM?: 101 Stories, 101 Young Malaysians (edited by Roshan Thiran) so compelling. When I first got the book, I left it on my bedside table when I turned in for the night; my father picked it up, and the next day itself, he bought a few copies for my siblings and cousin. That tells you something about how important this book is, and what kind of niche it fills.

Before I continue, in the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book free of charge in return for agreeing to review it. I was not given any other compensation or instructions. I also happen to know a few of those 101 Malaysians who wrote for the book -- one of whom is my co-blogger here, Kian Ming.

The title of the book is actually a little misleading; some of those who write in it, such as Kian Ming, never sat for SPM. Rather, the point of the book is to give readers a sense of what opportunities lie out there -- what ways there are to fulfill both your personal interests and goals, and simultaneously contribute to society. Each story is a little, sometimes immensely different from the others. In terms of careers, you have doctors, academics, food critics, and students -- and in terms of age, you run a veritable gamut from fresh SPM leavers to freshly minted PhDs like Kian Ming.

Every person writing is at a different stage in life, and pursuing a different life path, which is what makes this book both so useful and so interesting. Even if you would never want to be a fitness trainer or a political scientist, simply understanding how people find their callings -- and how they are continually refining their understanding of what they are called to be -- is so valuable. It does not matter how old you are or where in life you may be. My father, who by right should be beginning to think about how he will spend his retirement years, could not stop talking about the book, recommending it to all his friends. I could not put the book down either.

My personal take away from the book is that we have to embrace some degree of uncertainty about life before finding where we are called to be. Kian Ming's story is actually a good example of this -- he relates how his career as a corporate high flier was suddenly cut short, and how he stumbled around looking for his calling. But I find that almost everyone writing has something similar to share about how they had to cast around before figuring out what was right for them.

The uncertainty of this may sound frightening, but I find it an empowering message for everyone, young or old, because we are in charge of our own destinies. This book is in many ways the perfect antidote for the rigidities of SPM and our general education system, where once you are in the arts or science stream, you are ostensibly set for life. (Science stream people all become engineers or doctors, and arts stream people all become VCD sellers or fishermen, right?) What's After SPM is the perfect way to make a youth think about their future, and encourage them to take responsibility for figuring out who they want to be.

After heaping all this glowing praise on the book, you might think it is flawless. But while it is no doubt a fascinating and useful read, it could do with some improvement. The cover of the book is not terribly distinctive (I couldn't find it in the bookstore and had to ask for assistance when I was buying a copy for a friend), making it hard to stand out on the shelf. The organisation of the book is a simple ordering of each essay by the author's name alphabetically. While this is good for casual reading or flipping through, other organisational schemes might have added more value. Perhaps organising the book roughly by age of author, or type of essay, would have been good.

Probably the most annoying thing for a returning reader is that if you read a fascinating essay by that social entrepreneur or this doctor, and want to find it again, you need to remember the author's name or the essay's title. There is no index of topics covered in the book. This is quite a big oversight, and I hope the editors will address this in a future edition.

In spite of those caveats, I cannot recommend this book more wholeheartedly. Buy it for the primary or secondary school student in your life; buy it for the fresh graduate clueless about his prospects; buy it for the professional with a mid-life crisis; buy it for yourself. At the very least, you will find these stories interesting -- at best, you will have a whole new, fresh perspective on life.

You can get your copy from MPH or Borders. MPH MidValley is hosting the official book launch this August 6; I encourage you to attend and hear from some of the amazing Malaysians behind this project.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Sun "Malaysia and Me" writing contest

The Sun is running a "Malaysia and Me" writing competition for Malaysians between the ages of 15 and 30. If you are a student or youth, this is an excellent chance to participate in an important conversation about the future of our country. Details follow after the jump.

HAVE you something interesting to say about your country and you? On any aspect that inspires you or delights you or even annoys you?

If you do, share it with your fellow Malaysians by taking part in the
theSun-1MDB ‘Malaysia and Me’ Writing Competition which closes on July

The top three prizes are RM5,000, RM3,000 and RM2,000. There are also 10
Consolation Prizes of RM500 each.

If you are a Malaysian between the ages of 15 and 30, you are eligible to
take part, and can send in as many as three entries.

Your entry must be your own original work, and it must not have been
published before.

The competition is organised by theSun in conjunction with Merdeka 2011,
with the aim of encouraging literary expression by Malaysian youths.
We’ve kept the boundaries open by calling it simply a “writing
competition”. This means you can write in any genre you wish.

Exercise your imagination. You can of course write an essay to address
the ‘Malaysia and Me’ theme. But if you feel you can best express it
in a poem, go for it. Or if you want to write a letter to your country or
anyone in particular, that’s also fine. So is writing a short story or
even a short play with dialogue and action.

Just be sure to keep to a maximum of 1,500 words. There is, however, no

The judging will be done by an independent panel of professional experts,
and they will be looking for the most creative entries. With substance
too, of course.

To ensure impartiality in the judging, the names of the participants will
not be made known to the panel. As such, you must make sure that your
name does not appear on any part of your entry. It should appear only in
the entry form, together with other required particulars and the title of
your entry.

Do take note that the title of your entry must also appear on every page
of your entry.

Entry forms are available in the printed edition of theSun and online at

You can e-mail in your entries or send them by snail mail, but each entry
must be accompanied by an entry form.

All entries must reach the office of theSun no later than 6pm on July 29,

You can find out more about the competition in theSun newspaper or log on

Friday, January 07, 2011

Mari Kita Membaca, a worthy cause

Philanthropic giving is a big thing in the USA, a cottage industry almost. About 2 out of every 3 American households gives to charity annually -- it's not something that just Bill Gates and Warren Buffett do. Unfortunately, not many communities outside the US have yet developed a similar culture of giving. If you're interested in doing something for charity though, some friends recently founded Mari Kita Membaca, a charity which gives books to libraries and pre-schools in isolated Orang Asli villages. One of them wrote to me explaining the project:

We started just a few months ago and in a nutshell, we fundraise to send books to orang asli villages which already have community learning centers. We screen and select villages that we think will benefit the most out of getting the books and after consultation with local teachers, we help them buy the books that would assist them in their curriculum. It's not a very big operation, but we do what we can. We have a pretty quick turnover of our cash, and 100% of it goes towards buying the books and any delivery expenses.

It's definitely a worthy cause, and if you're interested in helping or finding out more, check out the Mari Kita Membaca website: