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Malaysia passes per capita GDP milestone en route to developed country status

September 28, 2015

Malaysia has passed an important milestone on its way to developed country status.

World Bank data shows that Malaysian GDP per capita -$10,830 in 2014 -has exceeded for the first time the average of all nations worldwide, $10,804. By comparison, in 2010 national per capita GDP was US $8,752, some 8% below the then-world average of US $9,513.

The achievement was noted in a review of Malaysia's unique Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC,, which conducts its 5th annual meeting in Manhattan Sept. 28.

GSIAC, Malaysia's "kitchen cabinet" of national and international sustainable development advisors, is mandated with helping the country achieve $15,000 per capita GDP-the threshold for developed country status -by 2020.

Chaired by Prime Minister Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, GSIAC is a body of distinguished national and international leaders in economics, business, science and technology. The Council is run jointly by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) and the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS).

"With the benefit of GSIAC's valuable insights and advice, Malaysia is firmly on the path to developed country status," says Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Joint Chairman of MIGHT, and a member of the UN Secretary-General's Scientific Advisory Board.

"There is much to do, however, to reach our $15,000 goal sustainably. From 2015 to 2020 inclusive, Malaysia's per capita GDP needs to increase by $695 per year on average."

He notes that such an increase is well within the projections of the 11th Malaysia Plan, released in May, which foresees private consumption and investment driving growth in gross national income per capita of 7.9% per annum.

Prof. Zakri emphasized that science, technology and innovation, pursued through national Science into Action (S2A) initiatives, are integral to the success of 11th Malaysia Plan, which includes six economic objectives: unlocking national potential and productivity, raising the bottom 40% of households towards middle-class positions, enabling industry-led technical and vocational education and training, fostering green growth and competitive cities, and translating innovation into wealth.

The assessment of GSIAC's first five years of work was conducted by independent reviewers Prof. Mohamed Hassan, Chair of the UN University Council and co-chair of IAP, the Global Network of Science Academies, and Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys, the world's leading, technology-focused strategic consulting firm, headquartered in India.

Through workshops and more than 30 interviews with Council members and stakeholders, the reviewers assessed GSIAC in terms of:
  • Economic impact (wealth generation)

  • Social and natural capital development (health and environmental improvement)

  • Contribution to sustainable development goals

  • The quality of international linkages and partnerships fostered

Defining GSIAC as "a powerful international body advising the Prime Minister of Malaysia on the development of Malaysia and its economy," the assessment examined as well the Council's vision, mission and objectives, and the relevance and impact of the GSIAC's four overarching themes:

  • Human capacity building

    Through the GSIAC, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has developed collaborative networks with NYAS on human capacity building, and programs including the 'Nobelist Mindset' and Bitara STEM programs, which aim to foster the interest of young people in the pursuit of science and innovation, "From Cradle to Career."

  • Smart Communities

    The Smart Communities (Smart Cities, Smart Villages) initiative, announced at the conclusion of GSIAC's first meeting, aims to promote environmental sustainability and accelerate the greening of urban and rural communities while building community well-being (public safety, education, social care, etc.)

  • Nutrition and Health

    Malaysia, dealing with rising problems with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity, has looked for the Council for international expert advice. Among the results: My Body Fit and Fabulous, a GSIAC-brokered program involving the collaboration of the NYAS-based Sackler Institute of Nutrition Science and Malaysia's Ministry of Health. A school-based intervention program combines physical activity, good nutrition and psychology to combat overweight and obesity among primary and secondary students.

  • Green Future

    Green Future calls for the promotion of new sustainable economic opportunities by ensuring industrial efficiencies, sustainable consumption and production with the emphasis being on zero pollution. Adopting green technologies related to energy, water, pharmaceuticals, construction and transportation is expected to create new opportunities in industrial development, research, education and develop highly-skilled manpower.

    "Over the past five years, GSIAC can proudly boast of 10 or so collaborations in various areas that led to the birth of several programs / initiatives," the assessment says.

    "Some programs / initiatives require more time to complete construction or implementation to achieve large-scale results. However, positive results are noted despite significant challenges in implementation."

    The report calls for the nation-wide scale up of pilot projects My Body Fit and Fabulous, and Bitera STEM, with implementation monitored by Malaysia's National Science Council.

    "It is clear that these programs bring great benefit to the country and its people especially the young generation; the future leaders."

    "In view of the magnitude of the promising potential of these programs, they should be conducted at national scale or included in the national syllabus or system....(and) collaborative efforts between policy makers, program champions and other stakeholders are crucial to scale-up."

    Among other proposals, the reviewers called for establishment of at least one interactive science center in each state to promote "hands-on" science education and literacy. They highlighted as well the opportunity to introduce to religious educational institutions inquiry-based learning and problem-solving skills, "which could be a unique contribution of Malaysia to the world -transforming religious learning institutions."

    In addition to offering suggestions on specific programs, the reviewers make several overarching recommendations:
    • Close alignment of GSIAC efforts with the 11th Malaysia Plan and the post-2015 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

    • The appointment of young innovators and additional women to the Council

    • That the Council underscore the importance of science, technology and innovation to economic growth, job creation and prosperity

    • The encouragement of more South-South cooperation

    "It is our hope that Malaysia will continue to develop and prosper while making a significant international contribution," the reviewers conclude.

    International evaluations of Malaysian innovation

    This year's GSIAC meeting had the benefit of insights from the Global Innovation Index (GII) report, newly-published by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

    In this year's GII, Malaysia ranks 32nd in the world overall, up a notch from 33rd the year before, and Malaysia is the top-ranked middle-income country.

    The report credits "political stability, inflows of foreign direct investment, and export-oriented industrialization"for Malaysia's successful transformation into "an upper middle-income country."

    "Malaysia has been an innovation achiever over the period 2011-2014, as seen in improvements to its Global Innovation Index (GII) score relative to its GDP," the report says. "Furthermore, Malaysia's remarkable innovation performance led it to record the highest GII rank among the middle-income countries in 2014."

    "Malaysia outperformed its middle-income peers in all seven pillars of the GII over the period 2011-14. Its general institutions for stimulating innovation are good, as can be seen from the improvements in its ranking in the ease of starting a business indicator, from 90th in 2012 to 15th in 2014."

    "Malaysia's ranking in ...Business environment has also improved, seen in its rise from 53rd place in 2011 to 25th in 2014. At the same time, the government's increasing focus on research funding has helped stimulate expansion in innovation inputs and outputs, evidenced by the rise in R&D expenditure as a share of GDP, R&D researchers and scientists per million persons, and number of doctoral graduates and scientific publications."

    On the other hand, the report says, "Malaysia has remained a net technology and services importer, with net receipts and licensing fees remaining negative for many years. Greater efforts should be made to improve institutional support and knowledge-based activities to turn Malaysia into a net exporter of technology and services. Taiwan, Province of China, is a good model for Malaysia to consider in its efforts to strengthen innovation efficiency."

    "Malaysia's boosting of university-industry linkages... is a good example for other countries that want to improve their innovation capacity. By making it a requisite for universities to engage industry when seeking public R&D grants, scientific research at universities is increasingly targeted at commercialization."

    OECD's review

    Another review of Malaysian innovation policy, prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, foresees "immense opportunities to be seized" thanks in part to the country's proximity to the world's largest, most populous and dynamic emerging economies, China and India. This environment offers opportunities to explore and develop several economic niches "capable of generating prosperity in a sustainable manner," according to advance knowledge of the report.

    The OECD review is expected to cite several key actions needed to improve Malaysia's innovation capacity:
    • Implementing an innovation-based development strategy

    • Sustained attention to and continued investment in developing human resources and skills, and science, technology and innovation

    • Gradually building a mature and well-performing national innovation system with healthy interactions between its constituent parts and the international environment

    • Fostering the innovation capabilities of business firms through a mix of innovation-friendly framework conditions and dedicated and responsive policy measures

    • Strengthening the contribution of universities and research institutes, notably by adequate mechanisms of steering and funding, taking account of the full range of these institutions' functions (from educating skilled personnel for STI to performing advanced research).


  • Ellis Rubinstein, President and CEO, New York Academy of Sciences; Joint GSIAC Secretary:

    "That the feedback from key stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive is ideal. However, just as important is the constructive feedback received, which will allow GSIAC to continue, and improve, on its path of creating and supporting multi-disciplinary collaborations that have the potential to transform the earning potential of an entire country, while positively impacting its citizens in countless ways."

  • Prof. Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia; Joint GSIAC Secretary

    "Malaysia is helping to foster the internationalization of science to enlarge our domestic capacity through global partnership - a point very clearly underlined in our national Science, Technology and Innovation policy. International linkages in the form of stakeholder networks, partnerships and collaborations help to find global remedies to challenges faced at home and to integrate technologies across all sectors of the economy."

  • Datuk Dr. Yusoff Sulaiman, Joint Secretariat, GSIAC; President and CEO, MIGHT

    "I am pleased that the assessment highlighted a number of successful collaborations in human capacity building, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, green futures, information and communications technologies, smart communities and health. Many of these programs are considered 'game changers' drawing the participation of both international and Malaysian organisations."
    Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology

    The Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee under the purview of the Prime Minister of Malaysia. MIGHT is an organization built on the strength of public-private partnership with more than 100 members, both local and international, from industry, government and academia. As an organization MIGHT is dedicated to providing a platform for industry-government consensus building in the drive to advance high technology competency in Malaysia.

    New York Academy of Sciences

    The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been committed to advancing science, technology, and society worldwide. With 25,000 members in 140 countries, the Academy is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. The Academy's core mission is to advance scientific knowledge, positively impact the major global challenges of society with science-based solutions, and increase the number of scientifically informed individuals in society at large.

    Malaysia 11th Plan

    In full:


    Executive Summary:

    GSIAC council members:


    Alice Gast, President of Imperial College, London

    Andrew W. Wyckoff, Director, OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

    Dr. AnnaLee Saxenian, Dean and Professor, School of Information, University of California, Berkeley

    Dr. Anthony J. Sinskey, Prof. of Biology & Health Sciences & Technology, MIT

    Professor Anthony Cheetham, Treasurer and Vice President, Royal Society, United Kingdom

    Brian R. Mefford, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Connected Nations, Inc.

    Hon. Ilya Ponomarev, Member, DUMA of Russia, Chair, DUMA High Technology Committee

    Jae Hoon Chung, President, Korea Institute for Advancement of Technology (KIAT)

    Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, Special Advisor to the Secretary General of the United Nations

    Jeffrey R. Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric (GE)

    Hon. Jerry MacArthur Hultin, President Emeritus, Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Former Secretary

    Dr. John Gage, Former Chief Researcher and Vice President of the Science Officer, Sun Microsystems

    John T. Chambers, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, CISCO

    Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, former Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan

    Dr. Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University

    Dr. Mikael Dolsten, President, Worldwide Research and Development and Senior Vice President, Pfizer Inc

    Dr. Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor, The State University of New York

    Dr. Paul Horn, Senior Vice Provost for Research, New York University, former Senior Vice President & Executive Director of Research, IBM

    Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, Director General, The Energy Research Institute (TERI), New Delhi, Chair, International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

    Sir Richard Roberts, Nobel Laureate, Chief Scientific Officer, New England Biolabs

    Dr. Rita Colwell, US Special Science Envoy to South Asia and Southeast Asia

    Dr. Roger Wyse, Co-Chairman, Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund

    Dr. Torsten Wiesel, Nobel Laureate, President Emeritus, Rockefeller University, Chairman Emeritus, The New York Academy of Sciences

    Professor William F. Miller, Herbert Hoover Professor of Public & Private, Emeritus Professor of Computer Science Stanford University, former President & CEO of SRI International

    Professor Youngah Park, President, Korea Institute of Science & Technology Evaluation and Planning (KISTEP)


    Dato' Mah Siew Keong, Minister in Prime Minister's Office

    Dato' Sri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister of International Trade and Industry

    Datuk Seri Panglima Dr. Maximus Johnity Ongkili, Minister of Energy, Green Technology & Water

    Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas, Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities

    Datuk Madius Tangau, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI)

    Dato' Seri Haji Idris Bin Jusoh, Minister of Higher Education

    Senator Dato' Sri Abdul Wahid Omar, Minister in Prime Minister's Office

    Dato' Seri DiRaja Mahdzir Bin Khalid, Minister of Education

    Senator Datuk Seri Panglima Dr. Mohd Salleh Tun Said Keruak, Minister of Communications and Multimedia

    Tan Sri Dr. Ahmad Tajuddin Ali FASc, President, Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM

    Tan Sri Dato' Azman Bin Hj. Mokhtar, Managing Director, Khazanah

    Tan Sri Dato' Seri Mohd Bakke Salleh, President and Group Chief Executive, Sime Darby Berhad

    Tan Sri Dato' Sri Zamzamzairani Mohd Isa, Managing Director/Group Chief Executive Officer of TM

    Datuk Seri Ir. Azman Mohd, President/Chief Executive Officer of Tenaga Nasional Berhad

    YBhg. Datuk Wan Zulfiflee Wan Ariffin, President and Chief Executive Officer, PETRONAS

    Dato' Mohd Emir Mavani Abdullah, Group President & Chief Executive Officer, Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd

    Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology

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