Higher Education Commentary, Social Justice Commentary

B40 afraid of starting businesses? Only want money?

I personally think it is much harder for people from the B40 communities to start businesses due to having less insulation from risk. They would also typically lack the means to acquire the social capital needed to make a business succeed. So when our Entrepreneurship Development Minister made comments about the B40 community as per the headline, I decided to look up his profile.

He worked as a high-salaried employee for 11 years before starting his own business. Obviously never started a business with close to zero resources. Maybe we don’t need people like these as Entrepreneurship Development Ministers. Maybe what we need is people who know how to bootstrap with as little resources as possible.

Considering that doing business is much harder than employment. Perhaps for B40 the focus should be on employability than job creation skills instead? I have long maintained in general that Malaysians need to develop job creation skills and an entrepreneurial mindset. These are something I have incorporated into the curriculum of the university programme I have run in the past.

But then again, it is much easier for people to start businesses when there is some sort of financial safety net. That’s why lately I’m starting to advise young people to going abroad for a few years to accumulate money and experience then bring them back to develop businesses and create jobs. Like what this Entrepreneurship Development Minister himself has done. Malaysians having the ability to be be competitive on a global scale is not only good for themselves but for the nation as a whole.

There are many highly skilled Malaysians (we are talking about the likes of health professionals, PhD holders of all sorts) talking about how are there are no suitable jobs for them in the market. These people should be creating jobs, not waiting for people to give them jobs. I get that the challenges they face as far as starting businesses are concerned are in some ways similar to those I mentioned about the B40 in my caption (financial and social capital) so moving abroad temporarily to accumulate these is one way of doing so.

When I was younger, I was fortunate to meet people who were willing to be generous with their time, expertise and resources and that has helped me tremendously. Many young Malaysians do not have that. Within my own very narrow profession of occupational therapy for instance, lecturers as a whole don’t really know the market. They’ve never started and run successful businesses, how to expect them to teach job creation skills? Many of those teaching in public institutions (which produce the most occupational therapists) haven’t even had the experience of working in private practice, how to develop employability in students? How many of these lecturers have actually experienced working abroad to be able to train students to compete globally?

Higher education institutions have to learn to acknowledge that they are not up to task and actively build links with those who have the expertise. Those who have the expertise (and financial means) have to be willing to invest their time and money into nation-building. Building these bridges which is a very complex task though, I have to acknowledge. But in the first place, people have to recognise the need for those bridges to be built and want to build them in the first place. As Malaysia lacks a strong support system, if the Minister wants to empower B40 he should first focus on developing the support system rather than complaining about B40.

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