Dzuleira Abu Bakar, CEO at MaGIC tells us about innovation, technology transformation, and resilience.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dzuleira Abu Bakar: We are adapting, like any other families out there: learning to live with the new norms. We’re getting quite familiar with technology, and the only challenge is to manage our processes and to set time boundaries on work, study, and family. During the working hours, everyone will be doing their own things – some are doing their homework while some do their readings. Once work hours are up, we all enjoy some family time by streaming some movies or doing some online shopping together.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded MaGIC.
Dzuleira Abu Bakar: Before I joined the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) in 2019, I was involved with organizations such as the National ICT Association of Malaysia (PIKOM) and the Malaysian Venture Capital Association (MVCA). I was also part of the board of directors in startups such as Involve Asia, Avana.com, Storehub, and 3ciety.com, delivering impact in the intersecting fields of technology and social innovation.
Those experiences inform my leadership of the nation’s foremost innovation and creativity center for technology startups. At MaGIC, we pride ourselves on building a technology and innovation ecosystem that is vibrant, open, and collaborative to create impact, able to navigate challenges of tomorrow and stay competitive in economies of the future. It is exciting to further contribute to the nation’s innovation ecosystem here in MaGIC.
What has MaGIC’s role been in developing the ecosystem?
Dzuleira Abu Bakar: We looked into adapting our long-term value propositions to be more present in light of the pandemic’s impact on entrepreneurs and their startups. We try to answer this question: “How might we do things differently now, without compromising quality, so that the entrepreneurs and startups could not only withstand but thrive despite the pandemic?” Ultimately, MaGIC tapped into the core of our foundation: innovation. The fact we had to turn our physical programs to be virtual ones turned out to be of second nature to us, seeing that creativity and innovation are, after all, in MaGIC’s DNA.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Dzuleira Abu Bakar: As a government agency, we are mindful of the need to proactively engage industry players as economic activities were disrupted due to the pandemic. Our methods of delivering value to our audience screeched to a halt, but we went straight back to the drawing boards, pivoting our methods for our main stakeholders: the startups. We conducted several temperature check surveys from the start and throughout the pandemic. 46% of startups and SEs will collapse if the COVID-19 pandemic stretches beyond six months (mid-September of 2020), and only 2.9% of them were confident of surviving beyond 2020. We had a hunch on this data angle, and the surveys validated our assumptions.
We began to envision a framework under which innovation could play a key role in not only facilitating economic recovery but in spurring growth and out-of-the-box thinking in sectors that are primed to adopt high-tech solutions. We advocated for and then assumed the mantle of the lead secretariat for National Technology & Innovation Sandbox (NTIS), an initiative that allows for testing for emergent technologies under relaxed regulations; and began managing Social Impact Matching Grant (SIM Grants), an initiative to assist innovative, grassroots social enterprises. At the same time, we at MaGIC are always mindful of the developmental goals espoused by the government under Malaysia Grand Challenges (MGC) and have fine-tuned our approach accordingly.
Did Malaysian startups have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Dzuleira Abu Bakar: From our own research and temperature checks, we noticed that most startups are not pandemic-ready. They had to make difficult decisions to pivot and quickly adapt to the situation. Most startups are agile due to the nature of their setup and operations. At MaGIC, we learned what the startups have learned: to be adaptive, adopt a resilient mindset and deploy impact-driven and sustainable technology, and lead by empathy.
We also advocate social innovation (SI), in which social enterprises and entrepreneurship (SE) are a part. SI taps into the power of collaboration and partnership – bringing together public, private, and the community themselves to devise innovative solutions the world or our nation needs.
What kind of programs does MaGIC offer to navigate through?
Dzuleira Abu Bakar: Some of MaGIC’s programs are:
- National Technology & Innovation Sandbox (NTIS): A national solution coordination center that allows innovators and startups to stress-test their products, services, business models, and delivery mechanisms in a secure and live environment, with some relaxations from all or selected regulatory requirements.
- Social Impact Matching Grant or SIM Grant: helps social innovators to sustain their initiatives and programs via a 1-to-1 grant matching mechanism for successful crowdfunding initiatives. SIM Grant works with an RM10 million budget and prioritizes initiatives across five impact areas, namely community livelihood, food security, health & social wellbeing, environmental protection,
- Global Market-Fit Programme (GMP): This is an online forum for Malaysian startups to explore and acquire foreign market access and network in countries within and outside Asia. This year, participants are connected virtually with international counterparts and partners in Taiwan, Europe, and India. GMP aims to assist Malaysian startups in navigating the common obstacles when expanding to other countries by collaborating with partners to establish bilateral launch pads to expedite the global expansion of both Malaysian and foreign startups by introducing access to a wide range of partners, corporates, investors, and ecosystem players.
Your final thoughts?
Dzuleira Abu Bakar: We believe in “Technology and Innovation First” to accelerate our recovery. This is not just a mindset to have but must be second nature in all that we do. Technology & innovation are instrumental to elevating Malaysia’s position to a high-income nation. It’s important that we become a nation of technology producers instead of technology consumers.
Startups have a critical role to play in leading this nation into the global innovation stage. We have demonstrated that elements of innovation, technology transformation and resilience mindset adoption can go a long way, and all we need is some encouragement and a little helpful nudge towards the right direction.