Young Malaysian minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman steals show at opening WEF panel

Malaysia's 25-year-old youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman spoke at the World Economic Forum on Asean's first plenary session in Hanoi on Sept 11, 2018.
Malaysia's 25-year-old youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman spoke at the World Economic Forum on Asean's first plenary session in Hanoi on Sept 11, 2018.ST PHOTO: TRINNA LEONG

HANOI - How do you adapt? You don't - you disrupt.

How do you raise money? You don't. You do what you do well and wait for people to offer you money.

These and other pieces of advice were shared on Tuesday (Sept 11) during the first panel discussion at the World Economic Forum on Asean in Hanoi, where hundreds of young Vietnamese students turned up to hear from a panel that included a Google executive, technology entrepreneur and other trailblazers talk about how to ensure that Asean is inclusive as it embraces its digital future.

The star of the show was undeniably Malaysia's 25-year-old youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, a champion debater who turned down a scholarship to study at Oxford University to serve his country after the recent elections.

Young people, he told the audience, are changing the world, and governments should give due recognition in order to fully tap this potential.

Changes in technology have removed age barriers to tasks which were limited to a certain segments of society, he noted, with some of the very best start-ups these days are founded by young entrepreneurs.

"Due recognition must be given by the government, by corporate sectors, to ensure that in the end, we can march forward and not just become leaders of tomorrow but also shape the future today," he said.

 
 

Asked by a student how should one adapt to the fast-changing circumstances, Mr Syed Saddiq replied: "I don't believe that young people should just adapt. If it's about adaptation, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be here today, because adaptation means you conforming to the convention and convention unfortunately usually under-privileges young people because… of age and experience.

"My suggestion for the youth of Asean is for you to think out of the box…find that ever-burning passion, push all the way and use the most unconventional means."

Asked by a participant about data protection in light of the European Union's recently introduced data privacy regulations, Mr Syed Saddiq suggested instead that too many safeguards on data may make it harder for small companies to surmount monopolistic or oligopolistic markets.

"I believe data should be as open, transparent and accessible as possible," he said.

"Data protection is important but overzealous regulation in the long run will hurt the development especially of small medium and enterprises, and tech start-ups."

Fellow panellist Professor Annie Koh, the vice-president of Singapore Management University's Office of Business Development, called Mr Syed Saddiq a "rock star".

Mr Le Hong Minh, founder of Vietnam's Internet giant VNG Corporation, playfully asked the crowd: "How many of you would like to be a minister at the age of 25, like him?"

He was greeted by a sea of eager hands.

Mr Minh had his own advice when he was asked how aspiring entrepreneuers could raise funds.

"The best way of raising money is not to raise but wait for people to give you money… When you are so good, that people like myself, or Rajan say, please take my money, please," he said, much the amusement of fellow panellist and Google India and South-east Asia vice-president Rajan Anandan.

Like Mr Syed Saddiq, Mr Minh urged the crowd not to do "the normal stuff", because the future is often what people at present think is "magical" and "unimaginable".

"Don't believe in all the things that we, the people say, because we just say the things that we understand today. And maybe we say something which serves our own interests," he urged.

"Think about your own interests. Think about something that really makes you excited. And maybe that something is going be cool for you in the next 10 years."