TBY talks to, Tan Sri Omar Rahman, CEO & President, Malaysia University of Science and Technology (MUST) Ehsan Foundation, on the Smart Partnership, the challenges of implementing policies, and human resources.

Tan Sri Omar Rahman
Tan Sri Oman Rahman holds a BVSc from Sydney University, Australia, and a PhD from Cambridge University in the UK. He is Founder, President, and Senior Fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Founder and current Chairman of the Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management (CPTM), Founder and Joint Chairman of the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), and Coordinator of the STI Policy Unit of the UNESCO-Malaysia International STI Centre. He was Science Adviser for the Prime Ministry of Malaysia from 1984 to 2001. His new book is entitled The Essentials of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy.

Tanzania hosted the Global 2013 Smart Partnership Dialogue, and over the past decade the Smart Partnership concept has become something of a brand. How did this concept come about?

We have a history of direct involvement in different African countries. Uganda has hosted the Smart Partnership Dialogue twice, and other countries that have done so besides Tanzania are Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zambia. The whole thing began in 1995. As Science Adviser of the Malaysian Prime Ministry, my job was to develop a better management system for science and technology, enabling the country to be more focused on enhancing the economy. I enjoyed being a prime mover in the development of science, technology, and innovation in Malaysia. Then, two years into my work, the Commonwealth Science Council was my first window into an international network. In 1989, the Commonwealth of Nations met in Kuala Lumpur. They said to me, why doesn't Malaysia propose to transform the Scientific Management Organization (SMO) into a larger unit that Commonwealth countries could broadly use. Malaysia then submitted a proposal that resulted in the Commonwealth Consulting Group of Technology Management (CCGTM), to which I was appointed Chairman. This later became the Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management. At that time, the Malaysian prime minister was promoting a development model that required collaboration between the public and private sectors. From that concept, the idea of the Smart Partnership arose. We held the first event in 1995 in Lankow, Malaysia. The Smart Partnership Dialogue is basically a platform for learning through sharing. For example, participating policymakers, such as the Tanzanian Commissioner for Science and Technology, learn about reorganization, or the introduction of new methods and systems into the organization. In short, what this does can be summed up as “You Share, You Learn, You Act."

What are Tanzania's strengths and challenges as it looks to implement policy to promote science, technology, and innovation (STI)?

Tanzania already has a number of structures in place, such as the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH). When the President realized the need to develop STI in Tanzania, he allocated heavily to R&D. COSTECH operates under the Ministry of Science; however, it needs to consider whether this is the best arrangement, as a more senior figure might better drive the national STI agenda is not possible.

What are the best ways to address Tanzania's human resources challenge?

In my book, The Essentials of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, is a short chapter called Holistic Human Capital Development. We know that the world has actor-driven, efficiency-driven, and innovation-driven economies, and the general desire is to create the latter of the three. The innovation-driven economy requires creative people able to challenge the status quo, and an education system that fosters such thinking. Therefore, in the Holistic Human Capital Development section I look at six key sub-capital types. One is intellectual capital. Then comes social capital, which includes social skills and language skills, for example. A fourth aspect is entrepreneurial capital. Not everybody can become an entrepreneur, but you must encourage those who might be immediately. Essential, too, is psychological capital, which is commitment, belief, and confidence in the task at hand. Lastly, you need ritual capital, including ethical values. If you want to create an innovation-driven economy, you have to look at ways to develop all of these, starting from the home itself, as well as in school, beginning with kindergarten and rising all the way to university, and on into the workplace.