I was alerted to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, visiting San Francisco by a bunch of friends on a Whatsapp group I’m on. Someone took a picture of the front page of The Sun. The article is online: Najib on working visit to San Francisco, NY. There’s more: Najib to tweet from Twitter Hq in San Francisco on Monday and PM tweets live from Twitter HQ. I will dissect all this later. Bear with me as this might be long, but I think these innovation tourism trips are an immense waste of money.
Now, before you continue reading, please go and read this article from the Financial Times: Valley visitors must bring back more than the T-shirt by Richard Waters (April 17 2013). If you’re not a subscriber, Google the title and I’m sure you can find it (or just browse in incognito mode, that might work?). This is mandatory reading because it will set the tone for what I have to digest.
Najib arrived in San Francisco with his wive Rosmah. I have to ask — what is the role of Rosmah, besides to help prop up the US economy? They took their private jet to arrive in San Francisco, which can be afforded to the man that is the Prime Minister (a Boeing Business Jet, a customised 737). Najib’s purpose was to attend the Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC), initiated by Najib in 2010, to transform Malaysia into a high-income economy by enhancing capabilities in science & innovation. He also toured Twitter & Google (only to meet happy Malaysians working away from Malaysia), and as Prime Minister, this is his first visit to Silicon Valley.
Najib has 1.7 million Twitter followers, many of whom are fake. He met Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, who’s probably really happy that Najib contributes to his bottom-line. Najib was supposed to have dinner with Malaysians, but a few that I knew who applied, weren’t invited. Najib will experience the Google driverless car and Google Glass.
At this point I’m thinking none of this impresses me.
Let’s dissect some statements:
- “Najib has been dubbed by many as among world leaders who is most active in tweeting.” – is he tweeting more, than he is leading?
- “Foreign CEOs (chief executive officers) are very impressed with his knowledge in IT (Information Technology)…he even knows more about technical stuff than some of us. He impresses CEOs and big-time entrepreneurs in a big way,” said a Malaysian official commenting on Najib’s scheduled visit to Twitter on Monday. – if only this official would state his or her name.
- On the significance of his first visit to Silicon Valley as Malaysia’s prime minister, the official said Najib would gain the experience of the Silicon Valley ecosytem which would help his government in the successful implementation of its transformation programmes. – How do you gain experience in 3 days? What good is looking at a driverless car or playing around with Google Glass going to do for you? Naturally, the buzzwords had to be dropped in: use data and big data analytics strategies for specific people to transform the country.
I know that they had events at The Fairmont, InterContinental Mark Hopkins and the Grand Hyatt. While I might stay at the latter from time-to-time, I also know that this week is Oracle OpenWorld. All hotel prices are about 300% what they are usually set at, as 60,000 conference attendees throng to San Francisco.
What irked me and prompted me to write this is the fact that Najib is also accompanied by cabinet ministers and senior government officials. Say holiday with me, people.
Go back and read Valley visitors must bring back more than a t-shirt. Najib and his entourage arrived to learn the secrets that turned San Francisco into an innovation hotspot. When all these people come back to reality (read: Malaysia), they will claim a heightened state of enlightenment. However even Silicon Valley locals know that, “the chances that anything of lasting value will come from these pilgrimages are slight.” The term for this is: innovation tourism.
The article by Richard Waters cannot be truer. The stories next week will be along the lines of this:
The VIPs among them are given something to talk about when they get home, like a spin in Google’s driverless car or a chance to graze at the sushi and barbecue bars in Facebook’s free canteen.
Can these experiences turn it into lasting value for Malaysia? Can Malaysia act with speed? Can Malaysia act with meritocracy? Can one inject a sense of urgency into Malaysians? Will Najib & his entourage go away with this knowledge in 3 days?
This trip was organised by MDeC as part of the Industry Advisory Panel (IAP). Badlisham is going to tell Silicon Valley 16 years later how far we’ve come? MDeC is footing the bill for its own delegation and possibly some entrepreneurs paid their own way there.
Why is MDeC wasting money? What has happened with the IAP for the last 16 years? What has MDeC achieved in the last 16 years? I have been to an IAP meeting when I was part of Sun Microsystems – a lot of talk, but nothing came out of it. Lots of nodding heads. Lots of potentially great ideas. But it just ends at that. Ideas.
I’ve seen MDeC send delegations overseas. Fully paid trips, business class travel, plush hotels (remember, San Francisco’s hotels are at a premium this week). Not to mention great food. A few years ago, a delegation went to an opensource conference in the USA. None of the delegation were in the opensource world, yet the government of Malaysia paid for their fun. Shortly thereafter, the MDeC lead left the organisation; none of the delegates have done anything remotely opensource since then. Can you say holiday with me, people? Another delegation went to Europe, only to note that members (senior) of that delegation was going to leave MDeC anyway. Can you say holiday with me, people?
I am of the belief that innovation tourism is a waste of money and time. All this might impress the average villager but the urban population see this as an incredible waste of money.
Mark my words: nothing will come out of this trip. Sure, some companies would announce their availability of services, press releases, etc. Nothing that couldn’t have been done by the companies themselves (not requiring Najib & his entourage). Malaysia has fundamental problems that doesn’t make it like the United States of America. Cyberjaya is a pale comparison to Silicon Valley.
Any guesses how much was wasted spent on this trip? This is the same government telling you to cut back on expenses as they increase fuel prices by 20 sen a litre.