Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORY September 12, 2018

Empowering the Youth to Embrace the Digital Economy in Malaysia


Participants of the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) with the judges and mentors from the World Bank. Photo: Ho Ming Li


  • In celebration of International Youth Day, the World Bank teamed up with the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) to challenge young participants in creating public policy solutions for Malaysia’s digital economy.
  • The winning team of the Impact Challenge formed a public policy pitch that would encourage more businesses to go digital. This is a key issue in Malaysia’s digital economy as it lags behind other countries in digital adoption by businesses.
  • As the digital economy continues to play an increasingly prominent role in the lives of the youth, challenging them to create policies surrounding it can empower them for the future.

As agents of change and progress, the recent celebration of this year’s International Youth Day commemorates the spirit of young people as a force to be reckoned with. In this spirit, participants of the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) were put to the task of shaping policy for Malaysia. 

Co-hosted by the World Bank Hub in Malaysia, the Impact Challenge was designed for HPAIR participants – who are early-career youth or students from Malaysia and around the world - to try their hand at policymaking. Within two hours, teams came up with policy solutions to address issues in Malaysia’s digital economy, based off the Hub’s flagship report - the Malaysia Economic Monitor.

For 25-year-old Rahul Saxena from India, this was a rare opportunity for youth voices to be heard. “Policies have long-lasting impacts that affect the youth but policymakers rarely include them as a key stakeholder. I believe getting youth on board is important as we have direct connection to the issues at hand, and can form policies that respond to that,” he said. Rahul and his teammates were the winners of the Impact Challenge.

Creating policy solutions for the digital economy, however, is no small matter. As Malaysia works toward crossing the high-income threshold, the digital economy is poised to be one of the key contributing factors for progress.

Malaysians are already one of the most digitally connected societies in the world, and 80% have access to the Internet, mainly through mobile networks. But the country falls behind international comparators in terms of digital adoption by businesses.

Therefore, the winning team worked on a key issue in Malaysia -- making payment transactions digital. For Phoebe Wang, 19, this was a very relevant challenge for her. “In Hong Kong, where I’m from, we still rely heavily on cash to make payments. But when I was overseas, I found out that no one would accept cash. I also discovered then that digital payments were so much easier and convenient! It’s great that I get the opportunity to try creating policies for issues directly affecting our lives,” she said.


"Policies have long-lasting impacts that affect the youth but policymakers rarely include them as a key stakeholder. I believe getting youth on board is important as we have direct connection to the issues at hand, and can form policies that respond to that."
Rahul Saxena


Participants discussing their public policy pitches before their presentation. Photo: Ho Ming Li

The winning team created a pitch that focused on safe and cashless modes of transactions to enhance digital adoption by businesses. The team provided key initiatives to develop safe digital payment infrastructures, promote partnerships with businesses, and establish taxation provisions to encourage businesses to go digital.

Other pitches included a range of policy tools to boost the digital economy. This involved measures to enhance competition in the broadband market, upgrade existing infrastructure for lower prices and better quality, and improve access to Internet for rural communities. Teams were closely guided by mentors from the World Bank and were then prepped to present their pitch to a panel of top judges from the Bank.

“This experience allowed me great insights into the world of development policy. I have a newfound responsibility to work on improving conditions for the betterment of society,” said Jordyn Hawkins-Rippie, 25, who is also a Fulbright scholar from the US. “I really enjoyed receiving feedback from the World Bank mentors and judges, and this has piqued my interest in international affairs,” he added.  

 “The Malaysia Economic Monitor is a widely-read report amongst government counterparts and policymakers. This is why it’s particularly exciting to see it through the lens of the youth as they are a very digitally-savvy and well-connected group of people,” said Richard Record, Lead Economist for Malaysia after the judging process. “What stood out for us was how specific the winning team’s pitch was. It took a different turn from other pitches and provided viable solutions for a key issue in the digital economy.”

Youth engagements continue to be a key focus of the World Bank Hub in Malaysia to broaden the reach, awareness and understanding of the Bank’s work in the country. Each year, the Hub embarks on collaborations with youth groups as knowledge partners to engage them in policy and development issues in Malaysia.

As the digital economy will only continue to feature more prominently in the lives of the youth, providing them avenues to weigh in on policies affecting them are crucial to sustain youth empowerment.