If technology can make life more efficient for food delivery, shopping, and even financial services, why not explore ways where it can be used for significant social impact? That’s precisely what Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad meant when he encouraged his countrymen to utilise the latest technologies in their quest to tackle Malaysia’s waste management problem last year.
Many decades of policy abeyance for managing waste has exacerbated the problem. More than that, Malaysia—Southeast Asia’s third largest economy—also faces many other difficulties, including poverty, a lack of higher education opportunities, and obstacles in rural development.
To participate in the Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge, a cluster of social entrepreneurs gathered at Malaysia’s WORQ coworking space last Friday, ready to pitch tech-driven solutions for a range of social and environmental issues—tackling food wastage, managing discarded plastics, accessing crowd-sourced scholarships for higher education, handling discarded electronics, and implementing efficient tanker logistics solutions to reduce pollution. The judging panel included Khairul Khairi, partner at Gobi Partners; Syahrunizam Samsudin, CEO of TNG Digital; Amelia Lim, head of brand at TNG Digital; Jonathan Lee, the executive director of ecosystem development at the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre; Nurfarini Diang, the CEO of youth-oriented NGO myHarapan; and NUS Enterprise executive director Jonathan Chang.
Half of the Challenge’s contestants aimed to address what they saw as the most pressing issue in their country.
Waste management in Malaysia
Whatever social problems may exist in Malaysia, its economy has grown by leaps and bounds in recent decades. Yet, waste management, in particular, has been blatantly ignored. Experts in the field have pointed out that the country still uses an out-of-date “landfill strategy” that leads to the contamination of Malaysia’s water system.
The accumulation of solid waste is one of the three major environmental problems in the country. The amount of waste produced each day is forecasted to reach 30,000 tonnes in 2020. Its disposal is still extremely inefficient. Less than 5% of Malaysia’s trash is recycled.
To deal with plastic bottles and aluminum cans, one of the contestants designed a scheme that offers mobile credit, transport card credit, or nanogold in exchange for the discarded receptacles to encourage their proper disposal.
Another contestant set out to tackle food wastage by developing an app that connects farmers and supermarkets that have excess food with users who want to buy it at a discounted price. Collection booths would be set up near some of the country’s People’s Housing Project (PPR) flats, targeting those in the country who have low incomes.
There was an idea to address wasted cooked food that normally ended up in landfills. By cultivating maggots that can break down discarded food from homes, canteens, and restaurants, that waste can be reduced. One startup designed an app for users to arrange pick-ups for their refuse.
Yet another form of waste that Malaysia grapples with is discarded electronic goods. At a faster pace than ever before, we are throwing out gadgets and smartphones. Typically, e-waste goes through seven middlemen to be processed. The system is highly inefficient and has limited rewards. One founder pitched to pay users for their old electronic devices, as long as they use his company’s pickup service. There would also be bins in schools, malls, and metro stations for the disposal of smaller items that are worth less than MYR 10 (US$2.45).
Other solutions for the country
Aside from pitches for measures to solve some of Malaysia’s environmental problems, there were also ideas that were geared toward helping the elderly, making higher education more readily available, and empowering the blind.
Khairul Khairi, who was first exposed to the work of some of the Challenge’s participants at various accelerator programs, told KrASIA that he was glad to see how far they have come. However, he also cautioned that all socially driven startups need to be certain about how to quantify their impact—and then stick to those metrics.
Nurfarini Diang agreed and pointed out that the quality of pitches has improved compared to six years ago when she first entered the industry.
Jonathan Chang was a judge at all three stops of the Challenge. He told KrASIA that the contestants in each country focused on niches in their home base. He mentioned that many pitches in Singapore targeted the city-state’s rapidly aging population, which those in Jakarta were often rooted in the country’s agriculture sector.
KrASIA is the media partner for the Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge. The competition’s final round will take place in Singapore in April.
Editor: Brady Ng