Notes from the Field

Asia Foundation Commemorates Over 50 Years of Partnership in Malaysia

February 25, 2009

Last Thursday in Kuala Lumpur, The Asia Foundation gathered together distinguished guests and partners to celebrate the initiatives and relationships that the Foundation has fostered in Malaysia since 1954. The event was attended by Malaysian leaders from the private, government, and civil society sectors and staff from the Foundation’s San Francisco, Washington, and Malaysia offices.

“Our past and current partners, grantees, and staff have contributed to The Asia Foundation’s legacy, and our combined efforts continue to be an important element in the successful implementation of our programs and projects in Malaysia,” said Douglas Bereuter, The Asia Foundation’s president and CEO, during his remarks that evening.

Tan Sri Dr. Arshad Ayub, chairman of the University of Malaya and pro-chancellor of the Universiti Teknologi MARA, spent his career pioneering higher education in Malaysia and gave the keynote address. Tan Sri Dr. Arshad was an early leader in promoting education for all Malaysians. He was the principal of Mara College of Business (1965-1967) and the first director of Institut Teknologi MARA (1967-1975, now known as Universiti Teknologi MARA). The Asia Foundation provided an educational scholarship to Tan Sri Dr. Arshad so that he could attend the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1969, and later provided educational materials and support for faculty development at the MARA Institute. That evening, reflecting on the Institut Teknologi MARA’s early days, Tan Sri Dr. Arshad told the audience that, without the collaborative efforts of The Asia Foundation, the Institute would not have achieved the stature and success it enjoys today.

For over 50 years, The Asia Foundation has had a long and productive history in Malaysia. Thursday’s event highlighted past milestones as well as current program areas. During the 1950s and 60s, The Asia Foundation supported training programs for major academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and select government institutions in Malaysia, and implemented a wide variety of exchange and study programs.

For me, planning this event was like opening a treasure chest of the Foundation’s rich history in Malaysia.

Today, the Foundation’s program in Malaysia focuses on four areas: 1) expanding citizen participation by: providing voter education, conducting election monitoring, and surveying public opinion on Malaysian social, political, and economic issues; 2) engaging Malaysian youth in politics through online tools and new media resources, such as training community journalists; 3) prioritizing voter education, women’s empowerment, and literacy programs in Sabah and Sarawak states, which comprise 20 percent of Malaysia’s population, hold more than one third of the seats in parliament, and are also home to most of Malaysia’s poor and hard to reach populations; and 4) promoting international relations programs between Malaysia’s neighbors on issues such as economic governance, trade, the environment, and security.

Through grants, technical support, research, and exchanges, the Foundation works with local partner organizations to further Malaysian social and economic development efforts, and to encourage discussion on a wide range of domestic and international issues affecting Malaysia’s future. In addition, The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program has provided over 2.5 million books and journals to university libraries and other institutions throughout the country. Last year alone, Books for Asia shipped books and other education materials valued at more than $549,000 to Malaysian educational institutions, mostly primary and secondary schools. Read more about the Foundation’s programs in Malaysia or watch a short video played during the event.

Anthea Mulakala is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Malaysia. She can be reached at amulakala@asiafound.org.

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