The current social issues arising from the multitude of inter-related changes within the family unit, community and society shows a need for stronger commitment and smart solutions. The rising cases of child abuse, incest and teenage pregnancies are manifestations of the social malaise developing within Malaysian society. The changes within the social framework with pervasive implications on the foundations of society require deep-rooted structural solutions from a policy perspective. The government has taken the approach of strategic collaborations between key stakeholders in the execution of CSR initiatives. The inherent strengths of a synergised public-private partnership between the government and the private sector facilitate the restructuring of past policies and programmes aimed at improving the quality of life for Malaysians. In a conversation with CSR Malaysia, YB Puan Hannah Yeoh, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, talks about the direction of the Ministry and the building of strategic networks between government agencies and the private sector to address current social issues and build sustainable long-term solutions.
YB Hannah Yeoh assumed the responsibilities of the Deputy Minister of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (MWFCD) in 2018. She is a familiar face within the Malaysian social landscape having been deeply involved in community causes since 2008.
On the scope of her portfolio, Yeoh explains, “My portfolio in the MWFCD encompasses the social welfare of almost the entire population groups of Malaysia that is women, senior citizens, disabled, mentally ill and children. Men are also not excluded as a category.”
The services provided by the MWFCD have benefited most Malaysians one way or another. “It extends from the ‘mother’s womb to the grave’ which means taking care of the people’s social needs throughout their lives,” she adds.
The focus on restructuring past policies and programmes has seen the introduction of new key performance indicators (KPIs) in the development of human resources, capital and information. “We are looking at new ways of doing things by improving on existing data and giving more importance to policies instead of programmes,” says Yeoh.
The limitations of budgetary allocations and resources, especially manpower, have made it necessary to reprioritise target groups for intervention programmes. “The social well-being of children have been prioritised as a key factor towards improving the quality of lives of Malaysians and as a precursor towards the development of current and future national assets,” reveals Yeoh. “With the steadfast view that families constitute the foundation of society and recognising the current malaise implicating the vulnerable segments especially children, we have embarked on the restructuring of the children’s welfare system through smart partnerships with key stakeholders especially the private sector.”
The goals of the ministry from a corporate social responsibility perspective are to initiate and sustain long term intervention programmes within the Ministry’s target groups. “To realise these goals, the direction of the ministry is to build strong strategic networks in the form of smart partnerships between the ministry and key stakeholders consisting of government agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and communities,” explains Yeoh.
The multi-layered objectives of realising the goals include the internal collaborative networks between government agencies under MWFCD, the external collaboration between MWFCD, government agencies, the private sector and NGOs and finally the Strategic Cooperation Program at the community level.
“The current emphasis of the ministry is on improving the child welfare system. Children, constituting one-third of the population, are trapped within the vicious cycles of social and economic reconfigurations,” says Yeoh. The increase in the number of working parents, latchkey situations, cramped living conditions and the proliferation of under vetted child-carers have resulted in a social malaise eroding the very fabric of society.
“Children can experience a difficult childhood, grow up to become misfit parents and the cycle continues with the next generation,” laments Yeoh. “The symptoms of the social malaise manifest in the rampant increases in child abuse, teenage pregnancies and baby dumping cases are a growing concern for Malaysians.”
“The negative dynamics of the vicious cycles have to be arrested before the situation worsens with far-reaching consequences impacting the social and economic well-being of the family, community and nation. Children have the right to lead happy healthy lives and the ministry aims to correct the current situation before bringing it to the next level of social development. A conducive social, psychological and physical environment from early childhood empowers children with the right attributes for a healthy life.”
In view of its finite resources and time constraints, the planned approach by the MWFCD is the engagement of the private sector in CSR activities pertaining to children welfare. “The private sector especially large corporations have consistently executed CSR activities focused on childcare centres although on a voluntary and independent basis,” says Yeoh. “The ministry is in the process of restructuring and standardising the social frameworks of these CSR programmes through policy changes.”
The direction of the ministry is to ensure the establishment of child-care centres at government offices before the mandated implementation of child-care policies at the workplace for organisations. Yeoh expresses optimism on the allocation received from the government in the recent 2019 budget. “We received a RM10 million allocation for the setting up of child-care facilities for government agencies, a recognition of our efforts thus far,” says Yeoh with a smile. “Subsequent to the successful setup of government child-care centres and the implementation of child-care policies, the private sector is expected to play a more active role in the implementation of child-care centres at the workplace.”
“The aim of the ministry in reviewing and establishing strategic partnerships with the private sector, either directly or indirectly, shows the government is willing to provide support and guidance but the private sector has to take the lead and carry on the momentum with sustainable solutions,” says Yeoh.
Yeoh outlines the benefits of a win-win solution from CSR activities for the private sector, parents and the ministry. “Employees who leave their children at corporate child-care centres are able to perform better leading to higher productivity based on the assurance their children are in safe hands,” she adds. “The government has the assurance children are growing up in a safe and secure environment which improves the quality of life and building of human assets. Corporations embarking on child-care activities in collaboration with the government receive due recognition especially if it becomes a neighbourhood facility open to the public.
“We aim to provide a clear direction for GLCs and private corporations in contributing to the betterment of social lives,” explains Yeoh on current discussions with GLCs. “The ministry’s efforts in social information comprehensiveness provide for increased transparency and the targeting of the right groups. This alleviates current issues such as incomplete welfare registers and the private sector possessing the required financial resources but not generating positive social outcomes.”
There are various opportunities for government-private sector partnerships. “The setting up of creches and child-care centres for parents who work odd hours and return home either late or work the night-shifts is an area where the private sector can contribute significantly,” says Yeoh in highlighting a pressing issue. “The absence of such facilities has led to parents resorting to under-vetted arrangements with child-carers providing opportunities for child abuse.”
“There are other areas such as the restructuring of child-carer roles in terms of compensation, benefits and career progression that can attract a better-educated talent pool of candidates genuinely interested in children,” says Yeoh. “The establishment of training facilities for child-carers through collaboration improves the quality of services and provides for established career paths.”
One area concerns the teenagers. “The need for communicating the pitfalls of sexual abuse amongst teenagers through social media is an opportunity for private sector CSR funding and initiatives,” explains Yeoh. “The participation and involvement in creating awareness currently undertaken by major GLCs such as PLUS and Prasarana, indicate the potential for more companies to come onboard in implementing similar initiatives.”
Yeoh also looks forward to corporations prioritising a work-life balance that promotes healthy families and lifestyles and sustains staff retainment at the workplace that will ultimately make for a healthy and desirable society.