Royal Address by Her Royal Highness Raja Zarith Sofiah Binti Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah, Permaisuri of Johor


Nov  8th


Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is wonderful to be here this morning. And I would like to say a very special thank you to His Excellency Moon-Soon Choi, the Governor of Gangwon Province for welcoming me here as a guest of Gangwon Province. My thanks too to The Honourable Tun Musa Hitam, Chairman of WIEF Foundation, and to Dato’ Dr. Norraesah Mohamed, Chairman of the WIEF Businesswomen Network.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting both Tun Musa Hitam and Dato’ Dr. Norraesah Mohamed at the WIEF Conference held in the State of Johor, Malaysia, in 2012, and again at the WIEF Conference in London in 2013.

In a world where there is constant strife, armed conflicts, displaced people, social problems and an increasing suspicion between peoples of different cultures, races and religions, a conference such as this one does play a significant role in uniting all of us, from the different countries which we come from, to be at one place, and to share common concerns as well as exchanging ideas.

I’ve been asked to speak about the role of universities in nurturing creativity.

Let me begin by first of all sharing with all the wonderful ladies (and gentlemen) who are here that actually one of the oldest universities in the world was the University of Qarawiyyin in Fez/Fès, Morocco.

In the Islamic world, a university must have a mosque associated with it and both of them are inter-dependent. What we should note here is that the Qarawiyyin mosque and university were founded in 859 CE by a wealthy businesswoman – (businesswomen like yourselves) her name was Fatima Muhammad Al-Fihri Al-Quraysh.

The word “university” in Arabic is “jami’ah” which is a derivative of the word “jama’a” (to congregate). “Masjid Jami’ ” is a congregational masjid or mosque where Solah Jumuah or Friday prayers were and are conducted.

The tradition of scholarship and learning in Islam had its impetus at these congregational mosques. Qarawiyyin mosque and university began in the same way : it hosted study circles attended by scholars and the learned.
There are now hundreds of thousands of universities all over the world. How do these universities nurture creativity?

In his book, “Human Motivation”, Robert Franken writes “Tests of creativity measure not only the number of alternatives that people can generate but the uniqueness of these alternatives. It is linked to fundamental qualities of thinking, such as flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity or unpredictability, and the enjoyment of things heretofore unknown.”

Closely related to creativity is imagination. To quote J.K. Rowling “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared”.

Steve Jobs too, celebrates the dare to be different attitude to transform and make changes. He has said that those people who choose not to be conventional but have their own ideas are the ones who “push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see geniuses, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

As such it is through creativity, imagination and the wish to bring change that can make a difference. Instilling creativity thus, can and should start early, perhaps from home and later in school and then at university.

As we all know, the world is now becoming more challenging and competitive. The strength of university graduates now are not solely measured on the knowledge and skills they have acquired in specialised disciplines, but lie also in their ability to compete in facing challenges of the current global climate and to be able to remain relevant and impactful.

Other skills such as the need to be resourceful, versatile, adaptive and flexible are also required, and all these include creativity.

As far as the Malaysian higher education is concerned, although quality education is the main focus, activities that are creative-based and innovative-driven have been introduced at all levels to encourage the development of generic skills which include thinking and problem-solving, being innovative and entrepreneurial, as well as having leadership, independence and teamworking abilities.

To spark interest and nurture innovative and entrepreneurial mindsets in all dimensions of creativity, University of Technology Malaysia (UTM), for instance, has established the Student Innovation Centre which provides the platform for students to find creative and innovative ways to explore and experiment different approaches when resolving various issues and problems, the outcomes of which can be in the form of innovative products or services.

The university can thus create a good ‘living laboratory’ and a conducive and stimulating learning environment for students to prove or show their potential and creativity.

UTM also offers a whole range of capability development training programmes in innovation and entrepreneurship for students, staff and Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). UTM has come up with modules to develop innovation and entrepreneurship capability among students, having trained more than 5000 students since 2013 following the inception of the UTM Centre for Technology Entrepreneurship or UTMTec.

Furthermore, through collaborative efforts with thirty-two secondary schools in the Johor Bahru area, UTM and several industries have organised the Young Innovate Programme starting this year. The objective of this programme is to expose innovation and entrepreneurship activities to school students. In this programme, UTM students, who have been trained by the UTM academic staff, became mentors to the school students. A total of 342 students were involved.

At another public university, that is, University Kebangsaan Malaysia or the Malaysian National University (UKM), many courses from different faculties offer students subject matters beyond their immediate majors.

The university has also organised various activities to nurture innovation. For example, through the UKM Imagine Cup Competition, students are encouraged to bring their ideas to life and share them at the Big Idea Pitch Competition.

Students are challenged to ‘change the world’ and become champions at the UKM Ideas Challenge and Innovation Day. An example of a winning idea is the innovative use of waste materials through reducing and recycling materials like water bottles and used banners and buntings and turning them into usable products.

Infact, most courses at most Malaysian universities now incorporate elements of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

I have invited two professors : one from UTM (University of Technology Malaysia) and one from UKM (Malaysian National University) – both are women. They are Professor Dr. Masputeriah Hamzah from UTM and Professor Dr. Ruzy Hashim from UKM.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate the WIEF Foundation and most certainly the Gangwon Provincial Government for successfully hosting this year’s WIEF Businesswomen Forum, and for providing the opportunity for everyone here to gather, network, and exchange ideas.