Michael Woolcook
World Bank’s Development Research Group
Keynote 2 – Pangkor Dialogue 2015



In the bigger picture, economic growth alone is insufficient to address the complex challenges of the 21st century. In fact, growth itself alters the social foundation on which growth occurs, with fundamental changes in how societies are governed. Addressing this complex challenge requires addressing all four mutually reinforcing areas in the four-fold transformation – economy, society, polity and administration.

In the case of Malaysia, its GDP is now above world average but is still not comparable to developed countries. The common phases of development which first begins with building stuff (infrastructure), followed by a period of providing public services such as education and health services are phases that Malaysia has arguably surpassed. The next frontier is to transition from good to great towards encompassing dimensions beyond the Millennium Development Goals requirement and into the more difficult phase of the Sustainable Development Goals. Taking education as an example, this requires transitioning from focusing on getting children to schools to the more encompassing goal of learning. Challenges are dynamic and becoming more complex as development is never really ‘completed’.

In order to address the more complex and contentious tasks, establishing high capability institutions that delivers to everyone is the 21st century challenge. We won’t be able to sustain many of the gains we already achieved, unless we do something quite fundamental in our organisational capability. However, there are no ‘one glove fits all’ strategies. Best lessons are lessons from itself, not so much to look outside. In this sense, it requires a revolution in the openess, quality and comprehensiveness of data to assess the capability of organistions to respond to complex tasks. This will allow for combining current and global ‘best practices’ with a new focus on ‘best fit’ domestically.