Children celebrating National Day in Tangkak, Johor, last year. Vision with action can change the nation for the better.

“WHERE there is no vision, there is no hope,” so said George Washington Carver, an American botanist and inventor.

What has given us hope as a nation is Vision 2020. That vision, promulgated in 1991, envisages Malaysia to be a developed nation; not just economically, but also politically, socially, spiritually, psychologically and culturally by 2020. We should also become fully united and socially cohesive. We should be anchored in social justice, social and spiritual values, and we should enjoy a quality of life that augurs well for national pride and confidence.

While the Vision has remained intact over the past 27 years, it has gone through some quantification. For example, today our yardstick to measure our developed status is a per capita income of US$12,475 (RM54,153). We have roughly three more years to go and have some catching up to do on the other dimensions as well.

But, is it really important to achieve all that we aspire for by 2020? A vision definitely should have a finish line. Our vision scores full marks for that. Our achievement deficit should not be for want of trying. And, we must believe that we can achieve our aspirations. As Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak inspired us in a speech recently: “Believe that the country is on the right track and actively pursuing our aspirations; we can achieve what we hope for.”

In a company context, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras argue in their 1996 book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, that any true vision probably has only a 60-70 per cent chance of success. This is because, apart from challenging a company to move where it has set out to go, the vision serves other purposes as well. It gives meaning to employees’ toil and galvanises them into achieving the dream.

Extending Collins and Porras’s analysis to the national context, a vision offers citizens a point of rally, hope of a better future and an exhortation to take charge of their destiny. Following this logic, visions should necessarily be larger than life.

Therefore, we should not be unduly perturbed should we fall short of our vision come 2020. This is because by any standard, Vision 2020 is ambitious and bold. It is even audacious, as any vision should rightly be. As Clement Stone, an American self-help author’s much-popularised saying goes: “Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star!”

There is a school in front of my house. On its front wall, students had wisely scrawled the following line: “Aim high, that way you will not fall far.” Indeed, Michelangelo once remarked: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

What do we do when we achieve or do not achieve our vision? We go and set another. It is in this spirit that the government has kick-started discussions across society on the content of a new vision — the National Transformation 2050 or TN50. That announcement has generated much expectation. The preparatory efforts are well-trailed. Najib, too, has offered his view as to what TN50 should contain. He wants Malaysia to be among the top 20 countries globally by 2050.

In formulating TN50, we should not be too fixated on our strengths and challenges as a nation. Fixing a vision far into the future is an exercise that goes beyond consideration of our current capabilities and environment. However, that does not mean that TN50 should be a fantasy.

Take then former United States president John F. Kennedy’s decision in May 1961 to send an American to the moon by the end of the decade. He was challenged to set this goal after Yuri Gagarin’s successful orbit of the Earth a month before. Then, the US was embarrassingly far behind the Russians in space technology. Kennedy knew that to put a man on the moon would be “a very challenging technological feat”. Yet, he had the audacity to envision so despite the current capabilities of the US space technology. The rest is history.

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Its commander, Neil Armstrong, stepped off the Lunar Module’s ladder and onto the moon’s surface and uttered these ever-memorable words: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

TN50 should incorporate the noble aspirations of Vision 2020, making adjustments, of course, to suit the envisaged future. This is because those worthy goals have resonated so well among all segments of society.

The transformation envisaged should not just be of the economy. It should also be of the mind and spirit of every Malaysian. The values encapsulated in our Rukun Negara should form the foundation of TN50. TN50 should fortify our belief that whatever the colour of our skin and faith, we share a common destiny. We are all in this together — building a beautiful nation for posterity; a society that is tolerant and respectful of one another.

TN50 should convey a manic optimism for the country’s future. It should ignite passion among the citizens for its accomplishment.

Vision with action can change the nation for the better. It is, therefore, important that TN50 sets out a detailed explanation of how to turn the new vision into reality. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely daydreaming, but vision with action can change the world.”

john@ukm.edu.my

Dr. John Antony Xavier is with the Graduate School of Business, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

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