KOTA KINABALU: Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and local traders in Sabah stand to be enhanced under the Sekhar Economic Initiative, under the Vinod Sekhar Foundation Petra Kasih programme.
PETRA Group chairman and group chief executive, Datuk Dr Vinod Sekhar said the initiative was to empower and support SMEs and local traders as the backbone of the nation’s economy, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The biggest economic engine for our country is SMEs. The small traders, farmers. It is the SMEs, and they are the ones suffering the most now. Covid-19 has been unforgiving to everyone.
“The Sekhar Economic Initiative is social capitalism. It is a sustainable form of wealth creation, where we believe that for it to continue, we have to lift people up.
“Economic and business leaders can no longer sit back when it comes to societal development. We must be involved because that is the environment we live in, that is the community we profit from, and so there must be symbiosis. As we take, we must give and grow,” he said.
Under the Sekhar Economic Initiative are three initiatives to be implemented in Sabah, Sarawak and the Peninsula, respectively. Vinod said it was because there was no generic, one-size-fits-all solution for diverse communities experiencing unique circumstances.
“Every community is different. Every requirement is different. These initiatives aim to focus on what is actually needed and how we can help.
“The pilot project under the Sekhar Economic Initiative will begin in Ranau, where two programmes will be run. The first is to help farmers and fishermen sell their goods at a fair market value.
“The project would ensure their products are consistently collected and paid a fair price for, and then brought to wholesalers, essentially ‘forcing’ fair practice into the system.
“This is social capitalism; we’ll make a little bit of profit but we’ll put infrastructure in, share modern techniques with them, management systems, help them have better yields and general storage systems for products. Give them a way of building up and having real income, something that’s meaningful and sustainable.
“The second project is the ‘vanilla initiative.’ As a new crop, we’re going to bring in vanilla beans. We can do shared farming with vanilla beans that brings a really good price. We have the technology and the people to help us internationally.
“It’s a support poverty eradication program. It’s to support whatever income small traders are earning and help them grow. We’re starting with Sabah, but this initiative will be national,” Vinod elaborated.
He held firm to the belief that Sabah and Sarawak represented the true “soul” of Malaysia and wanted to ensure the states were taken care of and supported, especially as Covid-19 had left detrimental effects on the economy.
“Sabah is Malaysia to me. It’s what I remember the Peninsula was like when I grew up. Real Malaysians, non-judgemental, believing that they’re all Malaysians, that they’re all together.
“It’s the same thing in Sarawak. Borneo Malaysia is Malaysia. I consider the Peninsula infected, and Sabah and Sarawak are both the antibiotic and the vaccine. And that’s why it’s so important to make sure Sabah and Sarawak are safe.
“I think many people share the same view, to make sure the true nature of Sabah and Sarawak doesn’t change, because they represent the Malaysian soul. And they will help the Peninsula come back to where they are meant to be – the real Malaysia.
“I think people like me from the Peninsula, we’ve succeeded because our economy there has been so strong off the back of Sabah and Sarawak. Let’s make no qualms about it. Sabah has had the short end of the stick and we’ve benefitted, and I think it’s time for Malayans to recognise that and understand that now, we’re in trouble more than just economically. We’re in trouble of losing our soul ó the Malaysian soul, and Sabah and Sarawak are the only ones that can pull us back from the edge because they still hold true to what being a true Malaysian is,” he said.
In addition to the Sekhar Economic Initiative, the Vinod Sekhar Foundation Petra Kasih programme also included the Petra Kasih Concert; a revival and rebranding of the iconic IKHLAS Concert featuring Datuk Afdlin Shauki, Datuk Zainal Abidin and Datuk Sheila Majid to celebrate the spirit of love, peace and unity.
Vinod reminisced his younger days, when as a youth he believed that all Malaysians should be together regardless of race or religion, a belief he remained steadfast in. He also expressed his love and conviction in art as a uniting force, capable of bringing people of various backgrounds together for a shared purpose.
“Art is one of the most powerful uniting forces. Music, movies, artwork, those are emotive things. We can either use it for destruction or use it to lift and inspire, to create joy and hope. What I want is to create hope, because one drop of hope is more powerful than any amount of fear. What we have to keep doing is making sure there is hope, so that youths don’t sit back and say nothing is going to change.
“There’s nothing like music to bring people together. There’s nothing like celebrities to believe in a dream and share it. There must be another generation that believes in this dream.
“I want this concert to be a space to share aspirations and with this concert, we (PETRA Group) now have an entire umbrella to say PETRA is committed to do as much as we can to make life better for others, to make society better,” he said.