Otak2: More than just an ordinary internship
12 Apr 2012 by admin in Syahirah Syed Jaafar / No Comments
By Syahirah Syed Jaafar
This time last year, I was approaching the end of my first year of university and was looking for a meaningful internship that would not only expose me to the working world, but would incorporate a sense of fun and leadership while learning. I found that when I discovered the Otak-Otak (Otak2) Programme.
My first thought was, “Otak2? As in brains and not the food right?” What convinced me to apply for Otak2 was its tagline, where it described itself as the ‘internship programme for leaders’. Otak2 was an exclusive programme looking to place 50 bright students in top companies. I hesitated no further to apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a place in Otak2’s inaugural cohort.
Then came the interviews. The initial questions based on my CV were expected. I was then asked for my thoughts on a myriad of challenging matters, from the issues facing the education sector in Malaysia to Margaret Thatcher and her administration. I was put on the spot and forced to think critically, structure my answers well and keep myself composed.
After some anxious waiting, I was delighted to find out that I had been given a place in the programme, and would be placed at BFM 89.9, an independent Malaysian radio station focussed on business issues and current affairs. My most major project was part of creating a microsite for BFM. I also worked on day-to-day operations such as producing podcasts for people who want to catch up on shows they have missed. I learned a lot from just observing and engaging in conversations, especially with my boss Malik Ali who told me that I should always put my foot forward first and that I should always take the initiative to do something and not be afraid. That advice has stayed with me since.
Besides internships, Otak2 also gave students the opportunity to interact with all participating companies and industries, which I found to be a very enriching experience. Company events varied from information sessions to group activities to field trips. My personal favourite was Teach for Malaysia’s visit to a Burmese refugee centre. There, we assisted the team in teaching child refugees. I came to further appreciate Teach for Malaysia’s role and goals in solving education inequity, and subsequently joined Teach for Malaysia as a campus representative.
Through these company events, Otak2 interns were given a chance to meet people working in a variety of industries and to learn from them. One such event that I found particularly inspiring was dinner with Dato’ Loy Teik Ngan, Chairman of the Taylors Education group.“Who I am, isn’t the same as what I can do, how you see me, isn’t the same as the type of difference I can make,” he began, as he spoke about his practical and realistic approach to work.
Another interesting aspect about Otak2 was being given a mentor, who was a working adult who either was working in the same industry as you or who shared similar interests, to act as a friend you can turn to for guidance and advice. My mentor was Regina Goh, a journalist working at Arcis Communications. Through our meetings, I came to learn more about the challenges and rewards of the world of journalism and public relations, and the types of clients one deals with in this line of work. I also came to realize just how demanding working in journalism can be, and how important it was to have plenty of passion and drive when working in this field.
In short, Otak2 gave me the opportunity to pick up valuable first hand experience with working in media, but perhaps most importantly, to meet the most amazing people. From the programme co-founders to company representatives to my mentor to fellow interns from a wide range of disciplines who studied all over the world, I learned so many different things and formed many a firm friendship with the people I had the chance to meet and work with through Otak2. Till today, we continue to keep in touch, and it is great to know that my friends are continuing to take on great opportunities.
If you’re still mulling over whether or not to apply to Otak2, I’d say go for it! I can promise that it’ll probably be the one of the most rewarding (and fun!) things you can do this summer.
The Otak2 programme takes place from June to August and applications are assessed on a rolling basis. Apply now for the 2012 cohort!
For more information, visit www.otak2.com.
Syahirah Syed Jaafar is a law student at University of Reading. She is also the Outreach Director of CEKU and an editorial officer for Connectwork.
The photographs for this article were taken by Syahirah Syed Jaafar and Hobart Zi Ying Lim. The Otak2 logo was used with permission from Otak2.
Interview with Joyce Tagal, Co-founder of the Otak2 Program
17 Jan 2012 by admin in Amirah Amir, Connectwork / 2 Comments
By Amirah Amir
Joyce Tagal is a senior analyst with the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) in the Prime Minister’s office. Joyce read Political Science at Yale, and is currently working on increasing Malaysian children’s access to basic education under the Education NKRA. While at Yale, she was involved in the set-up of the Northeast Malaysia Forum (NMF), an organisation that aims to increase dialogue among Malaysian diaspora in the United States.
She co-organised PEMANDU’s first internship program, recruiting top Malaysian students from overseas and local universities and designing a comprehensive and challenging internship program within the unit. She is also one of the co-founders of Otak2, an internship program designed to place student leaders in internships with leading corporations in Malaysia and to provide them with external training and experiences.
An interview of you with The Star back in 2008 revealed that you co-founded Tin Kosong as a result of your observation that “…many people voice complaints but offer no real solutions…” it’s enlightening that you actually took the initiative. What inspired you?
The idea of Tin Kosong was about empowering other people to have a platform to talk about themselves. Two other friends and I recognised this need and realised that we could fulfil it; we decided we weren’t going to just sit around and think about it but actually do something about it.
How should people be inspired to be more proactive and take the initiative to make a difference? How do you change this long-embedded mind-set?
I guess there are several factors that contribute towards apathy. One factor is not knowing where to begin. Some people have really great ideas and are passionate to make a difference. But they are unable to take it further because they don’t really know people who can give them money, or help advance their dreams, or are willing to invest time and effort into realising their dreams and ideas.
Among the most important thing is to build networks and make connections for people who genuinely seek change and desire to make things happen. Another factor, I think would be a systemic issue. If the system doesn’t provide opportunities to act and do something, many get demotivated – they feel as if nothing can actually be done.
At the end of the day, it’s up to parties such as the government, corporations, even schools and parents to make young people realise that they can do something about inequality and injustice for instance; it’s important for youngsters to recognise that they are provided the avenue and the opportunity. Nevertheless, it’s not just about having the opportunity, but teaching them how to make use of it and make things happen. The more information that becomes available, the more people would want to make a change and truly know how to go about it.
It falls back to motivation, having the networks and connections; knowing people to be proactive and inspiring and also be doing something about it and also understanding the opportunities within the system. I was recently at a panel where somebody brought up the issue that how charities are actually serving the donors instead of the people that are being helped. For example, if I were a donor who was interested in promoting voter education e.g. why voting is important and why people should vote, I would fund an organisation that would help further this cause.
But what if the issue on the ground was that people already knew why voting is important but they didn’t have the means to make themselves present at polling stations, or have access to information about the candidates? I suppose when people try to make a difference, sometimes they don’t look at the right opportunities or the right ideas that are really in demand. They look at the current fashion and trends e.g. voter education, voter registration, but not many would actually dedicate their time towards driving a bus from a kampung to the polling station.
Essentially, the most important thing is about being aware of the value chain and identifying the most crucial gap that exists. To make a change, you need to recognise the opportunities and work towards fulfilling them.
What motivated you to return home to serve Malaysia after completing your undergraduate degree at Yale? Did you ever consider staying on in the US to gain work experience?
Yes, I definitely considered staying on in the US. Ultimately, the largest attracting factor in convincing me to return home was the outcome of the 2008 elections – I was then in my junior (third) year, otherwise I may have stayed on. It made me realise that people were able to use their voice and understand how important their vote was. The fact that Parliament would see a greater participation by the opposition meant that Malaysia would be moving closer towards a bipartisan system, and this greatly motivated me to return home – for various reasons, not just because I am politically aware, but you finally start seeing young people furthering causes that are important to them.
For the majority of students studying overseas, pay remains a vital factor in our decision to return home to serve the nation. What are your thoughts about this?
It’s a common assumption that pay is the prime motivating factor, but young people consider many factors as well and at times pay doesn’t hold the utmost importance. Ultimately if you find your work interesting and exciting and meaningful, furthermore if you have your voice heard in the organisation and a chance to grow in the organisation in a significant way, then though pay remains a factor perhaps it wouldn’t be the most important one. Malaysia has many advantages – the weather is beautiful, the food is amazing, and you get to be at home with your family and friends.
When you go abroad, you have a renewed sense of love for your country, and despite the problems and complaints you may have, it’s still home. Even those who have lived overseas for decades speak of Malaysia as something they love and cherish, and possess a desire to return home eventually even if it is to retire. There are many motivating factors for young people work in Malaysia, and as long as we’re aware that our pay is comparative to other developed countries, the work is meaningful and you really do feel that your work is making a social impact, I really don’t see why our generation especially would want to stay overseas. I’d say that pay is important, but it isn’t the be all and end all.
As co-founder of Otak2, a unique internship program for Malaysia’s 50 best interns, what are your aspirations for its future?
Otak2 is a part-time project for the other co-founders and I, we all have our own day jobs and we’ve yet to look at committing ourselves to Otak2 full-time. This is our first year and we do see a lot of potential for this program. There are many things Otak2 can do in terms of helping place interns in organisations where they really need young and bright minds and helping companies understand Generation Y better – at Otak2 we provide additional skills such as organisation and project management which companies may not have the time and expertise. We’ve also been toying with the idea of a similar program aimed at local university students only.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I currently work in PEMANDU’s education team, we work a lot with the public sector and the Ministry of Education, especially with primary and secondary education. More and more in the past 2 years, I see education as something for myself in the future. I really want to get more involved, in teaching, in learning, in building better schools, providing scholarships perhaps. So I definitely see myself in education in 10 years, though at this point I’m not sure where exactly I would fit in the system.
Also thanks to Otak2, I’ve become extremely enthusiastic about social enterprise, starting up businesses that are community-oriented and development-oriented. That’s something I’ll be looking into more. In my opinion, what our country needs most are people who would not only take up jobs for themselves but also create jobs for others, and build businesses that would hire other people. In an economic sense, you don’t move money around within the system, you ideally build businesses, start-ups, enterprise, that would gain more money from outside the system so you gain FDI, you build consumer services that cater to people outside of the system, to other countries for example, so that you grow our GDP, our jobs, our economy.
For our generation, the greatest thing you can contribute towards Malaysia is to create jobs within Malaysia for other people – that really is to me an important thing. It’s something that I aspire in the next 5 to 10 years, I intend to build a sustainable company.
Lastly, would you kindly share some advice for those unsure of their career path?
To be honest, it doesn’t actually matter what you study in university, a lot of skills transcend various fields of study. In almost every industry you need to understand basic economics, basic statistics, you need to know how to use Excel, how to work with people, and manage projects. Companies look at hiring people who can adapt to different situations. So it doesn’t matter the subject your degree is in, but it does matter how you learn in university, the kind of people you engage with, and how curious, passionate and enthusiastic you are.
It’s not the content of the knowledge that’s important, but how you to learn it and feel about it. What I try to emphasise to my younger friends is that there are different ways of measuring our achievements. Instead of measuring our achievements on paper or by the amount of certificates we possess or the number of hours put in, I strongly suggest young people to measure your achievements on a social impact scale – how many people have you affected, how many lives you touched, and how many individuals you have inspired.
The Otak2 program is now open for applications! For more information, check out their website here.
The photographs for this article were provided by Joyce Tagal.
The Star – See the cup as half full, 15 July 2011
I HAD the good fortune of being invited to a discussion with more than 40 university students interning with various organisations under the Otak Otak Internship Programme for Leaders.
One of the topics that arose was the issue of Malaysia’s brain drain. Speaking to some of these interns, I asked them to consider the following:
> No country is perfect. Nationhood is an experiment, and a work in progress.
I believe that this is an exciting time to be in Malaysia. Since the 2008 elections, changes are happening in our country, and there is a nascent whiff of bubbling optimism.
Our Prime Minister has launched the 1Malaysia Programme, the Economic Transformation Programme, New Economic Model, Pemandu, etc. Whether we think these policies are effective or not, we cannot deny that they are a step in the right direction. Even an eternal skeptic like me is quietly hopeful.
I am also reminded of what Orson Welles, in the classic film The Third Man, said: “that despite 30 years of terror, warfare, murder, and bloodshed under the Borgias in Italy, they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance, but 500 years of peace and brotherly love in Switzerland produced only the cuckoo clock”. In exciting times of change, there are opportunities.
> Life is not all about having a high flying job and lots of money.
While Malaysia has its faults, consider that if you were working in Singapore or Hong Kong, you would probably be living in a shoebox. Here in Malaysia, a young professional can still aspire to own a landed property – perhaps not in Bangsar or Bukit Damansara, but maybe in Shah Alam.
Consider also that in Malaysia you can probably afford to hire a maid. My friends in Australia have to mop floors, wash dishes and take out their own rubbish.
Believe me, when you are older, and your back aches and knees are weak, you will be ever thankful.
And in Malaysia, you can go out for nasi lemak or bah kut teh at midnight – surely this alone is a huge plus point.
And not to mention our rich artistic and cultural diversity, verdant rainforests, etc.
Life is about finding meaning and fulfilment.
> In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.
The very fact that there is a brain drain in Malaysia means that those with even a modicum of talent will be offered employment opportunities that they would not otherwise have.
Imagine the opportunities open to you, if you are a bright eyed intelligent student from a top university.
I hope that those students who are still deciding whether to come back to Malaysia will give these points due consideration.
Despite its many faults, Malaysia is still home, and where we belong. And I believe that if we see the cup as being half full, instead of half empty, then there are definitely good reasons to come home to Malaysia.
theSun – Effecting change: Political or non-partisan?, 15 July 2011
Posted on 15 July 2011 – 05:08am
Last updated on 15 July 2011 – 08:41am
Comment by Tricia Yeoh
YOUNG Malaysians want to impact society but are struggling to figure out precisely how to go about doing so. I had the privilege of meeting with a group of young Malaysian students, all recruits under an excellent internship programme called “Otak-Otak” recently.
The programme places students from local and foreign universities in various governmental, non-governmental and private sector organisations for two months, and organises events where they would be exposed to discussions on a range of issues. This particular informal session, hosted by the Centre for Public Policy Studies (and sponsored by Citibank), for example, allowed an interactive conversation on youth involvement, civil society, political trends and national development.
Whilst the dialogue traversed topics on the education system, the economy, brain drain, Bersih 2.0, the role of the media and the country’s future direction, one key trend emerged. It was obvious that all of them follow political developments closely, and are acutely aware of the twists and turns taken by Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat (and, well, Perkasa), mainly through the online medium. This, after all, is the “clicktivism” generation whose “Likes” on Facebook or “Follows” on Twitter define their positions on politics and government.
However, it was revealing that when asked whether or not they would see themselves working in a full-time position over the next five to ten years within the civil service, a non-governmental organisation, think tank, media or active civil society, with the objective of contributing to national development, only four out of the 42 responded positively. The rest either felt it would be futile to fight the system, or preferred to work in a more productive environment such as within the private sector.
There was also a strong indication that they would rather work within a non-partisan and independent organisation, preferring not to be affiliated with any one side. This is a trend that is strangely enough creeping upon many Malaysians, even those who were once vocally opposing government policies.
Perhaps this is to do with disillusionment over both sides – Barisan or Pakatan – where they perceive neither has delivered on concrete policies, or lived up to what was originally promised. Whether or not the disillusionment is justified is a different matter altogether, since there is much one can say about equal access to media, resources and machinery, all of which affect communication strategy and delivery.
The ability of Bersih 2.0, for example, to garner support from a large cross-section of society, is equally telling of current sentiments, where it is becoming increasingly popular to call oneself part of “civil society”, this ever-evolving and often undefinable entity.
One can indeed understand the reluctance of people to be directly involved in political parties or government; we have witnessed the childish descent into gutter politics, outright lies, ridiculous statements, and would not wish ourselves a part of this crude ugliness.
One can also understand that because of this, there is an increased interest in starting initiatives outside the formal political process. And there are multiple such “third party” movements these days, including the likes of Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia, LoyarBurok, Bersih 2.0 and a host of traditional non-governmental associations. These platforms are not directly political per se, but they certainly have political content that pushes the boundaries and urges critical social action for political change.
These students, alongside almost every concerned Malaysian citizen today, are cracking their heads at this national crossroads of sorts. Knowing the landscape of politics that we have today, the question remains: What should I do to ensure my involvement leads to maximum impact for the country’s future?
In an ideal world, civil society ought to occupy as legitimate a position as political parties in pushing for change. The pressures placed by a loud enough community ought to nudge along those in power, making them sit up and listen.
And although this is an ideal I would still hold strongly to, the reality is that the channels of decision-making still remain largely within the hands of political parties through representation at Parliament, and ultimately the cabinet. This raises the question of how social movements ought to be conducted within such an environment: can civil society push through a movement and gain significant traction, without needing support from any political party? (Read: How people criticise Bersih 2.0 as being “hijacked” by the Opposition.)
Ultimately, until and unless civil society – or any non-partisan body – is recognised as an equal partner within formal committees, taskforces and the like for the purposes of policy reform, there will still be a tendency for political parties to be relied upon to advance a particular cause.
We ended the session by saying that it is important to do anything, in whatever capacity, affiliation and position, excellently. It is true that Malaysians of all walks of life, whether in the corporate, public or non-governmental sector, have a significant role to play in contributing to the country’s future. But for maximum impact through a massive shakeup of government policy and corrupt practices? Apart from traditionally going the political route, Bersih 2.0 has shown that an alternative does exist. But only time will tell if this will result in real electoral reform.
Tricia Yeoh is director at a market research consultancy, having worked in the think-tank and public sectors previously. She writes on national and socio-economic issues. Feedback: email@example.com
NSTP – Otak2 Townhall, 15 August 2011
KUALA LUMPUR – Having spent two months attached with various companies in the country, a group of interns participating in the Otak-otak programme met in NSTP eMedia on August 5 to discuss and exchange their experiences.
The 41 students are undergraduates from leading universities in the country and overseas.
They were placed in 20 local companies, both in the corporate as well as non-profit and social sectors.
Otak-otak co-founder Joyce Tagal said the programme allowed capable interns to be better utilised.
“A lot of Malaysian companies still do not understand the benefit of having an intern and don’t appreciate their value,” she said.
The interns exchanged their experiences at the WakaLab space – NSTP’s youth engagement platform.
Ezlan Mohsen Lokman, 20 was one of the participants who had been placed with a non-profit organisation.He said his internship term had “opened his eyes and made him think”.
Ezlan, a third year medical student at the Queen Mary University of London was attached with the Malaysian Community Education Foundation.
Another participant, Nehemiah Moses Thaveethu, 21 said the Otak-otak programme gave him a comprehensive understanding of the Malaysian job market.”Before this I had a very limited view on job market in Malaysia. Otak-Otak gave me an extremely comprehensive view of what my options are,” said the student from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the United States Of America.
Wakalab – Otak2 Townhall, 17th August 2011
The Otak2 interns get cosy on Doof bags
The first batch of Otak2 interns had their final meeting at WakaLab last Friday, having spent two months attached with various companies in Malaysia.The group met at the Lab to discuss and exhange their experiences while participating in the programme.Otak2 co-founder Joyce Tagal said the batch of 41 students had been placed in 20 local companies, and had received higher than usual’ salaries during their internship term.
“A lot of Malaysian companies still do not understand the benefit of having an intern and don’t appreciate their value,” she said.
The Otak2 programme intends to change this.
The group met on a regular basis several times a week – and in the process – the first Otak2 cohort become quite close, Joyce added.The majority of participants were placed in corporate companies, but a few were placed in the non-profit and social sector.
Ezlan Mohsen Lokman, 20 was one of the participants who had been placed with a non-profit organisation. He said his internship term had “opened his eyes and made him think”. Ezlan, a third year medical student at the Queen Mary University of London was attached with the Malaysian Community Education Foundation. He said there were a lot of disadvantaged people out there, which the foundation helped.
“I aim to help the country on a bigger scale now,” he said.Yet others, like Evelyn Wong Su Wei, 22 were placed in the corporate sector. The 22-year old student from Scripps College in California was an intern with Citibank during the duration of the programme. “Joining Otak-Otak has changed the way i think. I am really excited, looking at the work prospects in Malaysia. Furthermore the future of our country really lies with each of us. We really need to work together and be excellent. From the discussions we had I know many companies are willing to change the way they do things in order to become more competitive in the global economy,” she said.
Another participant, Nehemiah Moses Thaveethu, 21 said the Otak2 programme gave him a comprehensive understanding of the Malaysian job market.”Before this I had a very limited view on job market in Malaysia. Otak-Otak gave me an extremely comprehensive view of what my options are,” said the student from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the United States Of America.
Shawn Tan’s blog, 8 Mar 2011
I signed up with an interesting talent sourcing company in Malaysia – Otak2. I can best describe them as a head-hunting and personal-development company specialising in summer internships of Malaysians studying in top universities abroad. Although they charge a premium for their product, I thought that I’d give it a try to see how things go. If things work out, I may continue using them for sourcing summer interns.
Next year, I intend to try for Google Summer of Code too.
There are a number of interesting developments in my company. I did an estimate last week and by May, I should have about five people working on some of my projects and developing my eco-system. If things move well this year, I should have just under 10 people doing all kinds of things for me by year end. On one hand, I’m glad that things seem to be moving forward. On the other hand, it can be a little scary. I try not to look ahead and just take a leap of faith – in myself.
Anyhow, I have just been informed by Otak2 that they have had three applicants specify me as their first choice, within 24 hours of opening up their registrations. That’s a good start in my opinion.
PS: I’m going to give a career talk at another local university next week. Hopefully, I’ll be able to attract some good applicants like I did at my last career talk at a leading local university.
The Straits Times – KL woos young Malaysians abroad, 26 Jun 2011
US college graduate Ms Liew has signed up to teach in Malaysian schools for two years. — PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIEW SUET LI
Armed with a degree in psychology from Mount Holyoke College in the United States, Ms Liew Suet Li, 22, does not quite fit the profile of a Malaysian teacher.
But teach is exactly what she will be doing from the start of the school year, after undergoing a training stint.
She has signed up for the ‘Teach for Malaysia’ programme, which aims to get well-qualified Malaysians to become teachers in high-need schools for two years.
‘I wanted to do something fulfilling and meaningful before I get into the rat race of the corporate world, and Teach for Malaysia seemed like a right fit,’ Ms Liew said.
Malaysia wants bright young citizens like Ms Liew to return from abroad to work as it seeks to boost its skills base as part of the economic programme to double incomes within 10 years.
Teach for Malaysia, a government-affiliated programme, is one of the many new initiatives launched in the past year to woo them.
And it is not just the government that has rolled out the red carpet.
Private companies and political parties too have created a slew of opportunities for young Malaysians as they vie for the best talent.
UCSI University lecturer Ong Kian Ming, who has trained several interns in the past two years, said there is definitely greater recognition now of the need to reach out to the young quickly.
‘You see many more programmes and internships being offered now, compared to before,’ he said.
Brand-name politicians such Umno MP Khairy Jamaluddin and opposition MP Tony Pua – both Oxford graduates – have also started taking in interns.
Mr Pua, who runs the internship programme for his Democratic Action Party, regularly attracts students from the best universities keen to work on policy research.
One of them, Mr Wong Wen Jun, 20, an economics student at Cornell University in the US, said he found his five-week internship a good experience as he had a chance to look at policies from a different perspective. He worked on a project to draft an economic policy for East Malaysia.
The response to these new programmes has been tremendous.
Teach for Malaysia, for instance, has attracted 800 applications for its 50 places. It has enrolled graduates from Harvard, Cambridge, University College London, London School of Economics and Melbourne University.
The new Otak-Otak programme, set up this year to link Malaysian students with internship opportunities at home, drew more than 700 applications. Its first batch of 43 interns will start work with local and international firms in Malaysia next month.
Mr Anand Pillai, a management consultant who runs Otak-Otak with two partners, said they set it up after realising that Malaysian students abroad found it hard to suss out internships here.
‘We also realised that many of them may not come back after building up their network abroad at an early age, partly through summer internships,’ he said.
The positive response was helped in part by the economic downturn in the West.
Ms Liew said she considered remaining in the US but did not want to settle on just any job.
Ms Julia Chua, 21, who is studying economics at Brown University in the US, completed two internships at management consultancies here.
‘There are certainly many opportunities available to young people in Malaysia,’ she said.
This is good news for Malaysia, which has suffered a serious brain drain in the past few decades.