You’re wrong about the Global Transformation Forum, Dr Ong

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By Nishan Veerakumar

As the Global Transformation Forum (GTF) 2017 organising committee chairman, I wish to update the Serdang MP Dr Ong Kian Ming with the facts and correct the falsehoods he has propagated in going to the press with his accusations and incorrect assumptions regarding the event.

First, Dr Ong was wrong in saying that the government had channelled RM15 million to Pemandu Associates for organising GTF. The government did not pay RM15 million to Pemandu Associates to organise the GTF. Funds were directed to Pemandu Corp, a CLBG (company limited by guarantee) that managed the administrative operations of Unit Pemandu (now disestablished).

Pemandu Corp was tasked to raise adequate funds, and this included the RM15 million from the government, corporate sponsorships and ticket sales, to cover the costs of organising GTF, which included payments for the speakers, suppliers, venue, vendors, advertising agents and media companies. We deliberately did not fully explore merchandising and broadcasting revenue options.

Second, he was wrong again to imply that the high cost of GTF 2017 compared with GTF 2015 was due to Pemandu Associates – a private company. Dr Ong should be reminded that the cost of conferences varies according to the speakers, the venue, the marketing and sales effort, and more.

So why was GTF 2017 more costly to organise compared with GTF 2015? It was simply because we wanted to elevate the standard to the global level. The global benchmark is the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and the Nordic Business Forum in Helsinki.

Hence, we brought in more prominent and iconic speakers from around the world, used a bigger conference venue to create the experience for the delegates, and launched an extensive international marketing and sales campaign.

Third, Dr Ong cannot equate the quantum of government sponsorship to the cost of running the GTF. Contrary to what he assumes, I wish to point out that GTF had three key revenue streams – government sponsorship, corporate sponsorships and ticket sales. Since corporate sponsorship was proportionately lower for GTF 2017 compared with 2015, it meant that government sponsorship and ticket sales had to make up the difference.

Fourth, Dr Ong accused the GTF of being elitist. He argued that the ticket prices were too high and hence, unaffordable to many people. Comparison was made to show that the club ticket price at RM4,000 was too steep.

Let’s be clear: I mentioned earlier that GTF relied on three revenue streams. As a sponsor, the government was given complimentary tickets and it got to determine who got these tickets. Solely at its discretion, some of the tickets were given to students and those who otherwise would not have been able to attend because they could not pay for the tickets.

All corporate sponsors were also entitled to complimentary tickets and they had full freedom to give the tickets to whomever they chose. Obviously, if the government had been the sole sponsor of GTF and had been able to underwrite the entire cost of the conference, it would have been in a position to give all the tickets to anyone it chose at no cost. That was not the case with GTF. The government was only one of the three revenue streams and its share of complimentary tickets was therefore limited.

I suspect that had the government underwritten the full cost of the event, Dr Ong would have criticised GTF for being too expensive. He would have then argued that it was a waste of government funds.

GTF 2017 was meant to be an event of a global standard that comes close to WEF. The average cost of participation in WEF is US$40,000 (RM177,260). The GTF prices of a signature ticket at RM10,000, circle ticket at RM6,000, and club ticket at RM4,000 are indeed value for money in comparison.

Hence, we were able to sell all the tickets. We had a full house of about 3,000 participants from more than 20 countries.

In addition, we will be putting together video clippings of the speakers, where we are permitted to do so. There will be an online campaign to spread the key messages of the GTF 2017 to the public free of charge. For a limited period, anyone can have access to these sessions and benefit from the insights at no cost.

We hope that Dr Ong and others who have accused GTF of catering only to the elite will view these sessions themselves and help to promote them if they are truly interested in gaining and sharing transformation knowledge.

Allow me to provide the feedback from the 3,000 participants of GTF. According to the assessment they completed, the participants gave the GTF an average score of 90%.

Everyone who attended was highly complimentary of the event, having learnt a lot from the speakers. They even said GTF was the best conference they had ever attended. Almost all – 98.2% – indicated that they would want to attend future GTFs.

Some international investors were impressed with Malaysia. For them, GTF was a confidence booster that would lead them to explore the possibilities of investing in Malaysia.

Obviously, GTF also brought tourists to Malaysia. More importantly, the insights from the speakers on government, corporate and personal transformation greatly inspired many Malaysians who came to learn.

Finally, please do not politicise GTF. Apparently, everything that the government does is simply flawed in Dr Ong’s eyes. On that, he is yet again wrong.

Nishan Veerakumar is Global Transformation Forum 2017 organising chairman.

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