“Protecting Rakyat, Supporting Businesses, Strengthening Economy” – these are the three main objectives of the RM250 billion Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package or PRIHATIN in protecting jobs and providing funds to support businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. This is the second economic stimulus package introduced by the Malaysian Government exactly one month after the First Economic Stimulus Package which was released on 27 February 2020.
The emergency aid initiatives were swiftly followed by a direct fiscal injection of RM10 billion just a week after the release of the second economic stimulus package, its third economic stimulus package specifically designed for the SMEs. Based on the data obtained from SME Corporation Malaysia, 98.5% of SMEs in Malaysia will benefit from the third economic stimulus package which would further cushion the impact of coronavirus outbreak on the SMEs. On 9 June 2020, another stimulus package valued at RM35 billion was introduced namely the Pelan Jana Semula Ekonomi Negara (PENJANA) primarily aimed at helping SMEs to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The earmarked financial support provided by the Malaysian Government to re-energize the economy is commendable but as the pandemic worsened, there were concerns raised on the short-term cash flow solutions provided to SMEs. The temporary relief measures rendered, as the name suggests, is temporary. The wage subsidies and low or zero-interest loan facilities provided to the SMEs is pragmatic but is unsustainable in the long run. With the introduction of Temporary Measures for Government Financing [Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19)] Bill 2020, more innovative solutions are needed to provide greater assistance to the SMEs.
In order to yield more palatable solutions, the Government could consider introducing gamification elements into its stimulus packages.
What is gamification?
Gamification should not be confused with playing games. Gamification is essentially the application of game mechanics into a non-game-based context. Gabe Zichermann, an expert on Gamification explained that ‘gamification is the process of using game thinking and game dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems.’ Just imagine of Nike+ Run Club which offers running athletes to join the community of runners in the Nike+ app. Users of the Nike+ app will be able to measure their own running statistics, share the statistics on social networks, participate in challenges and win badges and trophies. Same concept applies for Grab, Bonuslink, PETRONAS Mesra, Bites by Village Grocer and B.I.G, Tesco card or any loyalty programmes where customers will collect points for every purchase made and will be able to redeem for vouchers or products using the points collected. These are all interesting features of gamification which injects competitive mechanism to sustain engagement with users and also to retain users to the brand.
An example of how gamification can be put to use by the Government is by implanting game elements into the Economic Stimulus Packages which can change the context on how SMEs make decisions and operate their businesses. Stephen Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Innovations in American Government Program and Data-Smart City Solutions explained that through gamification, the Government can transform the activity itself (in our case, it would be the Economic Stimulus Packages) to make it more appealing and sustainable in the long run for the SMEs.
Gamification has been proven to be a useful digital strategy for business marketing in embracing digital economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that SMEs cannot solely rely on brick and mortar stores but must adopt the ‘click and mortar’ concept. Recently, Malaysia Competition Commission (MyCC) released a report on Market Review under the Competition Act 2010 for Service Sector in Malaysia (Wholesale and Retail for Selected Products) where it was reported that majority of SMEs employ traditional processes in managing their business. The report also highlights that SMEs hold back from investing in technology and digitizing their platforms due to the cost factor. In times of adversity, SMEs is highly encouraged to adopt e-commerce systems to reach out to a wider market locally and internationally. COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impact on consumers behaviours and habits from purchasing items in-store to be opting for online shopping.
Given that not all SMEs are equipped with the skills and knowledge to penetrate e-commerce market, here is an example on how the Government can introduce gamification elements into its Economic Stimulus Packages under the COVID-19 bill:
Adopting ‘Idea Market’ concept
The concept of ‘Idea Market’ was first introduced by Bill Gross in 2014 where a platform was created inviting business owners or inventors to provide new ideas, products or even business models in order to seek for more ideas and suggestions on the feasibility of the proposed ideas. The platform allows the community, investors and other business entrepreneurs to be part of the platform where they can contribute their ideas to fine tune the preferred ideas based on the list of proposed ideas on the platform. After a few rounds of contributions and validations by the third parties, a voting system will take place where the winner will receive a funding from the investors.
In a recent virtual event, ‘Level Up SpaceBar: Beyond Entertainment’, organized by the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) and Level Up KL Kenny Lum, CEO from Gameka gave an explanation of the ‘Idea Market’ which can increase the innovations amongst the SMEs with the use of gamification. In the context of the Economic Stimulus Packages, the element of gamification can be introduced in the Idea Market platform riding on the PENJANA website to attract participations from SMEs in Malaysia to contribute their ideas on how they want to innovate and embrace digital economy. At the same time, the community can also partake in the Idea Market where they can also contribute their ideas to refine the ideas proposed by SMEs to be more feasible and easily executable by other SMEs.
Government ministries and agencies such as Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Ministry of Communications and Multimedia, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Economic Planning Unit, National E-Commerce Council, Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, SME Corporation Malaysia and industry associations can use this opportunity to collaborate together using their expertise on e-commerce and strategic planning to gamify the economic stimulus packages on the PENJANA platform. The contributions can be in a form of providing practical inputs to supplement the list of ideas proposed on the Idea Market.
As a result, the Idea Market, apart from providing the winner of the best idea funding from the Economic Stimulus Packages, can also provide the community who contributed ideas to the winning idea, a percentage from the funding. In order to encourage more ideas to be contributed, the Government can select more than one winner for the best ideas contributed to the Idea Market. The gamification mechanics can play a key role in stimulating SMEs to generate various ideas and solutions to their existing problems. Subsequently, the seeds of their thoughts will motivate the community to support their ideas, which will then in turn receive the benefit too if the idea from the proposer is selected as the winner. The possibility of SMEs and also the community to win financial assistance from the Idea Market platform will make them feel empowered to be more active in providing solutions to boost Malaysia’s economy. The constant introduction of Idea Market will keep the spirits of innovation alive.
The idea of introducing gamification such as the motivational element of the reward in the Economic Stimulus Packages can help mitigate problems of needing short-term assistance from the Malaysian Government. It will on the other hand encourage SMEs to find solutions, propose ideas and receive moral support from the community and the necessary financial assistance from the government. With the strong support of multi-ministries and cross-agencies collaborations on the Idea Market, it can accelerate the development and sustainability of SMEs in Malaysia.