Who would have imagined that a children’s book of flags gifted by a father could plant the seed of a profound desire to impact the world?
Through Saiful’s involvement in the World Economic Forum (WEF), he has the opportunity to make an impact on the world stage. It is nothing short of phenomenal that a boy from Kuantan, once entranced by world flags, has a role in an organisation that influences the contours of world dynamics.
In the global tapestry of leaders, there is an annual summit that stands unparalleled: WEF. Established in 1971, this is where visionaries converge, laying the groundwork for tomorrow, touching upon ground-breaking initiatives like the 4th Industrial Revolution and Sustainable Development Goals.
His grand trajectory started in 1998 as was a landmark year for Malaysia, and Kuala Lumpur was alive with the promise of the 16th Commonwealth Games. The city was a canvas of colours, resonating with the enthusiasm of nations.
On September 11th, 1998, as the entire world turned its gaze towards Malaysia, a young boy named Saiful sat glued to his TV in Kuantan. For him, it was not just a sporting event—it was an awakening. The parade of flags was not just a procession; it was an invitation to explore the world’s cultures.
Saiful reflects, “I watched it live on TV and that’s actually the first time I learned about the different cultures, people and countries.” Recognising Saiful’s interest, his father gifted him a book containing the world’s flags. He remembers turning the pages of which was like opening a door to the world.
It was not just a book—it was the start of Saiful’s lifelong journey. “I started memorising all the flags. Since then, I’ve always been in tune and following what is going on in the world.”
Years later, that same curiosity and fervour for knowledge would captivate the Bank Negara scholarship committee, propelling Saiful onto the next stage of his education journey in Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (KTJ) for his A Levels.
Saiful and KTJ’s Model United Nations
At KTJ, Saiful’s universe expanded manifold. Here, he was not just a student; he was a global citizen. With classmates and teachers from countries including South Korea, Australia, the United Kingdom (UK), Indonesia and South Africa, every interaction was an opportunity for cultural exchange and mutual growth.
KTJ’s value is not limited to its internationally diverse student body. The school believes in holistic education, and the development of responsible leaders of a global, sustainable future.
Challenges are reframed as opportunities to grow. Emotional intelligence, resilience, and creativity are as important as grades. Saiful recounts, “KTJ is where I met people from different countries. Here, my world expanded in ways I could have never imagined.”
One of KTJ’s most popular club activities was the Model United Nations (MUN). For Saiful, MUN was eye-opening. KTJ‘s commitment to MUN was not just about debates; it was about moulding future global leaders. Through training sessions, workshops, and real-world exposure, KTJ instilled in Saiful the values of research, diplomacy, empathy, and a nuanced understanding of global challenges.
The friendships made, the mentors who guided, and the joy of representing KTJ on an international stage made the MUN experience one of a kind.
More than anything, KTJ taught the value of community. Whether in the heat of an MUN debate or the school events, the true strength of KTJ lies in its shared experiences, its collective celebrations, and its unwavering commitment to student development.
As Saiful left the gates of KTJ, he carried more than academic excellence; he carried a treasure trove of values, experiences, and skills that would guide him through life.
Into the halls of the University of Nottingham
Carrying the invaluable experiences from KTJ, Saiful stepped into the University of Nottingham. His hunger for understanding societal structures and welfare dynamics guided him to pursue economics.
It was more than numbers—it was a quest for meaning. In Saiful’s words, “Economics provided me with the framework to understand societal organisation. Both the mindset and the vocabulary to discuss these issues, allowing for conversations about the various methods of organising societies and resources to enhance people’s welfare.”
Through it all, Saiful consistently credited KTJ for equipping him with the skills and confidence to navigate the challenges and opportunities that Nottingham presented.
From handling rigorous academic pressures to networking and building relationships with a diverse group of peers, the foundational values instilled at KTJ served him well.
The threads of tomorrow
After graduating from the University of Nottingham, Saiful served in Bank Negara Malaysia’s Financial Intelligence unit, co-leading the inaugural regional risk assessment of non-profit organisations (NPO) related to terrorism financing. This collaborative effort engaged ten analysts from seven distinct countries.
Additionally, he contributed to the development of regulations concerning politically exposed persons and the suspicious transaction report section of Malaysia’s revamped anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing policy, especially during the critical period of the 1MDB investigation.
Saiful’s continued interest in learning propelled him to study in America. He left Bank Negara to pursue a Master of International Affairs, Economic and Political Development at the Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). SIPA is not just an ivy league institution, but a vibrant confluence of over 120 nationalities. Here, every debate and discussion were a window into diverse global perspectives.
At SIPA, Saiful’s worldview deepened. His friends from various corners of the world, brought fresh insights daily, leading to revelations that often made him reflect, “I never saw it that way.” This environment nurtured his understanding of the intricate mix between economic development, conflict, and resolution.
Soon, Saiful ascended to a pivotal role at the Centre for Urban Transformation at WEF. From reshaping Malaysia’s financial domain to engaging with global leaders at WEF, Saiful was unyielding.
At WEF, the different backgrounds of colleagues, much like at SIPA, enriched Saiful’s journey. His education in Columbia had perfectly equipped him with the skills to facilitate geopolitical partnerships. “I lead the strategy and programmes for our team in the economic development pillar. One of the projects I’m currently spearheading focuses on supporting small businesses worldwide. I’ve been working closely with governments in Brazil, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia to explore various methods,” he says.
Around the world and back
Amidst this whirlwind journey, Saiful’s message remains clear and profound “I’ve taken some time to reflect on my message, and I want to demystify the concept of success. Many wonder, ‘How do you achieve that? It seems impossible.”
He said that he is no different. He had a goal, worked towards it, and with some luck, he achieved it. “It’s important to understand that greatness is everywhere and in every profession. Finding fulfilment in life is what truly matters,” he added.
Saiful’s journey reveals how a curious heart can embrace the world’s wonders, from a boy inspired by flags on TV to influencing global landscapes.