How Malaysia's Big Fast Results model is changing development in Africa

A view of Kuala Lumpur Civic Center from the Menara Tower. Malaysia's Big Fast Results development model is making a positive impact in countries like Tanzania and South Africa. Photo by: Daniel Hoherd / CC BY-NC

If you talk about Malaysia’s top exports around the world, several things spring to mind including electronic equipment, petroleum and other oil products, and its rich and varied cuisine, among others. But there’s another export from the Southeast Asian nation that’s making waves elsewhere within the global development industry: the Big Fast Results Methodology.

Started in 2009 as a development methodology that focuses on impact and results to improve Malaysia’s development processes and accelerate its hitherto slow-moving development progress, the BFR Methodology has now spread beyond its borders to countries as far afield as Tanzania and South Africa.

“I would say today that the world needs a real strong case for global transformation … to transform the way it conducts its business … for the benefit of mankind, for the planet and for the future generation,” Idris Jala, head of Malaysia’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit, told Devex in an exclusive interview in Kuala Lumpur.

“[There are] two things that the public wants us to do — to deliver [and] make sure that when you deliver results, it’s big,” the former corporate executive explained. “They don't want incrementalism ... They want it now, they want it fast.”

While the idea of a performance and results-based approaches in development is not entirely a new initiative, Jala explained that strategies and plans only work if they are focused on impact through the achievement of results — even in the smallest indicators. This, he said, must go hand-in-hand with the highest possible standards of accountability.

The BFR Methodology is a holistic and granular transformation approach designed to deliver a specific goal within a stipulated period of time. While it may sound cliché, Jala explained that the methodology stems from a hybrid of corporate knowledge and strategies, mixed with the technical machinery and expertise of the government.

Dato’ Sri Idris Jala, CEO of Malaysia’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit, explains what the Big Fast Results methodology mean for development

“The way we do it is very simple. Some governments have beautiful plans and strategies but those are very high level ... at 50,000 feet,” he said. “But you will never have a discipline of action until you translated that high level strategy and plan into what we call a ‘three-feet program.’”

Steps in the program to operationalize development at country level include setting up a strategic direction, conducting an intensive problem-solving lab comprising all stakeholders, instituting key performance targets, and implementing an international performance review and audit, among others.

Jala explained that majority of the program’s priorities, as a result of consultations with the general public, focused on “dealing with crime, corruption, rural infrastructure, low-income households, education, and cost of living.”

But despite the successes over the past few years since the program’s implementation, with its countless emphasis on transparency, accountability and tangible results, the program’s main proponent — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak — is ironically bedeviled with countless allegations of corruption, as well as facing criticism over transparency and accountability issues.

Global footprint

One of the countries that embraced the BFR model wholeheartedly is Tanzania, the first to show interest in implementing the program in 2011 as part of a national development strategy launched 15 years ago.

Keen to improve and fast-track the implementation of this national plan titled Tanzania Development Vision 2025, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete created the President’s Delivery Bureau — the counterpart to Malaysia’s PEMANDU — to oversee a model that place emphasis on practical actions to deliver results.

“The key ingredient in delivering a transformation program is total commitment from the highest level of government,” a PDB representative told Devex. “Our president recognized that we needed to move from the traditional way of governing, into delivery.”

Currently, there are some 24 experts from Malaysia’s BFR Institute that help implement and adapt the model to the specific conditions of the African nation. Jala said that people from his organization have also been working with officials from the South African government on their own version of the model — Operation Phakisa — that started two years ago.

While relatively new to Tanzania, the BFR methodology is already making headway with the country’s development progress and processes. Tangible results including 2.36 million more people from the rural areas gaining access to clean water and 193,420 additional households provided access to electricity, among others.

But the most important contribution of the model, according to an official from the Tanzanian government office, is its solid focus on accountability that has provided the country with an effective alternative on how to do and perceive development.

“We have sought to ensure that we have everyone focused on the same end vision, and hold people accountable along the line,” the bureau spokesperson said. “We have found that it is important to have clear and transparent messages and to share the results. If you communicate regularly and openly, then you’ll be much better understood by your key stakeholders and the general population as well.”

Today, development efforts are increasingly judged by their results, their sustainability and their impact.

Said Jala: “Half of the problem is solved when the government understands the real prioritization of what is really needed. The rest … is about implementing and making sure that results are delivered.”

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.