The Malay word “kampung” means village but also so much more. It evokes the close-knit collectives who live in rural Malaysia; the antithesis to the atomisation of city living. Villagers rise with the chickens, and sleep when the sun sets. People keep their doors unlocked and look after their neighbours.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Rural Development wants to retain this tradition, while giving rural communities the opportunities provided to their city counterparts. In August 2019, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding with several partners to provide smart solutions, close the digital divide, and build the digital skills of kampung dwellers.

One of those companies is TM ONE, Malaysia’s digital enabler. GovInsider spoke to TM ONE to understand their vision, and how they’re connecting up the rural areas.

Smart Village pilot programme

“We want to not only provide infrastructure to people in rural areas, but also strengthen the economy,” said Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun, the country’s Minister of Rural Development, when the MoU was announced. What will the Smart Village pilot programme look like for Malaysia’s rural regions?

First, there will be high speed internet access – up to 100Mbps. This connection will power smart classrooms and digital libraries, to give young villagers access to education comparable to those available in the cities. It will also allow for “digital marketplaces” so that villagers can sell their wares online.

Hospitals will monitor their patients’ health from city areas and deliver care via telemedicine. Meanwhile, farmers can use drones for smart farming. The Ministry is building a Smart Map, to share data in real-time, and increase flooding awareness.

The rural divide

The pilot programme will start in 191 villages, but the Ministry intends to provide it to 15,000 villages across the country. It helps to bridge the urban-rural divide, promoting new skills and economic opportunities. Entrepreneurs, students and housewives are the primary targets.

For TM ONE, TM‘s enterprise and public sector business arm, the Smart Village initiative is a vital tenet of Malaysia’s broader Digital Malaysia vision. Mohd Nazri Ambi, Director of Public Shared Services of TM ONE explained that there are three parts to building a Digital Nation: digital government, digital business and digital society. “The Smart Village initiative falls under digital society,” he shared.

TM ONE provides connectivity infrastructure to more than 550 rural communities nationwide, with more on the way. “We want to include rural areas in our smart society,” said Mohd Nazri. “We want to become their enabler.”.

“We want to include rural areas in our smart society”

On a broader scheme, the Smart Village initiative forms part of KPLB’s Rural Development Policy 2030 (DPLB 2030). This is a plan to create prosperous rural community with a focus on 10 areas spanning social, economic and environmental progress. These include the areas of entrepreneurship, human capital, sustainable biodiversity, housing and regional development.

There are high hopes for the Smart Village project. For one, “we want to create more job opportunities for the rural people so that we can minimise the migration from rural to urban regions,” Datuk Seri Rina said of her vision.

Retaining talent has always been a challenge for rural areas, but smart initiatives can be the answer. The project is also expected to boost the economy with its focus on encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.

The focus on developing human capital instead of economic growth has allowed Malaysia to slash rural poverty rates from over eight per cent to just one percent in seven years.

Now, the Smart Village Project is that next step: building up opportunities, while retaining that crucial kampung spirit and charm.