FLY to Pulau Banggi


On a lovely midsummer’s afternoon, as story-tellers would tell it, we received an email from an enthusiastic youth representing Financial Literacy for Youths: Malaysia, sharing about their vision to equip other youths with basic financial knowledge and to improve their financial literacy.  Their challenge? Funding.  

Taken in by their noble mission at such a young age, we agreed to support their effort, but challenged them to spread their wings beyond just college youths, and reach out at least four times in the year to underprivileged youths as well.
With the little that we gave them, and with additional support from MYCorps, a volunteering unit under the initiative of the Ministry of Youth and Sport Malaysia, these strapping youths found themselves on Pulau Banggi, Sabah, one of the poorest settlements in Malaysia.  

Armed with their Bahasa Pasar, struggling to string a full sentence in Bahasa Malaysia, they shared their knowledge with 140 form 4 students from SMK Pulau Banggi.  Here is their story.


A brief look into Pulau Banggi: Adventurer's haven but villager’s nightmare

written by Goh Xie Loong (Kingsley), Vice President of FLY Malaysia

Located north of Sabah and at a size of 440.7 square kilometres, Pulau Banggi has the honour of being the largest island in Malaysia before Pulau Bruit, Pulau Langkawi, and Pulau Pinang. It is about half the size of Singapore, and about four times the size of Labuan. 
Under Financial Literacy for Youths Malaysia’s CSR Project- Financial Literacy Inclusivity Project (FLIP), I was able to embark on an interesting and meaningful journey in Pulau Banggi with the gracious help of MYCorps, an initiative under the Ministry of Youth and Sports Malaysia, and our (FLY’s) one and only Official Sponsor - Baker Tilly Malaysia. 
After a bumpy 3-hour car ride from Kota Kinabalu to Kudat, followed by a more comfortable one-hour-twenty-minute ferry journey across the glistening Marudu Bay, we reached the tiny town of Karakit on Pulau Banggi. We were greeted by a lovely scene of a place that seemed to have been caught in a 15-year time warp. The jetty was basic and stark, which was telling that while the island was beautiful, this beauty was rendered obsolete by the lack of economic development, including the mostly unpaved dirt roads, villagers’ reliance on rainwater for daily usages, absence of a system for disaster and waste management, etc. For the adventurer, this is an explorative and expansive playground seldom found elsewhere. For the villagers, this is a classic tale of an under-developed, seemingly forgotten island.

Contrast: The abject poverty 

During our 1-week reconnaissance of Kg. Laksian, Kg. Maligu, Kg. Kaligau, Kg. Pengkalan Darat, and Kg. Timbang Dayang, we had the opportunity to meet the villagers and were welcomed into their homes, many of which were dilapidated houses made with sago palm, bamboo, nibong, and coconut leaves. Behind these battered “walls”, we witnessed the inhabitants’ impoverished livelihoods. 
Many of the villagers in Pulau Banggi lived from hand-to-mouth with little to no extra money for financial securities such as emergency funds and insurance. This exposes them to even higher financial risk, especially when most of them rely primarily on physically-draining work to survive on a daily basis. Many villagers living nearby the sea are fishermen, while a good number are farmers. Noteworthily, “Kelulut” (stingless bee) honey, bird's nest farming, Mango Manila and eco-tourism were economic activities we found intriguing and plausible for further expansion. 
However, as we surveyed and talked to the villagers, we found a general lack of financial knowledge and entrepreneurial mentality.  One villager shared with us that many settle for having just enough to “survive”, meaning that they would rather just plant vegetables for themselves instead of selling them, and simply throwing away any excess. 
This could be a scenario caused by the lack of guidance and clarity on the possibilities ahead as a significant percentage of SPM leavers are not able to pursue higher education due to poverty.


Financial Literacy Inclusivity Project (FLIP): A long-term discourse

As we began to understand the problems and implications of Pulau Banggi’s lack of development on a grassroots level, FLY: Malaysia decided to empower the communities through what we do best - financial literacy education! We believed that whilst we are not able to make immediate changes to their living standards and conditions, we are able to equip them with skills and knowledge, in the hope that at least on a personal level, they can strive to make their own lives better through better financial management. With this, we tailored a financial literacy syllabus catered to their context and knowledge level, focusing on the fundamentals of personal finance and the motivational aspects of money mentality. 
On the 10th of January 2019, I led a team of 3 volunteers from MYCorps to SMK Pulau Banggi and we conducted a 4.5-hour interactive talk for 140 Form 4 students, covering 5 progressive topics on the four stages towards financial independence, the importance of saving, identifying assets and liabilities, Rich Dad Poor Dad mentality, and ways to fund higher education. 


The intertwined links

It was essential for us to break down the impact of financial literacy using localised illustrations and examples so that the 140 Form 4 students can better relate it to their lives. We taught them using the Ladder of different Financial Status, from survival, security, utility, financial independence, to eventually financial freedom. Each step of the ladder is linked to a crucial personal finance skill, such as the importance of saving (security stage), identifying assets and liabilities (utility stage), and Rich Dad Poor Dad mentality (financial independence stage).  We actively engaged with the students through the sharing of our own experiences. 
Ultimately, this was not so much a lecture session but an intimate dialogue with the students to grow their interests and awareness in financial literacy. For example, under the session “Importance of saving”, besides showing the nominal value of saving through calculative methods, such as compounding interest and reverse future earnings/retiring-fund calculation, we also shared with them personal values of saving through stories of our own struggles. 
Assets and liabilities are not foreign terms to the Form 4 students in SMK Pulau Banggi as they were taking Accounting as a subject for SPM. However, they were unable to relate to these concepts. To help them, we played a simple game of identifying assets and liabilities using common examples in their daily lives and explained to them the nature of each asset and liability. Most importantly, we taught them how identifying assets and liabilities could lead to sustainable wealth creation through conscious consumption and income from assets (e.g passive income). 


Learning does not just end here

One of our key agenda was to impart the right mentality instead of a general formula. We found the Rich Dad Poor Dad mentality to be a simple and straightforward way to teach the students how to dissect different scenarios to make financial decisions. 
With the right government intervention, we believe that the lives of those on the island will improve.  Meanwhile, a portion of the students we met may stay on the island forever, doing the jobs passed down by their parents. We hope that even so, they can find ways to improve their lives. If they are farmers, we hope that they can find ways to improve their crop yield through sales.  All of these will have to be their own initiatives, and what we can do is to tell them that, “yes it is possible - financially!” 


The session was concluded with fulfilling smiles of 140 Form 4 students. As I have said, ultimately FLIP is not a lecture series but an intimate dialogue with students from underprivileged backgrounds in Malaysia with structured content to grow their interests and awareness in financial literacy. Hopefully, they can improve own their lives in the long term. 
With the right government intervention, we believe that the lives of those on the island will improve.  For our part, we hope that we have indeed made a difference and planted a seed for the long term.   
Last but not least, I would like to take this opportunity to thank KBS Kudat, KBS Sabah, KBS Semenanjung, Wakil Rakyat, District Officer, and Assistant District Officer of Kudat for the supports and coverage on this initiative.