EACH time an announcement is made about a university conferring honorary awards, chances are it involves an individual. This has been the norm among Malaysian universities.
Certainly they are deserving in most cases, but individuals are also part of communities. And when they act collectively, the impact and contributions are almost always greater than the sum of parts.
One such example is the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) that the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) has proudly chosen to recognise and push the boundaries of distinctions away from just individuals.
This is actually not new since many august institutions have adopted something similar including those of Nobel Peace laureates where any one individual is too “small” to prevail. The fight against climate change or nuclear disarmament are two examples where the Nobel Peace Prize went to two formidable organisations. CAP is no less formidable in the same sense on the basis of which it was conferred the Inaugural Ibn Khaldun Merit Award (Ikma) for its colossal contribution towards global social transformation.
Echoing the universal stature of Ibn Khaldun and his ideas about kinship, solidarity and the relationship between culture and environment, IIUM introduced Ikma to elevate his scholarly legacy for the world to reflect on. It is intended to highlight the value of organisational effort within the community and to promote its achievements as positive role models for both the government and non-governmental sectors in delivering distinctive community service across humanity.
The award recognises those who consistently endeavour towards such objectives in advancing sustainable development to be more participatory, directly or indirectly, in bringing about the global social transformation.
CAP, as the first recipient, is no stranger to this given the untold contributions it champions ranging from consumer rights to interests of the underprivileged and marginalised members of the community for almost half a century. Even universities cannot claim such achievements.
Over the years, CAP expanded its role to cover environmental protection and monitoring; promoting environmental education, training and capacity-building as well as research. It also partners with other agencies; and cooperates with other regional and international bodies in spreading the best way to manage such issues. More recently it embraced the concept of sustainable development as a culmination of it all.
In so doing, CAP’s wide-ranging efforts in rooting sustainable development through participation, advocacy and research, have brought numerous benefits to Malaysian society as a whole and also globally. In summary, CAP has been successful in advancing community or individual actions for greater accountability on the part of the government and corporate sectors.
Since its establishment in 1970, CAP has diligently highlighted the rights and interests of Malaysians from all walks of life especially the deprived and disenfranchised members of society. It took bold steps to solve innumerable problems faced by just about anyone and on anything.
With the tagline “giving a voice to the little people” this non-profit, independent organisation ensures the right of consumers to food, housing, health care, sanitation facilities, public transport, education and a clean and healthy environment. This started at a time when such awareness was still very low and terms like B40 were not fashionable.
Yet CAP stood its ground without compromise in discharging its responsibility. It is no wonder that it manages between 3,000 and 4,000 complaints from the public annually ranging from issues of poor quality consumer products and food adulteration to delivery of shoddy services and affordable and quality housing.
It has successfully managed to resolve no fewer than 100,000 cases since its establishment and this is no ordinary feat especially for an organisation with limited funding and a modest human resource of 35 staff members. Still, to date it has more than 300 affiliated members in addressing globalised and digitalised changes worldwide while interacting with governments and corporations alike.
CAP is still led by its pioneering president, “Uncle” S. M. Mohammad Idris, the 92-year-old outspoken veteran who has devoted a lifetime to upholding the need for educational reforms to building national unity by reducing poverty, disparity and polarisation.
Two of its affiliates, Sahabat Alam Malaysia and Third World Network are instrumental in pushing the many issues of ecological degradation to the forefront and creating a vibrant, dynamic, fair and just society by forging new and relevant policies, and institutions rooted in the diverse traditions, values, cultures and beliefs of the Malaysian people.
In the era of New Malaysia, CAP is well ahead in not only articulating urgent issues and finding ways to arrive at long-term solutions; it is also pre-empting future threats by acting proactively. At the same time it is building an impressive corpus for the few generations to benefit from.
Therefore, it is only right that CAP be duly recognised and IIUM took the lead role to open another window of opportunity for several CAP-like unsung heroes to be accorded their rightful places in the eyes of the world. This is long overdue.
Without a doubt, CAP is exemplary by all counts including contributing immensely to social justice based on true intellectual honesty and integrity not only for Malaysia but humanity as a whole. Unfortunately, this is where most universities are still negligent to say the very least.
The writer is the Rector of IIUM. Comments: email@example.com