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Dr Leong moves communications online

In early January 2020, the IET Malaysia Network (Kuala Lumpur Central region, Southern region, Northern region, Eastern region), IET Young Professionals Section and 18 IET On Campus communities had more than 100 events arranged the year ahead.

A cohort of volunteers was lined up to help deliver the events, which included technical talks and visits, competitions, conferences and, of course, the annual Prestige Lecture and dinner.

And then COVID-19 started to spread around the world.

“The Malaysian government put a stop to movement and mass assembly across the country,” said Dr Wai Yie Leong, who chairs the IET Malaysia Network and the IET Industry 4.0 Technical Network. “Change was inevitable.

“In order to continue supporting the IET through these difficult times, IET Malaysia embraced different ways of working. We encouraged our volunteers and peers to continue promoting the IET's vision and mission while also adapting to the new normal.”

Moving communications online

With the country in lockdown and severe restrictions on movement in place, the members of the IET Malaysia Network committee encountered many new and unexpected practical difficulties.

“We could not get all the necessary signatures on cheques, so we weren’t able to pay some bills,” said Dr Leong. “Government departments were closed and banks were offering very limited and restrictive services. Rather than leaving the bills unpaid, I’m proud to say that our IET volunteers stepped in and settled them all using their own bank accounts – naturally, the Network then refunded them in full.

“We worked hard to restructure all the strategic plans that we’d made in January. Using a combination of applications including Zoom, Google Meet and Skype, we were able to resolve all our communications issues. We converted all our face-to-face events and engagements to webinars; online events and competitions; and virtual conferences and meetings.”

The committee found that conducting meetings, technical talks and conferences online worked surprisingly well. “In fact, I believe that the reciprocal, regular and instant nature of these communications has strengthened the 'one team' working relationship with our dedicated IET Hong Kong and UK staff members,” said Dr Leong.

“The new norms are actually more economic and convenient. When the pandemic is over, we will keep using communications technology to connect IET volunteers, members and potential members around the world.”

The IET Communities team in the UK provided the Zoom webinar platform to facilitate events during the pandemic. Dr Leong found this service “both professional and useful” – it is available to IET Communities volunteers, but only for the purpose of holding events.

Focus on support 

The Malaysian Economic Research Institute estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic will result in 2.4 million job losses in Malaysia.

“It’s very important for individuals to face the economic volatility that will occur during and after the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Leong. “With that in mind, we decided to change the content of the initial planned events.

“We redesigned our webinars and talks to motivate IET volunteers and the Malaysian community to face the long-term impact of COVID-19. For example, most of our online technical talks now focus on the skills, resilience and technical competence that will be needed for businesses to survive during the COVID-19 period.”

Dr Leong is conscious of the need for a recovery plan for the entrepreneurial sector and small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“The IET Technical Networks (TNs) on IR4.0 and Control and Automation recognises that entrepreneurs and SMEs must incorporate automation, robotics, super data analytics and system integration in their operations,” he said. “Doing this will reduce their dependence on manual labour, generate new job opportunities and contribute to the national economy.

“Post COVID-19, we will see even wider digitalisation of businesses and services.”

Expanding our reach

Despite the many restrictions resulting from the pandemic, the IET Malaysia Network has remained steadfast in its resolve to reach out to more IET members and potential members.

To do this, it is collaborating with other organisations, some of which have more than 55,000 members. For example, it is jointly organising a number of major online events this year: the Online Innovate Malaysia Design Conference (August); the IET Green Technology Awards (August); the International Conference on Women in Science and Technology (October); and the 31st International Invention, Innovation and Technology Exhibition (November)

“We’re also working closely with the World Federation of Engineering Organizations on many interesting webinars,” said Dr Leong. “We act as IET ambassadors, making sure that promotional materials are on-brand and IET materials are available to event attendees. And we make good use of social media, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and our Young Professionals Section networks – we’re always looking to boost the number of ‘likes’!

“We have set up 18 IET On Campus groups in Malaysia. We have appointed IET On Campus Advisors to help students host events and make sure that activities are more diverse and multicultural, with multigenerational appeal.”

And finally…

Dr Leong believes firmly that involving IET Volunteers, communities and leaders will be integral to people adapting continuously to the new normal, both during and after COVID-19: “What’s required is a more organic and open communications channel, so that everyone understands the need to change.

“A sustained commitment to continuous, honest communication and involvement will generate trust and boost confidence – and I believe these are the foundations on which the new normal will be conceived and built. It might be perceived as difficult now, but with an open mind and a willingness to act in the interest of the common good, I’m confident that we can realise this vision.”

Alison Siu, IET Community Manager, commented: “The way in which our IET volunteers in Malaysia have responded to the many communication challenges posed by the pandemic is a great example of the positive impact that can be achieved by a supportive and dedicated team.”

If you have a story to share about how you’ve adapted your IET volunteering, please contact the Volunteer Support Unit on volunteer@theiet.org