Poser over Penang Bayan Mutiara deal

Bayan Mutiara is a prime land

Bayan Mutiara is a prime land, given its proximity to the Bayan Lepas free trade zones, the international airport and also the second Penang Bridge.

Comment by KHOO KAY PENG

There are still several questions left unanswered by the Penang government over the sale of the prime property.

SEVERAL Penang-based analysts and local community leaders have questioned the Penang government for selling a 41.5ha plot of prime state land to a private developer, Ivory Properties Group Berhad, for RM1.07bil.

Their concern is understandable due to scarce availability of state-owned land on the island which may hinder the ability of the state government to drive a balanced development and ensure it does not drive out the lower middle-income group from the area.

Most private property projects on the island are focused primarily on premium and luxury property which have driven up prices beyond the reach of most Penangites. There is worry that the sale of the state-owned Bayan Mutiara land to a private developer may end up in a similar fate.

Apart from escalating property prices, there is a concern that the land may have been sold below the prevailing market value. The state government had explained that the current selling price was above market value at the time of transaction.

However, it does not explain if it is usual to allow the purchaser a period of five years to settle the full payment. Did the transacted price factor in any interest payment accrued by the five-year payment period?

The opportunity cost derived from a potential increase in land premium over the next five years should be included to ensure that it is a fair deal.

Accusations and allegations of a lack of transparency in the tender process should be comprehensively addressed by the state government. Critics had alleged that the sale was done through direct negotiations between the state government and the purchaser.

Without justifying the five-year payment period, these allegations will create doubt over the much ac­­claimed transparency and ac­­count­ability of the state government.

Moreover, the allegations are peppered by talk that a bidder who is prepared to make a full payment for the purchase was not selected during the tender process.

Some analysts have questioned how can the sale benefit the people? They wonder why the development of Bayan Mutiara cannot be taken up by the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) which has the capacity and experience to handle people-centric development projects such as the Penang Free Trade Zones, housing estates, Komtar and others.

Regrettably, the issue of public accountability and good governance has been grossly politicised by certain parties. Politicians have gone to the extent of throwing down the gauntlet of challenging each other to resign over false allegations related to the land sale. We expect such showmanship from politicians but we deserve straight and accurate answers from them.

Politicising this issue is going to deprive many concerned stakeholders a chance to ask relevant and legitimate questions about the decision to sell the land to a private developer.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had described allegations of wrongdoing over the tender award for the Bayan Mutiara mixed deve­lopment project by PDC as “a pack of lies”.

While some of these allegations may be malicious, it is pertinent for Lim’s administration to identify legitimate concerns over the sale. He should acknowledge that the state government controls less than 5% of total land size on the island and this calls for a prudent and strategic management of state-owned prime land.

Hence, it is best for his administration to address these issues immediately in order to convince the people of Penang that it has taken the best interests of the people into consideration before agreeing to the sale. Major issues include:

> What was the rationale to allow a five-year payment period to the purchaser? It gives an impression that the purchaser may not have secured financing for the purchase.

> Is it true there was another bidder who was prepared to pay an upfront full payment for the asking price?

> Did the transacted price factor in any interest charges or projected land price appreciation over the next five years?

> Is there any restriction or precondition between the state government and the purchaser to discourage any sub-sales? If the purchaser were to divide and resell some parcels of the land to other developers at a higher premium, it may further drive up property prices on the island. If such sales were allowed, is the state government entitled to a share of the higher premium?

> It is understood that the government would like to use the proceeds from Bayan Mutiara land to finance its low-cost housing scheme in Batu Kawan. While the low-cost housing scheme is welcomed and encouraged, the state government needs to justify if the sale of Bayan Mutiara land is the best option to help finance the project.

> Lim said part of the RM500mil financing for the housing scheme came from the state coffers. If this is the case, what is stopping the state from raising money through external sources to fund the entire project and carefully weigh all options to optimise the use of the Bayan Mutiara prime land bank?

Bayan Mutiara is no longer about selling above the current market value but the use of scarce prime land on the island for the purpose of socio-economic transformation. Ownership of prime land is very crucial for the state government to drive the state’s economy.

We do not want a repeat of high premium-reclaimed lands being sold to private developers who in turn inflate property prices in Penang and raked in billions in profit at the expense of the people.

Bayan Mutiara could be what the state government needs to help transform the landscape of Penang and create new attractions to boost its attractiveness as a tourism and cultural destination and a services hub.

Time will judge if the current state government has made the right decision on Bayan Mutiara and if the proposed plan is not going to turn out to be just another expensive commercial project by a private property developer.

> Khoo Kay Peng is an independent policy analyst and a management consultant. He was born and raised in Penang. Khoo can be contacted at kpkhoo@gfworld.com.my.

Read more: Land deal raises more questions – Columnist – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnist/land-deal-raises-more-questions-1.51940#ixzz1nYV1Q098

Malaysians protest against rare earth refinery, Lynas

Opponents of plant, which will process radioactive ore from Australia, say it poses health and environmental risks

Malaysia protest

Protesters say the rare earth plant being built in eastern Malaysia poses a hazard from radioactive waste. Photograph: Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters

About 3,000 Malaysians have staged a protest against a refinery for rare earth elements being built by the Australian mining company Lynas over fears of radioactive contamination.

It was the largest rally so far against the £146m plant in eastern Malaysia, and could pose a headache for the government with national elections widely expected this year.

Authorities recently granted Lynas a licence to operate the rare earth plant in Pahang state, the first outside China in years, and it has been the subject of heated protests over health and environmental risks posed by potential leaks of radioactive waste.

Lynas says its plant, which will refine radioactive ore from Australia, has state-of-the-art pollution controls and plans to start operations by June.

Protesters, including opposition MPs, pledged on Sunday to put pressure on the government to scrap the project. Many wore green T-shirts with the words “Stop Lynas” and some shouted “Destroy Lynas” during the two-hour rally in the Pahang state capital, Kuantan.

The opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, said his alliance would seek an emergency motion in parliament to urge the government to cancel the project. He also pledged that the opposition would scrap the plant if it won national polls expected by June.

“We don’t want [this project] to sacrifice our culture and the safety of the children,” he told the crowd.

Lynas says its refinery could meet nearly a third of world demand for rare earths, excluding China. It also may curtail China’s stranglehold on the global supply of 17 rare earths essential for making hi-tech goods, including flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, hybrid cars and weapons.

Malaysian activists and Pahang residents have sought a court order to halt the Lynas plant.

An International Atomic Energy Agency team, which assessed the Lynas project last year, found it lacked a comprehensive long-term waste management programme and a plan to dismantle the plant once it is no longer operating.

Malaysia’s last rare earth refinery, operated by Mitsubishi of Japan, in northern Perak state, was closed in 1992 after protests and claims that it caused birth defects and leukaemia among residents. It is one of Asia’s largest radioactive waste cleanup sites.

The rise of social enterprises in Malaysia

By JOHN LOH and WONG WEI-SHEN starbiz@thestar.com.my

Although still at an early stage, they can make a difference in addressing social issues

PROFIT with a conscience – that could well be the mantra for a new kind of business taking root here called the social enterprise.

Although there is no one definition, social enterprises are generally understood to be businesses that exist primarily to fulfil social goals, which could be anything from reducing poverty, creating jobs for the disadvantaged, to educating children in rural areas.

According to Leaderonomics chief executive officer Roshan Thiran, a social enterprise bridges the gap between a traditional non-profit organisation and for-profit corporation (see chart).

In fact, he points out, all businesses start out with some kind of social mission in mind, like how Google was premised on organising information on the Internet, and Ford on making cars that were affordable to the masses.

To accomplish its social objectives, a social enterprise has to find ways to generate income by providing a product or service, and the resulting profits are funnelled back into a specific cause.

Unlike a non-governmental organisation or charity, social enterprises do not rely on donations, but they may seek grants, equity, or loans to support their capital needs.

Kal Joffres, chief operating officer of the Tandem Fund, says that in any case, “there isn’t enough free or donor money to go around to fix the problems we have today”. Tandem Fund is a not-for-profit venture fund that invests in social enterprises in Malaysia.

It can be hard to change the mindset of existing leaders, but what we can do is create leaders from the youth. – ROSHAN THIRAN

Social enterprises are still at a very early stage, but they could be very transformative for a lot of the problems we face,” he contends.

Due to their non-traditional structure, social enterprises tend to take innovative approaches around their business model.

In the case of Leaderonomics, which got its seed funding from Star Publications (M) Bhd, The Star’s parent shareholder, a part of the proceeds from its training and human resources consultancy work done for corporates is reinvested into its youth leadership-building activities.

For example, the company organises regular leadership camps for young people where half of the spots are reserved for orphans and underprivileged children.

In addition, it opened a youth community centre for “kids-at-risk” called DropZone in Petaling Jaya and is piloting a leadership club for secondary schools.

Leaderonomics’ main aim, Roshan says, is to build leaders from the grassroots. “It can be hard to change the mindset of existing leaders, but what we can do is create leaders from the youth. If we are successful in changing their value system into one that is authentic and based on integrity, we have a shot in 20 years to see many leaders in the country emerge from this group,” he says.

To supplement its core mission, it offers a range of consultancy services, such as its talent accelerator programme for those identified as an organisation’s “top talent”, and it counts companies like Malakoff, RHB Bank, and Sime Darby among its blue-chip clients.

“Social” returns

In the 1980s, General Electric boss and maverick management guru Jack Welch introduced the idea of “shareholder value” which dictated that a company is duty-bound, above all else, to maximise returns on investment (ROI) for its shareholders, increase its share price, grow its market capitalisation and so on.

Turning this concept on its head, social enterprises measure themselves against a different set of criteria, using terms like social ROI, and the triple bottomline, referring to people, planet, profit.

I think paying taxes makes us more powerful. We are on the same footing as any other business. – DR REZA AZMI

“Things like marketing and branding, they are not real. But if you can create lasting social value, I think the community will (continue to) give back,” Roshan quips.

Most social enterprises, it would seem, have one thing in common: they were motivated by a problem.

Online crafts retailer Elevyn – whose name was derived from the phrase “the eleventh hour” – started out this way.

One of its founders, Puah Sze Ning, was volunteering with the orang asal in Sabah as part of efforts to document land rights issues and the displacement of local communities when she was asked by one of the women if she could help them sell their handmade crafts in Kuala Lumpur.

“They were really poor – some are single mothers, some are elderly. And they have no other source of income,” explains Mike Tee, co-founder of Elevyn with Devan Singaram.

“Even when they make it, they can’t really sell it as Sabah has a very limited market. Sze Ning was quite stumped, she had just finished university at the time. So she came back and felt really helpless.

“During one of our meet-ups, she told us this story. Since we’re (Tee and Devan) both software developers, we thought about setting up a website that would connect producers to customers.”

The term “orang asal” refers to all indigenous people throughout Malaysia, while “orang asli” refers to those in the peninsula, Tee says. The website, elevyn.com, sells a variety of fair trade items, and it is worth noting that beside each product display is a box that shows exactly what percentage of its sales price goes to the maker, designer, reseller and for materials.

They were really poor – some are single mothers, some are elderly. And they have no other source of income. – MIKE TEE

“We started with a group in Kudat, Sabah, then expanded to the peninsula with a couple of orang asli groups. Recently, we started working with Burmese refugees based in Kuala Lumpur. People have described us an ebay for the poor,” Tee chuckles.

To get on their feet, the team applied for and won a RM150,000 grant from the Multimedia Development Corp (MDEC) in 2008. At the time, MDEC gave out pre-seed funding to start-ups with technology businesses.

On Elevyn’s business model, Tee points out that some 70% to 80% of the sales price goes back to the producers of the goods, and the team receives a 5% cut after deducting PayPal transactions.

“We make very little money from this. That’s why for this model to work, we need scale,” he says. A percentage of the profit is also apportioned for a particular cause like school books, for instance.

Currently, Elevyn either sells individual products to visitors at its website or bulk orders directly to corporate clients. They have yet to sell to gift retailers, but Tee says this might be a possibility in the future.

However, several operational hurdles stand in its way. First, the products must address market needs. “Sometimes we tell our producers to make a product this way or that to suit the market, but what they are making could have been passed down from their ancestors, and we certainly don’t want to disrupt that,” Tee explains.

Second, constant supply is difficult to ensure, since most of the orang asal depend on the rattan and other raw materials that grow near their homes, which, in turn, may be determined by the seasons.

Profitable venture?

A rented home in Sri Hartamas serves as an office for Wild Asia, a social enterprise that advises clients on environmental and social policies and practices.

“We have been profitable since we started,” exclaims Dr Reza Azmi, Wild Asia founder and director. “We are service-based, and so did not require a lot of capital,” he says of the enterprise that started out as an online platform for information exchange on nature-related issues.

Some of Wild Asia’s services include sustainability assessments to help plantation companies comply with standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, as well as developing their environmental and social management systems.

Social enterprises are still at a very early stage, but they could be very transformative for a lot of the problems we face. – KAL JOFFRES

This social enterprise got off the ground some 10 years ago with RM10,000 in seed capital from a few individuals, including Reza. Wild Asia, which he says has close to RM1mil in paid-up capital now, is based on a model whereby 65% of its profit goes to its cash reserves as well as to invest in responsible tourism initiatives, such as the Okologie dive and study centre at the Batu-Batu Resort in Mersing, Johor.

A further 25% of its profit is shared among staff and associates as a bonus, while the balance 10% is split between Wild Asia’s shareholders.

Reza, who studied biology in the United Kingdom, says he found his calling in conservation work during a gap year from university. “I wanted to be a professional beach bum,” he jokes.

Having done this for a number of years, he observes that there has been growing concern among businesses to preserve the natural world. “Banks and investment houses are starting to take notice. They might refrain, for example, from putting their money in or lending money to companies that deal with converted forests.

“We are one of the groups they hire to verify these things. But its the foreign banks that have specific policies on this,” Reza explains.

Even so, profitability remains a key concern for social enterprises. According to Tandem Fund’s Joffres, start-ups break even in about three to five years, but social enterprises can take up to eight years.

“It takes them (social enterprises) longer to grow the market, and they often take smaller margins and do community-building activities at the same time,” he quips. Compounding this is the issue of funding, which can be hard to come by for social enterprises.

The tax question

Another issue that could curtail the growth of social enterprises is the lack incentives and tax breaks. They can currently only register as private limited companies and are taxed as such, since they derive an income from business activities.

Tee says Elevyn is taxed on a percentage of its profits, though not if the company is loss-making. To make things easier for social enterprises, the Social Enterprise Alliance, where Joffres is a committee member, is pushing for more policy recognition for the sector.

For starters, it is hoping to make amendments to the tax policies to make it legal for charitable trusts or foundations to give money to social enterprises.

Foundations cannot provide monetary support to social enterprises under the present tax regime as it would be viewed as an investment by the Inland Revenue Board (IRB), Joffres stresses.

Deloitte Malaysia country tax leader Yee Wing Peng tells StarBizWeek via email that while the Government does provide for tax exemptions on income received under the Income Tax Act 1967, this is for approved charitable organisations.

“A limited liability company or Sdn Bhd is not included because it is formed with a profit-seeking motive and the profits generated can be returned to shareholders in the form of dividends. There is no restriction to prevent the company from distributing profits to the shareholders instead of using the profits solely for charitable purposes.

“I advise the social enterprises to use a legal form that is acceptable to the IRB as this would encourage more donors to contribute due to the availability of tax deduction and with the income exempt from tax, more funds can be channelled for charitable causes.

“If the initiator has to use a Sdn Bhd set-up due to compelling business needs, attempts may be made to the higher authority i.e. the Finance Minister to consider exemptions. Putting in place covenants to ensure that the profits made by the Sdn Bhd can only be used for the intended charitable purposes may help,” Yee explains.

Nonetheless, Wild Asia’s Reza argues that social enterprises “don’t need handouts to survive”. “I think paying taxes makes us more powerful. We are on the same footing as any other business. You are a business entity just like any other,” he says.

More than money

A key question moving forward for social enterprises will be how sustainable they can be, and what kind of impact they can deliver. That will depend on, among others, how quickly they can adjust their business models to respond to market forces.

Asked about Wild Asia’s impact, Reza says it has been the cultural shift within organisations in their treatment of the environment. He cites the example of a major government-linked corporation they had consulted that now has its own 20-man team to do the job internally.

He also notes that Wild Asia is beginning to attract interest from disillusioned corporate dropouts wanting to join his team and do something with a purpose other than financial gain.

According to Tee of Elevyn, the impact of a social enterprise need not be purely financial either. “You can’t fix a problem just by putting money into it,” he says.

“There was recently an order that came in from Japan and Spain. We told them (the producers) to ship it to these addresses and the women were very surprised, because to them these countries are a world apart, and yet they had an interest in their products.

“The impact is not just in terms of money, but also the pride that what they’re making has value.”

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The rise of the adolescent CEOs 

The rise of the adolescent CEOs

Many of today’s young entrepreneurs are not old enough to drink or drive, but nothing is stopping them from making millions with their online ventures.


Tim Chae poses for a photo in a conference room where he attends '500 Startups,' a crash course for young companies run by a funding firm of the same name, in Mountain View February 16, 2012. Chae, 20, a Babson College dropout, has raised a small amount of capital for his company, Post Rocket, is seeking more and is hoping the upcoming Facebook IPO will help investors look more kindly on all young entrepreneurs. Photo taken February 16, 2012.  REUTERS-Robert Galbraith
Minomonsters Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Josh Buckley, who turns 20 on February 21, poses for a photograph at his company at The Mint in San Francisco February 17, 2012. Buckley sold a previous company for a low six figures when he was still in high school in Maidstone, England, and his current company is backed by big-name venture-capital firms.        REUTERS-Robert Galbraith
Sahil Lavingia, 19, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Gumroad, an online payments company he started, sits in front of computers at his home which doubles as his office in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco February 17, 2012. Lavingia, who was born in New York and grew up in places like London, Hong Kong and Singapore, dropped out of the University of Southern California to work at online bulletin board company Pinterest. He also developed the Turntable.fm app for the iPhone.  REUTERS-Robert Galbraith
 Sahil Lavingia, 19, chief executive officer (CEO) of Gumroad, an online payments company he started, works in his home which doubles as his office in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco February 17, 2012. Lavingia, who was born in New York and grew up in places like London, Hong Kong and Singapore, dropped out of the University of Southern California to work at online bulletin board company Pinterest. He also developed the Turntable.fm app for the iPhone.   REUTERS-Robert Galbraith

(Reuters) – Josh Buckley, chief executive of an online gaming start-up, is looking forward to next month’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, particularly for the parties and the accompanying schmoozing with industry A-listers.

There’s one problem: Buckley, who will turn 20 this week on February 22, may be turned away from many of the parties because he is not old enough to drink. His fake ID was recently confiscated, and the two new ones he ordered from a company in China have not yet arrived.

Such are the dilemmas facing the ever-younger entrepreneurs that Silicon Valley investors are backing these days. While little data on the phenomenon exists, venture capitalists say they are funding more chief executives under age 21 than ever before.

“At a certain point, they can’t get much younger or we’re going to be invested in preschool,” quipped Marc Andreessen, whose venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz is one of several that backs Buckley’s company, MinoMonsters.

Andreessen and other venture capitalists say the entrepreneurs they fund at 18 or 19 typically have been prepping for years — learning computer code, taking on ambitious freelance projects and educating themselves on the Internet.

Some are self-consciously molding themselves in the image of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 27, who created computer games as a child and was taking a graduate-level computer course by his early teens.

Internet businesses that target consumers make a sweet spot for the baby-faced, because online companies often require relatively little capital. A semiconductor start-up might require $10 million to $20 million in the early stages, noted Joe Kraus of Google Ventures, and that would be tough even for the most talented youngster.

“If I’m going to write that big a check, I’m going to invest in people who’ve done it before,” he said. “But if you look at it as, ‘Hey, I’m going to raise $500,000,’ there’s a lot of ways to raise that.”

Kraus helped back Airy Labs, an educational social-gaming company run by 20-year-old Andrew Hsu that raised $1.5 million. Hsu is now learning the same hard lessons as many of his elders: the company recently laid off staff and is looking to rent out some of its office space in Palo Alto, California. Hsu said the company is taking a different direction and focusing on a line of new products in math, language arts and science.

Kraus said his biggest hiccups with young entrepreneurs are the business references they don’t understand because they are too young to be aware of them.

Andreessen says more than one young entrepreneur has asked him: “What did Netscape do again?” Andreessen co-founded Netscape, which developed the first commercial Web browser and helped launch the Internet era, shortly after graduating from college in 1993.

“I was 9 years old” during the first Internet boom, says Brian Wong, 20, who runs reward-network Kiip. He has had his fill of stories about companies that tanked amid the dot-com bust of 2000. The first time he heard the name Webvan, a legendary dot-com failure, “I had to look it up,” he recalled.

Wong has raised more than $4 million from Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and others.

He believes his age helps him and other youthful entrepreneurs. “You’re expected to be limitless,” he said. “Kind of destructive.”

While the freewheeling ways of youth may be a positive for venture capitalists, they are less appreciated by landlords. Tim Chae, the 20-year-old chief executive and co-founder of social-media marketing company PostRocket, said his age and lack of credit created problems when he moved to San Francisco last year and needed an apartment. Finally, his father had to drive the 88 miles from Sacramento to co-sign a lease.

Chae, a Babson College dropout, now lives in nearby Mountain View and attends 500 Startups, a crash course for young companies run by a venture firm of the same name. He has raised a small amount of capital and hopes the upcoming Facebook IPO will help investors look more kindly on young entrepreneurs. “Thank God for Zuckerberg,” he says.

Zuckerberg, who left Harvard after two years, is helping recast the notion of dropping out of college. Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook and a co-founder of PayPal, is encouraging others to try that path through two-year fellowships for students who take a break from school, move to San Francisco and pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations.

That’s what 17-year-old Laura Deming did when she won a fellowship based on her goal of finding and funding anti-aging technologies and left the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Because she is not yet 18, she finds herself faxing documents such as non-disclosure agreements to her dad back in Boston to co-sign.

Other young entrepreneurs have trouble negotiating the highways and byways of Silicon Valley quite literally. Sahil Lavingia, 19, recalls a day last summer when he had several meetings scheduled on Sand Hill Road — home to many of the nation’s leading venture-capital firms — and no car to get there. The journey of just a few miles took hours by the time Lavingia rode a local train a couple of stops, caught a bus to Stanford University and then hopped a shuttle bus to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, which is on Sand Hill Road.

Another time, dreading the combination of a hot day and a sweaty walk around Palo Alto, he pulled on a pair of shorts, even though he was heading to a meeting with blue-chip VC Accel Partners. The outfit — casual even by laid-back Silicon Valley standards — didn’t stop Accel from investing. Lavingia, an alumnus of hot online bulletin-board company Pinterest, raised $1.1 million for his payments start-up, Gumroad.

Buckley also ran into problems getting himself to Sand Hill Road. One night he stayed up until 3 a.m. and slept too late to get to a scheduled meeting with a venture-capital firm. “It didn’t go down too well,” he said, adding that his profuse apologies and requests to reschedule were met with a curt “no thank you.”

Not to worry. Buckley, who had already sold a company while in high school for a sum he says was in the low six figures, raised more than $1 million from Andreessen Horowitz and others.

At the time of the missed meeting, he was attending Y Combinator, a three-month program for start-ups. In a nod to the boy wizard of book and movie fame, Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham has called Buckley “the Harry Potter of startups,” but said he was not the youngest to win admission to the program.

That honor goes to John Collison, now co-founder of payment company Stripe, who was admitted at age 16, but did not go through the program, Graham says. Instead, he and his then-19-year-old brother merged their company with another, Auctomatic, and sold it to a Canadian company for $5 million in cash and stock.

Most of the young entrepreneurs say their interest lies in building rather than selling their companies. Buckley had to say as much in response to inquiries he said received recently from Facebook about a possible sale. His determination not to sell stems from advice he received from a successful executive he met last year at Y Combinator: Mark Zuckerberg.

(Reporting By Sarah McBride. Editing by Jonathan Weber and Maureen Bavdek)

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The rise of social enterprises in Malaysia

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