MORE than a decade ago, when dotcom fever was at its height in Malaysia, I attended a conference of tech CEOs in Singapore which featured some tech luminaries from the US as guest speakers.
One of them was Esther Dyson, a former journalist, turned tech analyst, turned angel investor. She specialised in funding start-ups in eastern Europe.
She gave a talk where she recalled how everywhere she went in eastern Europe, she was asked the same question time and again: "What's the most important ingredient for sparking entrepreneurship?"
She said that there are many things that create an environment suitable for start-ups to sprout – the right type of education system, readily available sources of funding, and a culture that forgives failure are but a few examples. However, there is one thing that is more important than everything else. Local heroes.
Tech icons like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are inspiring, she said, but for most aspiring business people, they are too big, too distant and too unreal to be relevant. You can admire them but you don't really think you can become like them. A local hero would be more relevant.
That local hero doesn't even have to be that big. A neighbour or an uncle who has successfully launched a small business is far more relevant to local aspiring entrepreneurs than a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs.
What Dyson said about the importance of local heroes applies to other areas of achievement as well. Before 1984, judo was not a big sport in Austria but that year, at the Los Angeles Olympics, a young man named Peter Seisenbacher made history when he became the first Austrian to win a gold medal in judo. Suddenly, judo clubs all over Austria saw an explosion of interest among the youths, turning what was then a niche sport in that country, into one with mass appeal.
That development should not be so surprising. Until the emergence of Seisenbacher, for Austrians, judo champions came from other countries like Japan, South Korea and France. All of a sudden, Austrian judo players had a champion of their own. If he could do it, perhaps so could they.
Hearing Dyson's talk made me realise the importance of local heroes in encouraging people to achieve similar success. The problem is that in this country, we don't really do such a good job of celebrating local heroes. The fact that few that have really made it big are based overseas doesn't help matters.
Amber Chia is someone who has made it big internationally but who happens to be based here in Malaysia. She was the first Asian model to be made a Guess global ambassador, which is quite a breakthrough. She was offered a chance to model in New York, twice in her career, but each time chose to stay back for a variety of personal reasons.
When I was given an opportunity to edit a new series of books featuring local heroes, the first person I approached was Amber. I explained how a guidebook by her could give many aspiring models a better chance of success. She agreed to do it right away.
The result is Amber Chia's Guide to a Successful Modelling Career, which will be officially launched today. It's the first of many books featuring local heroes that I will be editing. Unlike most of the "how to" guidebooks that you can find in book stores, which are written by western authors for a western audience, these books will be written by Malaysian authors for a local audience.
Hopefully, such books will inspire many others to try to achieve great success themselves – because the authors are all locals, like you and me. If they can achieve the pinnacle of success in their fields, why can't we?
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.