Presenting KISAH Futures Anthology: a collection of 50 short stories

June 27, 2022

COVID-19 has truly plunged us into uncertain times. To successfully navigate “new normals” we cannot rely on the wisdom and knowledge of the past alone but must diversify our knowledge sources to include foresight and anticipatory methods. 

The KISAH Futures Competition, organized by UNDP Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei Darussalam in partnership with MIGHT, Universiti Malaya (UM)’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and Think City, collected stories from the general public around post-COVID Malaysian futures. Submissions were sought across themes like social cohesion, future of work, community well-being, and urban design. Running throughout October 2020, the competition received nearly 700 submissions across two language categories, English and Bahasa Malaysia, and winners were announced in December. 

The Competition was brought to an official close at an online awards ceremony that included a Fireside Chat with organizing partners and the launch of the KISAH Futures Anthology—a collection of 50 selected stories published by Matahari Books

The event kicked off with opening remarks from Niloy Banerjee, UNDP Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam. Reflecting on the purpose of UNDP venturing into a fiction-writing space, Niloy said, “As useful as quantitative data and scientific evidence are, they often miss the nuances of lived experience.” He said that we ought to tap into the power of the human imagination, hearing people from different walks of life, and being more inclusive and more democratized than the usual ecosystem we operate in. “It is really touching and uplifting to read some of the stories that have come through this,” he added. Thanking the Competition’s organizing partners and congratulating the winners, Niloy also invited members of the public to partner with UNDP and the United Nations at large.

Niloy Banerjee, UNDP Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam, and Manon Bernier, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam, with copies of the KISAH Futures Anthology. Photo credit: UNDP Malaysia. 

Moderated by Matt Armitage, Editor of The Citymaker, the Fireside Chat featured a stellar cast: Dr. Liz Alexander, futurist, author, consultant, speaker, and Senior Associate at MIGHT; Dr. Susan Philip, Associate Professor at UM’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; Manon Bernier, Deputy Resident Representative, UNDP Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam; Duncan Cave, Lead, Think City Institute; and Amir Muhammad, owner of Matahari Books and publisher of the KISAH Futures Anthology. The discussion reflected on the Competition itself, as well as on the value of futures thinking in bringing about better outcomes in the present alongside setting the groundwork for a brighter, more inclusive, future. 

According to Dr. Susan, the stories revealed what people consider the most important thing “when everything around you is crumbling: are you interested in how technology can save you, or are you interested in how personal relations can save you?” Commenting on how the democratization of publishing through digital technology is a double-edged sword, she also conceded that “if you limit the bad [stories], you also limit the good.” Amir noted that the English stories were more cynical, with concerns about surveillance, while the Bahasa Malaysia stories often revolved around community and family ties, with more of a hopeful vibe. Reflecting on the value of listening to readers and the general public, he added, “Most of my readers are college age, and I read what they read on social media.” 

Commenting on one finding that younger participants wrote more pessimistic stories, Manon opined that it could be due to this generation of fresh graduates facing pronounced, COVID-induced challenges in job security or financial security. She also responded to a finding that governance and environment themes were scarce across the stories: “Although they have huge impacts on our health, they are ‘invisible’ issues—the environment has been managed in an isolated way from social and economic impacts, and we need to look at the three dimensions together.” She challenged the audience to create change through decisions on what we consume. “In my country [Canada] we have a saying, ‘When I buy, I vote.’ ” 

Dr. Liz recommended that futures thinking be incorporated early in the school curriculum, to inculcate the ability to imagine ‘what if?’—“We need to learn to question and not take for granted what [experts and consultants] tell us. The future hasn’t happened yet; it hasn’t been written yet,” she said. Looking ahead, Duncan concurred that we should continue listening and capturing the hopes and fears of what the future might look like for ordinary Malaysians. “There is an opportunity here for us to team up with other orgs represented this evening to curate a [futures-oriented] programme,” he said.