For more than three decades, Datuk Thomas George, TSPPPA MPA ’86, has lead a distinguished public service career.
“Being a public administrator gives you the opportunity to serve, and not to think about yourself but to think about the community that you serve,” says George. “We must translate our goals, and visions and dreams into something definite – that is what gives us satisfaction.”
George served full terms as secretary general – the top civil service rank position in Malaysia – for both the Ministry of Works, which runs the country’s transportation infrastructure and public buildings, and the Ministry of Human Resources. He also served in high ranking positions at the National Institute of Public Administration, and he has authored books, journal articles and numerous papers on public management. He also was recruited by the UK’s Commonwealth secretariat to help improve public administration in Jamaica, Cameroon, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Kenya, Tanzania, Barbados, South Africa, Samoa and the Maldives. And for his major accomplishments, he was bestowed the prestigious Malaysian title “Datuk” by the king.
“I go on the principle that you should not leave life in regret, but you should do what you can do,” he says, “and I believe that I have made some difference… in the places that I’ve been.”
Given this, it’s no surprise that he was asked to return to GW on April 27 to receive the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration’s 2012 Public Service Award.
“Thomas George has gained worldwide recognition as a model public servant,” says Bill Adams, professor of public policy and public administration, who served on the nominations committee. “And all countries — not just rapidly developing ones like Malaysia — desperately need a reliable, fair and effective public sector.”
“It was a surprise to me, and I consider it a real privilege to be given the honor,” George says. “Coming back to campus brought back very fond memories. A lot of things I learned here I used throughout my career.”
With an interest in organizations and human resources, Datuk George first came to GW as a master’s student wanting to broaden his understanding of public administration and its responsibilities. “The MPA program really provided the parameters you could build on,” he recalls, specifically noting lessons on ethical principles, personal accountability, and personal responsibility.
He also notes that these principles need to be applied with caution: “I think it’s very important that wherever we are, we have to learn, and learn to understand context, because it is only in understanding the context that you are able to relate what [you] know and learn to bring about the change that is needed.”
While reflecting on lessons learned at GW and during his career, George offered one more piece of advice for students and alumni who are working to bring about change: “We must be empathetic, we must be insightful, and most importantly we ourselves must always be a learner,” he says. “Then we can be in the best position to understand and facilitate change.”