September 24, 2019
Over the course of its near 50-year history, IDRC has collaborated with researchers and policymakers to support democratic transitions in countries like South Africa, Chile, and Vietnam. Since 2017, the Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar initiative, a five-year IDRC and Global Affairs Canada partnership, has been supporting evidence-based decision-making in this Southeast Asian country, following decades of underinvestment in research and higher education.
- So far, more than 30 partners from Canada, Myanmar, and other countries have implemented 18 projects under the Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar initiative.
- This initiative is building the capacity for evidence-based decision-making within a large, geographically diverse pool of aspiring Myanmar leaders.
- It also supports independent think tanks in Myanmar to tackle issues of gender, the environment, and the ongoing peace process.
Now in its third year, the initiative continues to nurture a new generation of state and non-state actors that can produce sound, policy-relevant knowledge. As of March 2019, more than 30 partners from Canada, Myanmar, and other countries have implemented 18 projects under the initiative’s three main pillars:
- the training and mentoring of aspiring leaders, including women and members of vulnerable groups,
- support for independent think tanks, and
- research grants.
Training and mentorship
Institutions from Canada and other countries are involved in the training and mentoring of a large, geographically diverse pool of aspiring Myanmar leaders. Much of this training has been focused at the post-secondary level. At the Yangon University of Economics, over 100 graduate students and faculty members received training and in-depth mentoring on public policy, with support from Thailand’s Asian Institute of Technology and the University of British Columbia.
Similarly, the University of Mandalay, supported by Thailand’s Chiang Mai University, has introduced training for faculty on social science approaches. The Global Development Network and Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies are providing training and mentoring on how to assess the country’s knowledge production through social science research and its use by decision-makers.
Capacity-building within the public service is also a priority. More than 150 civil servants have received advanced training on quantitative research methods and public finance, with support from the Myanmar Development Institute, the University of Southern California, Canada’s McGill University, the Renaissance Institute, and the Fulbright University of Vietnam.
Training also targeted different levels of government. In Shan State, one of the largest and most ethnically diverse states in the country, parliamentarians completed more than 13 months of training to help draft legislation, exercise legislative oversight, and represent constituents. As of result, this legislature launched Myanmar’s first-ever priority plan for improving parliamentary research capacity.
Myanmar’s Centre for Development and Ethnic Studies organized a federalism program that aims to foster knowledge on the characteristics of federalism, democracy, and human rights among the country’s new generation.
Enhancing organizational capacity
Through core funding, mentorship programs, and organizational development training, Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar also supports the organizational development of independent think tanks working on a range of policy issues, including the peace process, gender, and the environment.
The training has ranged from how to hire and train new staff to introducing gender equality into capacity-building programs.
Organizational support also helped to further the work of the Gender Equality Network, a network of more than 130 civil society organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from Myanmar and other countries, and technical resource persons working to bring gender equality to Myanmar.
Placing significant emphasis on building connections, the initiative funded 12 staff members from the three think tanks it supports to participate in a global think tank conference in Bangkok which brought together policymakers and members of 250 organizations from over 25 countries.
Research on political decentralization and gender equality
Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar also strives to improve local research capacity to bridge knowledge gaps around pressing governance issues.
Research support has led to key outputs over the past year including the ground-breaking report by the NGO Advancing Life and Regenerating Motherland (ALARM) on the need to establish national climate land bank to prepare the country and its people for large-scale climate-related displacement. Research teams supported by the initiative also prepared and published their first joint report on gender equality in Asia Research News.
Creating capacity for democracy and prosperity
These efforts create a dynamic of open public debate: the foundation of a solid democracy. Ending September 2021, Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar ultimately aims to enhance political and economic empowerment of women and men during the country’s democratic transition.
While the accomplishments to date of the organizations supported by the initiative are significant, the political developments in Myanmar continue to underscore the need for greater inclusion in a society that is polarized. The initiative is designed to strengthen the ability of Myanmar’s institutions to address change, prioritizing society-wide acceptance of research, evidence, facts, open discussion, and policy debate.
IDRC’s experience in capacity building for research shows that such changes can be made – but require sustained effort over time. Looking ahead to the coming year, we will continue to help local think tanks, universities, civil society, and the public at large to understand issues and engage in policy-informed debate.