March 31, 2020
The future leaders of the world’s most influential think tanks need to be not only brilliant researchers, but also excellent managers, networkers, and communicators. It is rare that researchers have the opportunity to build these complementary skills during their careers, and by the time they can take on leadership roles it is much more difficult to catch up.
In February 2020, three young members of Myanmar’s think tank community participated in the fourth annual Winterschool for Thinktankers to learn these essential skills. The Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar(K4DM) program, co-funded by Global Affairs Canada and IDRC, made their attendance at the workshop in Geneva possible. As part of K4DM’s efforts to strengthen national research and analytical capacity, and to promote evidence-based decision-making in Myanmar, K4DM supports training for more than a dozen organizations in the country, including think tanks, universities, and civil society organizations.
Connecting with a global community
The seven-day course — organized by On Think Tanks, Foraus, and the Think Tank Hub Geneva — was led by experts from across the think tank community.
For the three researchers from Myanmar in attendance, it was their first opportunity to spend dedicated time with a global community of fellow think tank researchers. Thurein Aung, program officer at the Yangon Heritage Trust, Lwin Maung Maung Swe, program director at Advancing Life and Regenerating Motherland (ALARM), andSaw Kapru Soe, research associate at Another Development, joined 26 other participants who work on policy-relevant research, including seven from countries in the Global South.
The participants from Myanmar came away with a new-found appreciation of the diversity of think tanks. “There is no universal definition of a think tank”, said Lwin Maung Maung Swe. “It shares boundaries with NGOs, universities, research institutions, and the media.”
“We learned not only how the established think tanks function, but also how the new think tanks are finding their way in the knowledge market,” said Saw Kapru Soe.
The curriculum covered subjects such as organizational governance and management; policy-relevant research; monitoring, evaluation, and learning; communications; and fundraising and financial management.
The workshop was designed to take participants on their own learning journey by focusing on rich discussions and reflections with experienced think-tankers, trainers, and global experts. On the first day, facilitators urged the participants to reflect on the questions they were seeking answers to as a means of rooting their discussions in reality and to focus on the real challenges and issues facing their organizations.
Lwin noted that in a country like Myanmar, where the research community is not especially strong or well established, it becomes necessary for think tanks to multi-task. “We need to be involved in all stages, from shaping research processes, informing policies, and doing studies, to communicating the results”, he said. Lwin joined ALARM in 2005 to work on a community-based natural resource management project in Kachin State. He is responsible for many of the organization’s activities, including fundraising, planning, communication, and evaluation.
Bringing lessons back to Myanmar
Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar’s support for think tanks aims to build their capacity to carry out policy-relevant research with a focus on inclusive economic policies and democratic laws and standards. Fostering greater collaboration and trust within the Myanmar research community also contributes to a stronger policy environment.The Winterschool helped to foster these relationships and establish common threads across the work of the three participating institutions.
Each researcher came away with different insights and ambitions for putting what they learned into practice. Lwin is convinced that “the role think tanks could play (in my country) is vital.” That role “is to provide impartial advice for more meaningful and sensible decisions in every sector of Myanmar for the society’s benefit. We have learned the tips for successful transformation into a think tank and how to make it impactful and sustainable. Therefore as the first step, I will share the key learnings with my colleagues here in my organization.”