Knowledge for Democracy – Myanmar Initiative
Annual Report (April 2019 – March 2020)
June 2020 

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Executive Summary

The Knowledge for Democracy – Myanmar (K4DM) Initiative, an International Development Research Centre (IDRC) partnership with Global Affairs Canada (GAC), continues to support researchers, think tanks and universities to advance Myanmar’s transition to democracy. The Initiative is well over its halfway mark. The emerging lessons are not only beneficial to Myanmar grantees, but also provide valuable insight into operating in fragile research and country environments. For Canada, IDRC, and GAC, the Initiative provides access to valuable policy knowledge and information necessary to understand Myanmar’s ongoing transition.

Despite ongoing difficulties in Rakhine and Chin States in the east, and parts of Kachin and northern Shan States in the north east, there are gains in advancing inclusive and open governance across the country. Myanmar continues on this path while facing new challenges associated with different forms of fragility (conflict-to-peace, climate change and more recently, pandemic). Internal government developments (e.g. upcoming general elections, the ongoing peace process, and continuing decentralization) paired with external pressures (e.g. the Rohingya crisis) will shape the future of the country. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic slowdown that has been unfolding in early 2020 will change the Myanmar context.

The Initiative continues to work with Myanmar partners and individuals that can address these challenges, while supporting those building a more democratic and inclusive society.

Highlights from the Reporting 2019-2020 Period:

  • Across Myanmar, higher education ¬institutions, including universities, are enabling a level of domestic and global intellectual exchange not seen since before the rise of the military. K4DM partnered with Australian educational institutions to support local universities’ efforts to host international academic conferences and link Myanmar scholars with regional research networks. The Australian National University (ANU) conference in Yangon (July 2019) and the Australia-Myanmar Institute conference in Mandalay and Yangon (January 2020) offered opportunities for national and international scholars to connect to the wider public. On both occasions, the IDRC-organized Knowledge Marketplace attracted hundreds of attendees and representatives from dozens of research, academic and civil society institutions, illustrating the appetite for intellectual exchange within the social research community and a desire to take advantage of new conditions of openness.
  • Civil society, faculty and graduate students being mentored have increasingly found open spaces to present their findings and grow as researchers. Also evident during the reporting period have been examples of regional parliaments in Taunggyi and Yangon inviting think tanks and university students into the hallways of power through parliamentary research internships. In turn, elected officials are learning from the parliamentary and policy research produced by local scholars.
  • Think tanks are positioning and presenting their independent research to policy makers, and often collaborate on designing informed policy decisions on subjects as varied as communal forestry management and gender budgeting for government service delivery.
  • The reporting period saw an increase in activities by Myanmar think tanks that attracted national media attention. For example, events on federalism (The Centre for Development and Ethnic Studies – CDES’ Saturday School of Federalism), responsible environmental management (Advancing Life and Regenerating the Motherland – ALARM’s training and workshops on environmental assessments) and labour gender gaps in Myanmar (Centre for Economic and Social Development – CESD’s roundtable) were covered by different media outlets.
  • Research teams on gender continue to progress in their respective projects. Limited understanding of gender equality as a research concept in Myanmar continues to be a significant obstacle. While conducting research on gender can be difficult, there is an air of optimism around increasing levels of curiosity and openness. Following from their experience conducting research, grantees are analysing their own organisations for ways to improve gender equality and sharing what they have learned with their communities.
  • The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) awarded the 2019 N-Peace Prize to one of the Initiative’s grantees, May Sabe Phyu, Director of the Gender Equality Network (GEN). The prize underscored the need for greater visibility of research on the intersections of gender equality, particularly ethnicity and women2.

The above achievements demonstrate K4DM’s continuous, central role in supporting research that contributes to Myanmar’s democratization process.