WINGS & Asia Philanthropy Circle Webinar on Giving to Myanmar

by Xu Bing Qing

On 14th of February, APC and its partner WINGS (Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support) held a webinar to share the findings of our guide on Giving to Myanmar with a wider audience beyond our membership.  Three speakers were invited to share their thoughts on the current development of Myanmar’s social sector.  Among them, Dien Yuen is the main researcher of our guide, and is currently a philanthropy advisor at Evercore Wealth Management in San Francisco.  The other two guest speakers are both from Myanmar – Yin Myo Su and Aung Kyaw Swar were invited to share with the audience their knowledge regarding the current political climate in Myanmar and Myanmar’s changing attitude towards foreign philanthropists.

The webinar kicked off with a short introduction of WINGS and APC by Sarah Brown and Stacey Choe.  WINGS is a network of philanthropy and support organisations around the world.

Stacey also explained that APC started this series of giving guides because we recognised that there was a gap in the market for a practical toolkit for philanthropists and other funders to help them give and contribute effectively.  There will also be a Guide to China that will be launched soon.

Dien Yuen introduced the highlights of the guide, including an overview of Myanmar’s history, the current situation and problems facing the gradual development of social sector in the country.  Dien also shared with the audience the recommendations on how to do philanthropy better in Myanmar.  Having a deep understanding of how things work in the local context and work closely with local NGOs are some of the crucial elements.

Yin Myo Su of Inle Heritage Foundation shared her thoughts on some of the problems on the ground, among them, NGOs with overlapping missions in Myanmar is one of the main concerns due to lack of coordination from the government.  She suggested that NGOs should get to know what is already on the ground before going in. Foreign funders should also take the time to travel often to Myanmar to understand the situation on the ground, and understanding that working in Myanmar is a project for the long haul.  Patience is not only necessary in building relations, but also in building the capacity of local organisations that lack the skills and context required.

Kyaw Swar, a longtime community leader and school principal, talked about problems in the education sector.  He pointed out that Myanmar is a country with a population eager to learn but not enough education resources.  Besides, cultural and language differences have made the improvement of the quality of education an even tougher goal to achieve.

The webinar ended with a Q&A session with questions spanning from Myanmar’s tourism industry, corruption in education sector to conflict resolution proposal in Kachin and Rakhine.  When asked about whether the influx of tourism was a good thing for Myanmar, Myo Su referred the rapid growing tourism as a double-edged sword with a positive impact on economic growth and employment while posing environmental challenges as some tourists do not behave in a socially responsible way.  Sustainable tourism is still a rather new concept under development in the country.

Kyaw Swar addressed the question about corruption in the education sector and how to adopt a child-centered approach in the education system.  He regretted to say that due to the fact that most local teachers are still adapting to new ways of teaching, it may take a rather long time for them to change the old mindsets and cultivate a conducive environment for students to think and express freely.

Regarding conflicts in Kachin and Rakhine, there are workshops helping locals generate a more stable income, but more support from the government and civil society is needed to improve their living standards in order to avoid further conflict.

For the webinar recording and to download the guide, please go to http://www.asiaphilanthropycircle.org/giving-to-myanmar-a-guide-for-asian-philanthropists/